Select Committee on Liaison Third Report

1 Introduction

1. Select committees play a key role in ensuring the accountability of Government to Parliament, and through Parliament to the electorate. Across a wide range of topics—regional government, private equity firms, pensions, Afghanistan, the Lisbon Treaty, train fares—select committees make a vital contribution both to parliamentary scrutiny of, and the wider public debate on, government policy and actions. They have an increasingly high public profile, with their work regularly attracting significant media attention.

2. In this Report, we review the work of committees in 2007 and summarise the work of the Liaison Committee itself. 364 Members served on select committees in the 2006-07 Session, with committees holding 632 public meetings and publishing 345 substantive reports.[1] It is not our intention to describe the work of committees in great detail—information about each committee can be found in their annual reports, listed at Annex 1.[2] Instead we highlight some of the most significant achievements of committees in the past year, and comment on issues that are relevant to the work of all committees, including the resources available to them.

3. Scrutiny is carried out by the 18 committees which correspond to government departments, and by others such as Environmental Audit, Public Accounts, Public Administration or Regulatory Reform, whose work cuts across all ministerial responsibilities. Human rights, another cross-cutting issue, is covered by a joint committee with the Lords, the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

4. As we noted in our Report last year, in order to do their job properly committees need:

  • full cooperation from ministers and officials;
  • access to information and witnesses, resources to assess the information they receive, and
  • adequate public awareness of their work.

Our role, as the Committee which brings together all the chairmen of the House's select committees[3] is to seek to ensure that these are available. Our members work together to champion parliamentary scrutiny. We support committees in their work, and where possible strengthen their capacity for carrying it out.

5. We have extended our role as a line of communication between committees and the Government, making sure the needs of committees—for instance, the importance of access to officials and information—are clearly conveyed to ministers, via regular correspondence and meetings with the Leader of the House. We are grateful to the current Leader, Rt Hon Harriet Harman, and the former Leader, Rt Hon Jack Straw, for their readiness to cooperate with our work and take account of the concerns of select committee chairmen as they develop the Government's proposals in areas which affect Parliament. We have also valued being able to give oral evidence to the Modernisation Committee.

6. In 2007, we have been particularly engaged with the Government's Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, which raises many issues of importance for Parliament and its committees.[4] We address some of these in the course of this Report. We expect to continue our dialogue with the Government about the Green Paper in the coming months. We comment on our own activities at the relevant points of our survey of committees' work in 2007.

7. We have also continued to discharge our own scrutiny role through regular evidence sessions with the Prime Minister. In 2007, we held three such meetings: two with the former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Tony Blair, and one with his successor, Rt Hon Gordon Brown.

1   Sessional Returns, Session 2006-07, HC 1 Back

2   Some committees did not publish an annual report on their work, but instead wrote to the Chairman. These letters are published as appendices to this Report. Back

3   Excluding the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, which is chaired by the Leader of the House. Back

4   Ministry of Justice, The Governance of Britain, Cm 7170, July 2007 Back

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