Government replies to reports

38.54Where a select committee has made a report relating to government administration or policy, it is expected that the Government will reply to the committee's recommendations and observations. Such a reply may be published as a Command paper1 or submitted by the department most directly concerned as a memorandum to the committee. In the latter case, the usual practice is for the committee to publish the observations appended to a special report,2 and the timing of publication therefore rests with the committee. Occasionally, the reply has been given in the House in debate3 and on one occasion in debate in a general committee,4 or as a letter to the Chair. A reply to a report has also been given in a written answer to a parliamentary question.5 In other cases, a memorandum submitted by a department together with oral evidence given by a Minister upon it constituted the reply.6 A reply has been published as an annex to a government White Paper.7

In the case of the Committee of Public Accounts, Treasury Minutes are laid before the House as Command Papers several times each session embodying the Government's views on previous committee reports;8 the Treasury co-ordinates replies from all government departments. Likewise, in the case of Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland Department of Finance memorandum, corresponding to a Treasury Minute, has been laid.9

A report on a matter which was the responsibility of the House of Commons Commission and not of the Government has been replied to by the Commission.10 Committees have also published replies from other public agencies, with the government reply.11

In whatever form they are made, replies are normally expected by all committees engaged in scrutinising government activity and are requested if they are not forthcoming. Following recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure in 1978,12 it was agreed by government departments that replies should if possible be made within two months of the publication of a report. In some circumstances, a longer delay may be considered permissible when those circumstances have been explained to the committee concerned. Following a published reply, a committee has invited a Minister to give evidence on the progress made in implementing recommendations,13 or has taken further evidence and made a further report.14 The Committee of Public Accounts frequently asks the accounting officers from government departments to report on actions taken on reports in preceding sessions. Some committees have also asked departments for progress reports on recommendations previously made by them.15 A committee has declined to publish a government reply submitted as a memorandum, on the grounds that it failed to address the main conclusions of the committee's report.16

Footnotes

  1. 1. For example, Cm 7887 in response to Transport Committee Report, Session 2009–10, HC 414.
  2. 2. For example, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010–12, HC 351 and HC 352.
  3. 3. HC Deb (1979–80) 984, cc 289–92. In a case where a report dealt with a statutory instrument which was the subject of a motion for a negative resolution, the Minister's reply to the debate on the motion constituted the Government's reply to the report, HC Deb (1987–88) 129, cc 477–80.
  4. 4. Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, etc, 20 February 1980.
  5. 5. For example, HC Deb (1968–69) 787, c 24; ibid (1979–80) 988, cc 359–60; ibid (1980–81) 992, cc 150–52; ibid (1996–97) 292, c 976.
  6. 6. Science and Technology Committee of Session 1972–73, HC 63; and of Session 1971–72, HC 473.
  7. 7. For example, Cm 249, Promoting Better Health, pp 66–78, government response to the Social Services Committee Report on Primary Health Care, Session 1986–87, HC 37-I.
  8. 8. For example, Cm 7818, responding to the First to the Fifth Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2009–10; Cm 9667, responding to the Thirty-eighth to the Forty-second Reports of the Committee of Session 2017–19. The Treasury also produces biannual Treasury minutes progress reports, detailing progress on implementation of recommendations.
  9. 9. For example, Cm 2988, responding to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 1994–95, HC 24 and HC 25.
  10. 10. Construction of Portcullis House, The new Parliamentary building, Session 2001–02, HC 1261, responding to the Sixty-third Report of Session 2001–02 of the Committee of Public Accounts, HC 861 and the Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Session 2001–02, HC 750.
  11. 11. For example, First Special Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee of Session 2001–02, HC 696, for responses from the Government and the Scottish Executive; Third Special Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee of Session 2009–10, HC 486 for responses from the Government and Ofsted; First Special Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee of Session 2008–09, HC 1013 for responses from the Government and three public bodies.
  12. 12. First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of Session 1977–78, HC 588-I, pp lxxii–lxxiv. This principle was reaffirmed by the Government in its response (Cm 4737, para 31) to the First Report of the Liaison Committee of Session 1999–2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC 300.
  13. 13. Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1993–94, HC 234. See also Science and Technology Committee, First Special Report of Session 1971–72, HC 181, letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and the Chair of the committee.
  14. 14. Expenditure Committee, Sixth Report of 1973–74, HC 167; Science and Technology Committee, Session 1995–96, HC 231-I; Environment Committee, Session 1996–97, HC 124 and HC 210.
  15. 15. For example, Energy Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Session 1987–88, HC 513, App; Transport Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Session 1987–88, HC 398. Between 1995 and 1997, the Welsh Affairs Committee received twice-yearly progress reports on the implementation of recommendations in its Third Report of Session 1994–95, Severe Head Injuries Rehabilitation, HC 103.
  16. 16. Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 1996–97, HC 323-I, Appendix 16, Report by Chairman of the National Heritage Committee; Education and Skills Committee, Minutes of Proceeding, Session 2002–03, 25 June 2003. The Department concerned in the latter case subsequently submitted a revised response, see Third Special Report of the Committee of Session 2002–03, HC 1026.