Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Report by Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman, Chairman of the Committee


  1. The National Heritage Committee was established at the beginning of the current Parliament, to reflect the establishment of the Department of National Heritage after the 1992 election. The Department brought together activities previously carried out by no fewer than six Government departments and offices: Arts and Libraries; Education and Science (sport); Environment (the built heritage); Home Office (broadcasting, press regulation and the lottery); Trade and Industry (film, and export licensing of works of art) and Employment (tourism). Responsibility for charities and the voluntary sector was transferred from the Home Office on 1 May 1996.

  2. A list of the Committee's reports over the last 4½ years is included in the separate statistical summary of the Committee's work; this shows that the Committee has covered most of the subjects mentioned above, either in inquiries examining current Government activity, or sometimes when covering issues where the Government had little involvement but which were of considerable public interest (privacy and media intrusion;[92] relations between Rugby Union and Rugby League[93]). On all but one occasion, we have made reports to the House based on the evidence which we have taken.

  3. I have been the Chairman for the whole of the Committee's existence; in addition four other Members have remained on the Committee since its nomination on 13 July 1992 (and another has served since later in 1992). This continuity of membership is particularly valuable when the Committee returns to subjects which it has examined previously (e.g. the BBC). During this time, there has not been a single division in the Committee; our ability to reach conclusions to which we can all agree by consensus has, I believe, been a particular strength of the Committee.

Scrutiny of agencies and other non-departmental bodies

  4. The Department of National Heritage (DNH) has two agencies, the Historic Royal Palaces Agency and the Royal Parks Agency. The Committee has not examined the effect of their agency status, though it did take evidence from the Historic Royal Palaces Agency during its inquiry into "Our heritage: preserving it, prospering from it".[94]

  5. By contrast, there are a large number of associated public bodies, through which most of the Department's work is carried out. Amongst these are the Museums and Galleries Commission and individual museums and galleries, the British Library, the Arts Council, the Crafts Council, the Sports Council, English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Millennium Commission, the British Tourist Authority, the English Tourist Board, the British Film Institute, the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the BBC, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, and Channel 4. The BBC and the British Library have been the subject of specific inquiries;[95] many of the remainder have been examined as part of the Committee's programme of studying most of the main parts of DNH's work.


  6. The Committee has not appointed specialist advisers, Members relying mainly on their own previous knowledge of the subject and the information received from witnesses. The Committee has generally conducted only one inquiry at a time, and tends to meet once a week. The size of the committee staff (one Clerk, one Committee Assistant and one Secretary) is not a constraint on this method of working.

Relations with the Committee of Public Accounts and the National Audit Office

  7. The Committee has not so far found much difficulty in avoiding overlap with the current work of the NAO and the PAC. Some subjects have been covered at different times by both committees, e.g. the British Library and aspects of the National Lottery.

Parliamentary Commissions

  8. We do not believe that subjects appropriate for a commission have arisen in the Committee's range of activities: detailed analysis of past actions has fallen naturally to the NAO.

Obtaining evidence from Government departments and Members

  9. At one point we found it difficult to persuade a Treasury Minister to give oral evidence to the Committee.[96] Otherwise, the Committee has not had any difficulty arranging for oral or written evidence from Ministers, other Members, or civil servants. There have been occasions on which the Committee has come near to using its powers to compel the production of information from the BBC.[97]

  10. No appropriate occasions have arisen where the "crown jewels" procedure might have been used (where Members inspect highly classified documents on Government premises).

Government replies

  11. The Committee has had some difficulty over the years on the timing and manner of publication of Government replies. For example, the Government did not reply to the report on Privacy and Media Intrusion (published March 1993) until July 1995;[98] and more recently the Committee has declined on three occasions[99] to publish as Special Reports replies received as letters or memoranda, on the grounds that the Committee preferred not to be associated with publishing replies with which it disagreed. It would be preferable for this reason (as well as more convenient when a reply is ready during a recess) for Government replies to be published by the Government. We have already received four Government replies by Command Paper (as compared with nine by memorandum or letter) and see no reason why this should not become the norm.

