HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc24-6
21. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Lord President of the Council what has been the average interval of time between the publication of a report from a Select Committee and the publication of the departmental reply; what has been the longest interval in the last two years; and if he will take steps to expedite replies from Government Departments.

Mr. Prior

Since the Session 1969–70 the average time taken to publish the departmental replies to Select Committee reports was seven-and-a-half months. The longest interval between publication and reply was twenty-two months, which was in the case of a report published in Session 1968–69.

I do, of course, realise the importance of replying to Select Committee reports promptly, but I am sure the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) would agree that some reports are fairly complex and contain more recommendations than others.

Mr. Hamilton

The right hon. Gentleman no doubt knows that some reports are more politically embarrassing to the Government than others. The report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) on the abuse of the National Health Service by private practice has been deliberately delayed by the Department because of the political embarrassment which the report would cause. Is it the case that the reply to that report will be produced tomorrow? Why the delay? Why will the right hon. Gentlement not give a firm direction to all Government Departments to ensure that replies are given in the current Session or within 12 months, whichever is the shorter period?

Mr. Prior

I reject what the hon. Gentleman has said. The fact is that the reply to the report to which he referred is coming out very shortly. I cannot think that from the point of view of political embarrassment to the Government it would have mattered whether it came out six months ago or six months hence. I am sure that the Government have a very good reply to the report.

I think that it is for the Department concerned to produce its reply as quickly as possible. I am glad to help the House to try to get the replies earlier where possible.

Mr. Dormand

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is more important to have a report debated in the House than await the Government's reply? Is he aware that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has produced four reports in this Parliament, and that none of them has been debated? Does he agree that that is a serious state of affairs?

Mr. Prior

I only hope that when we have such debates in the House hon. Members will turn up and take part in them.