To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to look again at the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Inquiries Act 2005 in its report The Inquiries Act 2005: post-legislative scrutiny (HL Paper 143), published in March 2014, in the light of the report by the National Audit Office, Investigation into government-funded inquiries, published in May.
My Lords, the Government agree with the Select Committee’s conclusions in its report published in March 2014 that the Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiry Rules 2006 are fundamentally sound, providing a robust and effective framework for the conduct of public inquiries, but that some worthwhile improvements can be made. We welcome the National Audit Office report of last month but do not believe it has identified any issues that the Government themselves did not consider in their response to the Select Committee.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. The House’s Select Committee report on the operation of the Inquiries Act made several recommendations, many to save time and money. The National Audit Office’s remarkable report says that the Government have not acted even on the recommendations accepted from the 2014 report. One of our major recommendations—which was not accepted—was to set up a central inquiries unit. However, we now learn from the National Audit Office report that such a unit has been set up, but just for Home Office inquiries. Would it not be good, joined-up government if this unit were available for all government inquiries, wherever in government it is based?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Government agreed to accept 20 out of the 33 recommendations from his report. The issue about the central inquiries unit is an important one. The role of such a unit would be limited once the inquiry is established, and we believe that departments are much better placed to understand the operational issues relating to their policy areas. That is why the Home Office has its own unit, which functions very well—it set up four inquiries in a short period of time. However, since the noble Lord’s report, the Cabinet Office has strengthened the support it provides to inquiries, and there is a cross-Whitehall inquiries group which contains all the teams from the different departments to discuss learning and ways forward.
My Lords, the National Audit Office tells us:
“Since 2014, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice have committed to various actions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inquiries … None of these commitments have been fulfilled. For example, they have not acted on recommendations to share best practice … or update and publish guidance … There is no overall oversight across government for monitoring and tracking”.
The NAO also reminds us that,
“the government has spent at least £239 million on the 26 inquiries which have concluded since 2005”.
Given that expenditure, is this failure of departments to follow through good enough?
My Lords, I take issue with what the noble Baroness has said. It is not true that the Government do not follow through on lessons learned from previous inquiries. Indeed, the Cabinet Office has produced guidelines. They remain in draft form at the moment because they are being updated from lessons learned and the findings from the National Audit Office report. I have looked at the guidelines and I have to say, they seem very thorough. This was following consultation with stakeholders from previous inquiries. Governments will own the inquiries they sponsor, but they will have to follow that guidance, which will be finalised in very short order and published.