The Home Affairs Committee has agreed
to the following Report:
THE WORK OF THE HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
1. On 14 May 2002 the House, by resolution, invited
the Liaison Committee to establish common objectives for select
committees. The Liaison Committee has subsequently issued a list
of indicative core tasks, grouped under four principal objectives,
and has asked departmental select committees to reflect these
in their annual reports.
2. The following report is a review of the Home Affairs
Committee's activities in 2002, arranged in the form of comments
on the Committee's performance in relation to each of these objectives
and core tasks. We append a table showing the relationship of
our inquiries and evidence sessions to the objectives and tasks.
3. It is expected that in the near future the House
will establish a select committee with the specific responsibility
of monitoring the work of the Lord Chancellor's Department, which
has hitherto been the responsibility of the Home Affairs Committee.
Our predecessors in the last Parliament expressed doubt about
the extent to which a single committee could provide adequate
scrutiny of both the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department.
We share those doubts and therefore welcome the imminent appointment
of a separate committee. The report which follows, covering the
year 2002, deals with our scrutiny of both departments.
IDENTIFICATION OF INQUIRIES
RELATING TO THE CORE TASKS
TASK 1: TO EXAMINE POLICY PROPOSALS FROM THE
UK GOVERNMENT AND THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION IN GREEN PAPERS, WHITE
PAPERS, DRAFT GUIDANCE ETC, AND TO INQUIRE FURTHER WHERE THE COMMITTEE
CONSIDERS IT APPROPRIATE
4. The Home Office produces a continuous stream of
policy proposals. The Committee monitors these in a variety of
ways. We hold an annual evidence session with the Home Secretary
to review ministerial priorities and emerging policy issues as
a whole. In 2002 this session was held in September when the House
was in recess. The Committee's legislative scrutiny of the Police
Reform and Criminal Justice Bills and the draft Extradition Bill
allowed study of the policy implications of this planned legislation.
In the case of the Criminal Justice Bill most of our evidence
was taken before the bill's publication, on the basis of the Government's
proposals put forward in the White Paper Justice for All,
published in July.
TASK 2: TO IDENTIFY AND EXAMINE AREAS OF EMERGING
POLICY, OR WHERE EXISTING POLICY IS DEFICIENT, AND MAKE PROPOSALS
5. In addition to the examination of emerging policy
detailed in the previous paragraph, the Committee conducted two
inquiries into areas where policy was suspected to be inadequate
or misconceived: "The Government's Drugs Policy: is it working?"
and "The Conduct of Investigations into Past Cases of Abuse
in Children's Homes". The former was a wide-ranging investigation:
we held 11 evidence sessions with 45 witnesses, including experts
from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. Besides their evidence
we also took into account over 200 written submissions. Our report
ranged widely over the principles and practice of policy on illegal
drugs; we are pleased that the Government has accepted many of
our recommendations. The other inquiry focussed on specific elements
of procedure in the area of child abuse prosecutions. Both inquiries
were initiated because there was reason to suspect that departmental
policy was deficient. Evidence sessions with the Home Secretary
and the Permanent Secretaries at the Home Office and the Lord
Chancellor's Department also explored emerging policy and areas
TASK 4: TO EXAMINE SPECIFIC OUTPUT FROM THE DEPARTMENT
EXPRESSED IN DOCUMENTS OR OTHER DECISIONS
6. The Committee has questioned witnessesparticularly
Home Office witnesseson specific departmental actions as
and when they arose during the course of the year. For example,
the actions of the department to resolve the problems of the Criminal
Records Bureau over the past six months were examined both with
the Home Secretary and with the Permanent Secretary.
TASK 7: TO MONITOR THE WORK OF THE DEPARTMENT'S
EXECUTIVE AGENCIES, NDPBS, REGULATORS AND OTHER ASSOCIATED PUBLIC
7. The Committee has pursued a programme of single
evidence sessions designed to scrutinise the bodies associated
with the Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department, interspersed
between its longer inquiries. Bodies examined in these single
evidence sessions in 2002 were the Criminal Cases Review Commission,
the Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan Police Service,
HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board.
TASK 8: TO SCRUTINISE MAJOR APPOINTMENTS MADE
BY THE DEPARTMENT
8. The Committee has taken evidence from HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons, to review her performance after one year
in post. On a related note, the Committee recommended in its report
on the Police Reform Bill that the appointment of the Chair of
the Independent Police Complaints Commission should be with the
"advice and consent" of the House of Commons. At report
stage of the Bill, the Chairman moved an amendment to this effect
but it was not accepted by the Government.
TASK 9: TO EXAMINE THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEGISLATION
AND MAJOR POLICY INITIATIVES
9. The inquiry into "The Government's Drugs
Policy: is it working?" involved an examination of the implementation
of Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, the Government's
ten-year strategy launched in 1998. An evidence session with the
Permanent Secretary at the Home Office enabled us to explore the
implementation of policy. Through participation in a visit to
Brussels and a conference in Madrid, Members kept up to date with
major policy initiatives in the increasingly important European
Union field of justice and home affairs.
EXAMINATION OF LEGISLATION
TASK 3: TO CONDUCT SCRUTINY OF ANY PUBLISHED
DRAFT BILL WITHIN THE COMMITTEE'S RESPONSIBILITIES
10. The Committee examined one draft Bill in 2002,
the draft Extradition Bill, and two published bills, the Police
Reform and Criminal Justice Bills. In each case, evidence was
taken on the likely implications of the legislation under review,
and reports published in advance of the second reading debates.
The draft Extradition Bill was published in good time by the Government,
and the Committee had scope to consider the responses to the Government's
consultation exercise, as well as to take its own oral evidence.
By contrast, the Criminal Justice Bill was published only a week
and a half before second reading, and most of the Committee's
evidence was based on the White Paper which preceded the bill.
A little more time was available to study the Police Reform Bill,
which was first introduced in the House of Lords, and once again
a report was produced in time for second reading in the Commons.
We propose to conduct similar scrutiny of the expected Sexual
Offences Bill and Anti-Social Behaviour Bill in the coming year.
1 Home Affairs Committee, Third Special Report of
Session 2000-01, Work of the Committee in the 1997 Parliament
(HC 248), paras 8-10. Back