WELSH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Report by Mr Gareth
Wardell, Chairman of the Committee
Work of the Committee
1. A separate statistical
summary of the Committee's work during this Parliament so far
is attached as an appendix. It is notable that, in addition to
full inquiries on selected topics within the wide range of responsibilities
of the Welsh Office, the Committee has held a number of single
sessions, not usually followed by a report. These include a session
following up the Government response to a Report and general scrutiny
sessions on the work of non-departmental public bodies.
2. The appendix does not
show informal proceedings, which represent a significant part
of the Committee's work. These include visits and informal meetings
away from Westminster, and informal briefings here at Westminster.
Last Session, for example, as part of our inquiry into Further
Education in Wales, and in addition to our programme of formal
evidence, we held informal briefing meetings in Cardiff with the
Welsh Office and with the Further Education Funding Council for
Wales, and in Westminster with the Office of HM Chief Inspector
of Schools in Wales and with Principals of a number of colleges
which we were unable to visit. In the current Session, we have
held informal sessions at Westminster with an Ambulance Trust
which has experienced financial difficulties, and with the new
Permanent Secretary at the Welsh Office. In our view, informal
meetings can at times be more effective than formal proceedings.
Recommendations of the Trade
and Industry Committee and Public Service Committee
3. The Committee has noted
with much interest the reports of the Trade and Industry and Public
Service Committees. The Liaison Committee asked for comments
on the following matters in particular:
(a) Scrutiny of Agencies
and other non-departmental bodies
4. The Welsh Office has
only one Executive Agency (Cadw), from whom the Committee took
evidence in 1993 and will take evidence again this month.
5. There are 25 executive
NDPBs in Wales. The Committee has held general monitoring sessions
with a number of these, and would recommend this approach to other
6. The Committee shares
the view that the factor limiting a select committee's activities
is Members' time not lack of staff and that significantly increasing
staff resources would make committees staff-driven rather than
7. The Committee wishes
to acknowledge the contribution made by specialist advisers to
its work. Because of our wide brief, advisers have for the most
part been employed for particular inquiries rather than on a continuing
basis as specialist committees may do.
(c) Relations with PAC
8. The Committee strongly
supports the Public Service Committee's recommendation of closer
links between departmentally-based committees and the National
9. In February 1996 we requested
an informal briefing from the NAO on their current studies of
Further Education in Wales and in England to assist us at the
beginning of our inquiry into this subject. For reasons that
are not clear to us, this was turned down. We found this disappointingly
10. Happily, attitudes seem
to have changed. In December 1996 we received an excellent informal
briefing from the NAO on its programme of work in Wales, both
in financial and value for money audit. We hope that this may
be repeated in the new Parliament.
11. We understand that PAC
do not have the time to look at all the Green Reports produced
by the NAO. We would suggest that some of them could be taken
up instead by departmental committees. Where a departmental select
committee has recently studied a subject on which the NAO reports,
it might well be appropriate for that committee, rather than PAC,
to take up the NAO report.
(d) The concept of Parliamentary
12. The Trade and Industry
Committee's proposals for parliamentary commissions are, in our
view, certainly worthy of further consideration by the House.
13. The Committee has had
no difficulties in obtaining evidence from Government Departments.
The Welsh Office has always been helpful in providing what we
ask for but is rarely proactive in providing information which
we might be expected to find useful.
14. We have not encountered
any difficulty in securing the departmental witnesses from whom
we wish to take evidence but have only rarely asked for named
(f) Ordering the attendance
15. We have never encountered
difficulty in securing the attendance of a Member of the House
but have sympathy with the view that select committees should
have power to order the attendance of Members if necessary.
(g) The crown jewels procedure
16. We have had no need
to seek classified material and have no view on the merits of
the crown jewels procedure.
17. In our view, the rules
governing declaration of interests and advocacy are unclear and
should be clarified before select committees are appointed in
the next Parliament.
Suggestions for the future
18. To enhance the effectiveness
of select committees in future, we would advocate -
- greater use of informal
briefing sessions, especially at the beginning of inquiries;
- more follow-up inquiries,
including taking evidence from Ministers on Government replies;
- greater use of the
resources of the National Audit Office;
- more scrutiny of legislative
proposals at the Green and White Paper stage.
19. We do not believe that
departmental committees are equipped to scrutinise either UK Statutory
Instruments or European legislation effectively. We support the
Procedure Committee's recommendation of a specially constituted
committee to sift SIs.
20. We are not in favour
of committees holding formal hearings on senior public appointments.