16. We have considered the Committee system at Westminster
after devolution: our particular concerns have been with the Grand
Committees and with the three Select Committees on Northern Ireland
Affairs, Scottish Affairs and Welsh Affairs.
The Grand Committees
17. As we have already stated, we consider the Grand
Committees should be suspended for the duration of the experiment
in Westminster Hall. We believe that, if this experiment is successful,
the Grand Committees will be found unnecessary because the debates
formerly held in them will come to Westminster Hall or the House
itself. If suspension of the Grand Committees meant that debates
on matters relating to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland were
not held we would think again, but, in principle, we agree with
the Leader of the House that it is undesirable to have Members
with "a different role, different responsibilities, different
rights in this Parliament".
We consider that retention of the Grand Committees would give
different Members different rights, and that this is undesirable.
The Grand Committees are, in some sense, an alternative to devolution
and when devolution is effected, they are no longer appropriate.
We explained our thinking about substantive debates in our Second
Interim Report on the Procedural Consequences of Devolution.
The Grand Committees, of course, also have powers to hold half-hour
adjournment debates and ask questions. Once the Scottish Parliament
and Welsh Assembly are functioning, we consider it would be inappropriate
to give Westminster Members more opportunities to scrutinise the
Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales than they have to
scrutinise other ministers. Moreover, the logic of devolution
is that, in the main, Westminster has been left with United Kingdom
matters; the opportunity for such questions or adjournment debates
should not be restricted to Members for a particular part of the
18. At present three Select Committees scrutinise
the "expenditure, policy and administration" of, respectively,
the Northern Ireland Office, the Scottish Office and the Welsh
Office. The Government proposes to retain the committees but to
amend their terms of reference to the responsibilities of the
relevant Secretary of State. The Scottish Affairs Committee has
"That the House should amend its Standing Orders
to allow the Scottish Affairs Committee to carry out inquiries
into the work of all Departments of State insofar as it affects
Scotland. We would expect such a committee to be involved in assisting
communications between the two Parliaments".
The Welsh Affairs Committee proposed that the Committee
should be able "to examine proposals for UK policy and legislation
which appeared particularly to affect Wales".
The Study of Parliament Group suggested setting up a series of
new Territorial Affairs Committees with "scrutiny, legislative
and liaison functions".
19. We consider that although it is no longer appropriate
to provide special arrangements for debate through the Grand Committees,
the need for scrutiny of the effects of United Kingdom Government
policy on Scotland or Wales has not diminished.
The Select Committees carrying out this scrutiny should have a
broad remit, although scrutiny of devolved matters should be the
concern of the legislature concerned. As Mr Atkinson said "we
all need to take a self-denying ordinance about not trying to
and all our witnesses agreed that Westminster should not attempt
to "second-guess" the Parliament or Assembly.
20. The Study of Parliament Group on Welsh devolution
made detailed recommendations about the nature of a future
Committee; they suggested that a Welsh Territorial Committee's
functions could include
"liaising with the Chairs of the Policy Committees
of the National Assembly to ensure, for example, that the drafting
of primary and secondary legislation coincides with the Assembly's
The legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament
mean that this function would not be required for Scotland, but
many of our witnesses hoped that one function of future "Scottish
Affairs" or "Welsh Affairs" committees would be
liaison between Westminster and the devolved legislatures;
we agree that, if such links were desired by our colleagues in
the devolved legislatures, this could be a significant part of
their role, and we deal with the technicalities of such
liaison in paragraphs 37 to 46. However, given that Select Committees
here will be constituted to reflect the party balance in Westminster,
and the devolved legislatures may, and indeed, are likely to,
have different party balances it may be premature to forecast
the nature of such liaison at this stage.
It will be determined by the wishes of the devolved legislatures
and their Committees and of the Select Committee concerned and
its extent and nature is likely to be greatly affected by personal
21. The Study of Parliament Group also suggests that
a "Territorial" Committee could act by:
" assuming the role of a standing
committee at the committee stage where the National Assembly requires
new Wales-only primary legislation;
reviewing those parts of proposed primary
legislation that will apply to Wales".
