23 In its Reply the Government
acknowledges that "continuity of membership is important
to running an effective Committee".
How, then, are we to interpret the Government's apparent acquiescence
in the current difficulties and delays in replacing Members of
Select Committees? We expect our system of nomination to replace
Members within a week of a vacancy becoming known.
The Annex to this Report sets out some recent examples of delays
(of up to fourteen months) under the present
system. The Government's favoured method of selecting members
of select committees seems to fail the Government's own test of
24 We criticised the delay
in setting up Select Committees at the start of a Parliament because
"...the very time when
committees need to put in maximum effort to establish their approach,
plan their programme and begin work. These delays are of course
convenient for the government of the day".
In response, the Government says
"A timescale of two
months is not ideal, but cannot be considered to be of extreme
significance over the four to five year life of a Parliament."
This response confirms our view that any Government
is bound to find a two or three month delay in any detailed scrutiny
of its activities not inconvenient.
25 The Reply says that the
"...take heed of the
Committee's concerns about the length of time it takes to establish
Committees after an election. We hope all parties will use their
best endeavours to establish Select Committees as quickly as practicable."
But such hopes are not bankable. Our proposals
26 The Leader of the House
said in evidence to us that our proposals
in my mind the feeling that maybe there will be a kind of two-tier
membership of the House and that those who put themselves into
the career stream for select Committee membership are in some
way different from and perhaps even, dare I say it, slightly above
the ordinary backbench Member, and that is one of my concerns."
and in the House later the same week she said
"The proposals made
by the Liaison Committee are indeed far-reaching and profound
- so far-reaching and profound that they raise questions as to
whether they would create a two-tier membership in the House."
27 On the Government side
of the House in any Parliament, there is already "two-tier"
membership, if one cares to call it that: Ministers, PPSs and
those who aspire to a Governmental career; and the others. All
we are suggesting is that Select Committees should have a little
more power and influence in order to be able to scrutinise the
Government a bit better. If that makes Select Committee membership
more attractive, well and good. But as the Government itself points
out, there will always be Members moving in and out of Select
This increases Members' skills and experience, and seems to
us to be a desirable thing.
28 In its Reply, the Government
says that the present means of selecting Members to serve on Select
Committees "have stood the test of time".
This is not so. There is widespread disquiet, both amongst Members
and outside the House, about a system which is not open, and which
is not clearly independent of the Government and the party managers.
Those being scrutinised should not have a say in the selection
of the scrutineers. We believe that the present system does not,
and should not, have the confidence of the House and the public.
2 Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the
Executive; First Report from the Liaison Committee, HC 300
of Session 1999-2000. References here to that Report are in the
form of "Report, paragraph 1". Back
Cm 4737. References to the Government's Reply are in the form:
"Reply, paragraph 1". Back
The arguments for doing so have grown stronger; a (possibly unintended)
consequence of devolution legislation is that UK Ministers
in one or other House of the United Kingdom Parliament may
in certain circumstances be required by law to attend a Committee
of one of the devolved assemblies: see the Scotland Act 1998,
section 23, the Government of Wales Act 1998, section 74, and
the Northern Ireland Act 1998, section 44. Back
Report, paragraphs 12 and 13. Back
Reply, paragraph 10. Back
The fifteen Departmental Select Committees, the Science and Technology
Committee and four domestic committees (Accommodation and Works,
Administration, Catering and Information). Back
Broadcasting, Consolidation, &c, Bills, Deregulation, European
Scrutiny, Finance and Services, Liaison, Public Administration,
Procedure, Public Accounts, Standards and Privileges, Statutory
Instruments, Environmental Audit. Back
Following the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure,
HC588-I of Session 1977-78, paragraphs 6.18 to 6.21. Back
Reply, paragraph 10. Back
The Panel, composed of all Select Committee Chairmen, would be
set up as Committees elected their Chairmen. See paragraph 21
of our First Report. Back
Sessional Return, 1998-99, HC1 of Session 1999-2000, pages 19
and 20. The time excludes points of order and "miscellaneous
business" including suspensions. Back
We note that, in evidence before us, the Leader of the House appeared
to resile considerably from the Government's original position.
See Qq21 to 23. Back
This is only one of a number of viable procedural solutions. For
example, a Sessional Order might require that the Chairmanships
of named Committees should be held by Members of specified parties
represented in the House. Motions in Committee "That X do
take the Chair" would be in order only if X were of the specified
party. This would meet the Government's stated objection even
more directly than placing an obligation upon the Panel to take
such matters into account. Back
Qq 29 to 36. Back
Reply, paragraph 13. Back
Report, paragraph 19. Back
Report, paragraph 12. Back
Reply, paragraph 13. Back
Reply, paragraph 14. Back
Official Report, 13 July 2000, col. 1170. Back
Reply, paragraphs 21 and 22. Back
Reply, paragraph 8. Back