  12. This month we have had occasion to publish a reply not as a Special Report, but as a Report, including our own views on the Government reply.[100] On this occasion the Department did not set out the Committee's conclusions and recommendations, but merely referred to most of them in passing. We believe that it should be a clearly understood convention that a Government reply should set out each of the Committee's conclusions in the Committee's own words and respond to it directly. This would not prevent the Government making, in addition, more general observations on the subject, as happened for instance in the Command Paper on the British Film Industry.[101]

Effectiveness of reports

  13. I do not believe that the effectiveness of committee reports can be measured solely by the proportion of recommendations accepted by the Government at the time. Sometimes, our recommendations have been accepted only after initial rejection. Sometimes, as in the Broadcasting Bill, amendments carried in the House of Lords against the Government's wishes have enacted our recommendations. I believe (and so does the BBC) that the Report on the Future of the BBC[102] was instrumental in ensuring that the BBC received a new ten-year Charter funded by the licence. The Report on the British Film Industry,[103] now nearly two years old, is still regarded as a basic document for those interested in that industry. Some of our recommendations on privacy and media intrusion,[104] initially derided by the Press Complaints Commission, were subsequently implemented by the PCC.

  14. For our Report on the British Film Industry, the Committee experimented with producing an illustrated cover, in addition to some black and white and colour photographs inside the Report. This innovation was well received, and we repeated the exercise with the report on Funding of the Performing and Visual Arts;[105] at least one other committee has also produced such an illustrated cover.[106] The Committee was dependent on the good will of witnesses and others in providing numerous photographs from which to make a selection, and I am grateful for their assistance.

Debates in the House

  15. Four of our reports have been mentioned on the Order Paper as being relevant to a debate (and one has been similarly referred to in a European Standing Committee);[107] in addition one report was debated on an Estimates Day and another on a Wednesday morning debate. I believe that these opportunities for debates are valuable, and consideration could be given to increasing the number of debates at the disposal of the Liaison Committee.


  16. The Committee has undertaken seven overseas and 26 domestic visits. Of the overseas visits, four have been to the US. The Liaison Committee has had to impose limits on the costs of individual overseas visits for all committees; and, in the case of this Committee, this has sometimes resulted in the need to reduce the number of places visited. The visits are valuable both for the information which can subsequently appear in a report and also for the large amount of background information gained by Members.

Committee involvement in appointment of BBC governors

  17. The Committee recommended, in its report on the future of the BBC, that when (after consultation) the Secretary of State proposes someone for a Governor's position, the Committee should have the opportunity of interviewing the candidate before the nomination

is confirmed, and that the relevant select committee should have the same rights in relation to candidate National Governors for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government did not agree to this recommendation.[108]

92  Fourth Report, Session 1992-93, HC 294-I. Back

93  Third Report, Session 1994-95, HC 276. Back

94  Third Report, Session 1993-94, HC 139-I. Back

95  Second Report, Session 1993-94, The Future of the BBC, HC 77-I; Fourth Report, Session 1993-94, The British Library, HC 550. Back

96  See First Report, Session 1995-96, Funding of the Performing and Visual Arts, HC 23-I, para. 13. Back

97  See Chairman's remarks after Question 503: Second Report, Session 1995-96, The National Lottery, HC 240-II, p. 141. Back

98  Fourth Report, Session 1992-93, HC 294-I; Government reply: Cm 2918. Back

99  Third Report, Relations between Rugby Union and Rugby League, HC 276, Fourth Report, The Net Book Agreement, HC 383, Fifth Report, Bids to stage International Sporting Events, HC 493, all of Session 1994-95. The Government deposited the replies to the Third and Fifth Reports in the Library. Back

100  Third Report, Session 1996-97: Tourism: The Government Response to the Committee's First Report of Session 1996-97, HC 285. Back

101  Cm 2884. Back

102  Second Report, Session 1993-94, HC 77-I. Back

103  Second Report, Session 1994-95, HC 57-I. Back

104  Fourth Report, Session 1992-93, HC 294-I. Back

105  First Report, Session 1995-96, HC 23-I. Back

106  Environment Committee, Fourth Report, Session 1994-95, The Environmental Impact of Leisure Activities, HC 246-I. Back

107  Second Report, Session 1992-93, Export of Works of Art: the draft Seventh VAT Directive, HC 249 (published together with First Report). Back

108  Second Report, Session 1993-94, The Future of the BBC, HC 77-I, para. 61; Cm 2621, p. 54. Back

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Prepared 13 March 1997