Select Committee on Liaison Third Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1. Once again, we are disappointed at the comparatively small number of draft bills published by the Government. But numbers are not the most important aspect of the process. What matters is the quality of pre-legislative scrutiny that takes place and a crucial factor in accomplishing first-rate scrutiny is sufficient time for committees to do their work. For this reason, we are especially concerned that the Government does not appear to have taken into account the need for committees to have adequate time to plan and carry out effective pre-legislative scrutiny of draft bills. We welcome the Government's intention to increase the number of draft bills it publishes in 2008, but stress that sufficiently early publication of such draft bills is a necessary condition for proper scrutiny. The Government should liaise at an early stage with committees to ensure they can set aside time in their already busy work programmes to carry out their pre-legislative scrutiny function. (Paragraph 24)

2. While we recognise that some draft bills will be particularly suited to scrutiny by joint committees, it is for the House, not the Executive, to assess the most effective form of scrutiny, and we object strongly to the fact that the Government has sought to pre-empt the House's consideration of how to scrutinise draft bills by bringing forward motions for the appointment of joint committees without proper consultation. We reiterate the comment of our predecessor committee in 2005: there should be a presumption in favour of draft bills going to departmental select committees for pre-legislative scrutiny, where they are ready and willing to undertake this. (Paragraph 25)

3. We welcome the publication of the Government's draft legislative programme, which has the potential to further enhance committees' engagement with the legislative process. In order for this potential to be realised, the draft programme will have to be published early enough for committees to be able to examine those proposals that fall within their remit and report on them in time for their views to be taken into account by the Government in finalising its legislative programme. We therefore welcome the Government's intention of publishing the draft programme for 2008-09 around Easter 2008. (Paragraph 32)

4. We welcome the continuing improvement in the quality of information provided in Estimates Memoranda, and the fact that pressure from committees is ensuring that the quality of departments' Estimates Memoranda is being further improved. (Paragraph 40)

5. Committees continued their effective scrutiny of government expenditure over the last year. Such scrutiny of expenditure is not limited to an annual examination of departmental reports, important though this is. Committees have shown that an awareness of expenditure issues informs a much wider range of their work. We are pleased that most departmental committees have taken oral evidence on departmental reports, but emphasise that committees using this evidence to form the basis of a report to the House can further improve the quality of departments' financial reporting. (Paragraph 42)

6. The new combined departmental reports and resource accounts are an opportunity to produce more helpful documents, although we note the potential disadvantage that they will be published later than the current DARs. The balance between the greater usefulness of the combined document and its later publication is one that can best be judged by the individual committees concerned, on a case by case basis. (Paragraph 44)

7. We look forward to examining the Government's proposals for more systematic post-legislative scrutiny, and discussing their implementation with ministers. At this stage, we welcome the Government's recognition that post-legislative scrutiny is, in the first instance, a matter for Commons select committees. (Paragraph 64)

8. We have been concerned by the length of time it has taken in some instances to appoint and replace members of select committees. We urge the Leader of the House, the Committee of Selection and the Government and Opposition Whips to liaise more closely, and work together in order to speed up the nomination process. We also urge the Whips of all parties to ensure members are appointed to and discharged from committees only after proper consultation with all those affected. While we recognise the natural desire of the Whips to ensure attendance of Members for important votes, we hope to work with them to achieve greater certainty for the forward planning of committee business. (Paragraph 74)

9. We are grateful to members of the judiciary for their willingness to give evidence to committees and otherwise to participate in their inquiries, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the Law Commission, including on the development of post-legislative scrutiny. (Paragraph 79)

10. We deplore the fact that departments have in some cases taken an inordinate amount of time to submit written evidence and responses to committees. Departments should engage in a positive and timely manner with select committee inquiries. This includes making information available to committees unless there are compelling reasons to withhold it. In this context, we welcome the Home Office's positive approach to working with the Home Affairs Committee, and the FCO's commitment to consider ways in which information in classified documents could be made available to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We encourage all departments to look upon parliamentary scrutiny as an important process rather than a necessary evil, as sometimes seems to be the case. We also commend the practice of committees in following up inadequate government responses, as this is the most effective way of ensuring better practice in the future. (Paragraph 85)

11. Online forums can be a means of accessing information from people who would be hard to reach through the routes traditionally used by committees, and have the potential to encourage the public to engage more fully with Parliament. We encourage more committees to consider this approach to information gathering, where there are likely to be communities of interest who would not otherwise participate in committee inquiries. However, online forums can be resource-intensive to set up and run, and so care should be taken that they are employed only when they can add specific value to an inquiry. Committees can make particularly effective use of the information they obtain through this method by publishing a summary of the views expressed and referring to online comments in their reports. In this way, contributors to online forums can be reassured that their views are being heard. (Paragraph 91)

12. Once again, we express our appreciation of the specialist assistance the National Audit Office provides to select committees. We believe such assistance is most valuable when it responds to specific committee needs, and we encourage committees to consider ways in which the NAO can help them. (Paragraph 94)

13. We note the important added value which the Scrutiny Unit has continued to bring to the work of committees. (Paragraph 95)

14. We await the outcome of the Modernisation Committee's inquiry into regional accountability, and more detailed proposals from the Government. At this stage, we reiterate the concerns put to the Modernisation Committee by our Chairman and other Members, that establishing a group of select committees on the regions, operating in the same way as the existing departmental select committees, could lead to wasteful duplication of effort, confusion over the roles of the different committees and conflicting demands for resources and access to relevant witnesses. We welcome the prospect of enhanced regional accountability, but it must not be at the expense of replicating—or weakening—the existing scrutiny system. (Paragraph 107)


  • The principle of parliamentary scrutiny for National Policy Statements is welcome and we believe select committees are the proper forum for such scrutiny;
  • The Government should work closely with the committees most affected to ensure that any new arrangements allow existing committees adequate time to carry out effective scrutiny without adversely affecting the rest of their programme of work, and
  • Decisions on the statements should be made by the House, informed by the committees' analyses, and the Planning Bill should be amended to ensure that ministers may not designate statements without the approval of the House.

We look forward to a continuing dialogue between committee chairmen and the Leader of the House on how these aims can best be achieved. (Paragraph 109)

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