We deal with legislation later in our Report; here
we note that it is open to any Committee to consider legislation
if it wishes, and some Committees have reported on legislation
before the House and even put down amendments to bills in the
names of their Members. Given the nature of Welsh devolution it
may be that it would be appropriate for some proposals to be formally
referred to the "Welsh" Committee for pre-legislative
scrutiny. This is a matter which may need to be reviewed in the
light of experience. We would appreciate the views of the Welsh
Affairs Committee or its successor and of the Welsh Assembly on
this before we made any firm recommendation.
Terms of Reference
22. There was some concern over the precise terms
of reference of such Committees. The Leader of the House proposed
that their terms of reference should be limited to the "responsibilities
of the Secretary of State"
although she later indicated that she considered it unlikely that
a continuing Scottish Affairs Committee could be told "that
they will not discuss some reserved matter because it is a matter
for another departmental Select Committee".
The Clerk of the House believed that since the Secretaries of
State would be responsible for promoting the interests of Northern
Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the Cabinet, such a remit could
be interpreted broadly.
The Welsh Affairs Committee, however, was concerned that the remit
was unclear and that it was unsatisfactory to have such a source
Mr Peter Brooke told us that he did not support limiting the Committee's
terms of reference to the role of the Secretary of State; indeed
the current terms of reference could remain appropriate for the
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, since this would mean the
Committee's remit would automatically be adjusted as powers were
transferred from the Northern Ireland Office to the Assembly.
He also indicated there would be a number of subjects which were
properly the concern of both the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
23. We understand the concerns expressed about limiting
Select Committees' remits to the responsibilities of the Secretary
of State concerned. However, we do not believe that a remit to
consider "Welsh Affairs" or its equivalent would be
entirely satisfactory since it suggests, erroneously, that such
a Committee might be expected to examine devolved matters. We
consider that much confusion could be avoided if the successors
to the "Affairs" Committees were not appointed under
Standing Order No. 152. This would make it clear that their responsibilities
went more widely than the strictly departmental. It would also
avoid appointing such Committees under a Standing Order which
explicitly enjoins them to consider expenditure and administration
when most of that responsibility will have passed to the devolved
24. We recommend:
that there should be Select Committees
relating to Scotland and Wales;
that these Select Committees should
be concerned with the role and responsibilities of the relevant
Secretary of State and on occasion, the policy of United Kingdom
departments as it affects Scotland or Wales.
We recommend that such Committees liaise with
colleagues in the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, but
it is not for Westminster to prescribe such liaison. Similar conditions
should apply to any successor of the Northern Ireland Affairs
25. There may be concern that giving the new Select
Committees a remit which explicitly includes the effects of United
Kingdom departments' policies on Scotland or Wales will undermine
those Select Committees charged with examining particular Government
departments. Some of our colleagues on other committees were concerned
about this, and we sympathise with their concern.
However, there has always been the potential for overlap between
the Northern Ireland, Scottish or Welsh Affairs Committees and
other departmental select committees
and arrangements have been made to deal with overlap. Few problems
have arisen from the fact that the Environmental Audit Committee
and the Select Committee on Public Administration each have terms
of reference which cut across departmental boundaries. Moreover,
as Mr Moore told us, "we struggle ... to scrutinise the work
of the executive enough as it is".
Departmental Select Committees have varied in the extent to which
they have dealt with matters in Northern Ireland, Scotland or
Wales and there is great pressure on their time.
We agree with Mr O'Neill, the Chairman of the Trade and Industry
Committee, that "the breadth and complexity of Government
activity" is "such as to require as much intelligent
parliamentary scrutiny as human and other resources allow".
To this end, we also agree that whatever the arrangements proposed
for scrutiny of "reserved" matters as they affect the
territories concerned, "there must be no doubt that a departmental
committee ... should continue to feel free to inquire into such
matters where that arises from the logic of an inquiry".
28 Q 240. Back
p 118. Back
(1998-99) 376. Back
(1997-98) 460-I, paragraph 86. Back
p 74. Back
p 16. Back
Evidence p 18. Back
33, 175, 198. Back
p 140. Back
71, 87, Evidence p 71. Back
Q 84. Back
p 140. Back
(1998-99) 148, paragraph 9. Back
p 120. Back
p 86, Q 321. Back
p 87, Q 337. Back
for example Evidence pp 113-114, 132-134, 137. Back
p 114. Back
p 113. Back