Select Committee on Public Administration Fourth Report


This Report considers the prerogative powers of Ministers. These include some of the most important functions of government, such as decisions on armed conflict and the conclusion of international treaties. The Report describes how such powers have, over many years, come to be delegated by Sovereigns to Ministers, and notes that they may be exercised without parliamentary approval or scrutiny. They are therefore best described as Ministerial executive powers.

While recognising that such powers are necessary for effective administration, especially in times of national emergency, the Report considers whether they should be subject to more systematic parliamentary oversight. It examines the arguments for scrutiny of some of the most significant prerogative powers, and concludes that the case for reform is unanswerable. There is discussion of the merits of various ways of dealing with this question, including a continuation of the current approach, by which individual prerogative powers are made subject to parliamentary control on a case-by-case basis as the necessity for such control is demonstrated.

The Report concludes that a different approach is needed, and that comprehensive legislation should be drawn up which would require government within six months to list the prerogative powers exercised by Ministers. The list would then be considered by a parliamentary committee and appropriate legislation would be framed to put in place statutory safeguards where necessary. A paper and draft Bill appended to the Report, prepared by Professor Rodney Brazier, the specialist adviser to the inquiry, contain these provisions as well as proposals for early legislative action in the case of three of the most important specific areas covered by prerogative powers: decisions on armed conflict, treaties and passports. The Report recommends that the Government should, before the end of the current session, initiate a public consultation exercise on the prerogative powers of Ministers.

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Prepared 16 March 2004