Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from the Chairmen of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee to the Chairman of the Committee

  We write in response to the Modernisation Committee's consideration of select committees. A number of matters have been raised.


  We favour pre-legislative scrutiny. Our predessor Committee examined a number of bills and draft bills in the last Parliament. We are happy to do more. The problem is that the Government has brought forward very few bills in draft, and when it has, has not always left sufficient time for proper scrutiny. We are rather suprised to read in your Memorandum that "the Government will continue to seek to produce more legislation in draft scrutiny". What is stopping it?

  Scrutiny of draft bills is particularly appropriate where a fundamental unravelling of important systems and structures are proposed. We would, therefore, see those aspects of the Government's proposed reforms to the planning system which require legislation as ideal for a draft bill.

  Where departmental Select Committees have to decline the opportunity to look at pre-legislative proposals because of the lack of resources, or more important business, they could be considered by some other body, eg a Special Standing Committee.

  We also strongly favour post-legislative scrutiny, and have begun an inquiry into the working of the Local Government Act 2000. This task would be made much more effective if more Government bills required the Secretary of State to lay an Annual Report before Parliament in respect of the implementation of its provisions.


  The key prinicpal is that the number of Members on Committee should be determined by what makes for the most effective scrutiny. This leads us to oppose attempts to increase their size on the basis of providing a role for Members who have little to do. It is extremely difficult to scrutinise Ministers if there are large numbers of Members present.


  Our Committee and its predecessor (Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee) have considered every year the Department's Annual Report and Estimates. We would be able to do so more effectively with greater support from the National Audit Office.


  We are strongly in favour of Committee half hours. There would be sufficiEnt reports. They could be very topical ones or on important but minor subjects which might not merit a long debate. In the previous Parliament the ETRA Committee would have almost produced sufficient reports on its own.


  As you say in your memorandum "The Departmental Select Committees are the most developed vehicle through which MPs can carry out detailed scrutiny of government policy and Ministerial conduct." To do this effectively they need more resources, and in particular more staff. The deployment of the staff will we assume be a matter for the Committees themselves and the Liaison Committee.


  Lord Birt has recently refused to appear before the Committee to account for his work on the future of transport for the Prime Minister. The present ability of members of the Lords to refuse to account for themselves before the Departmental Select Committees is an anachronism. Committees should be able to summon Members of the other House as they would any other potential witness.

Mr Andrew Bennett

Mr Gwyneth Dunwoody

31 January 2002

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