Appendix 3: The work of the Scrutiny Unit
1. The main aim of the Scrutiny Unit is to maintain
and improve the ability of the House, through its select committees,
to perform its scrutiny function. In particular:
- it supports select committees
and others within the House, mainly but not exclusively in the
areas of government expenditure, performance reporting and pre-legislative
- it provides staff for joint committees of both
Houses on draft bills, and
- it supports the evidence-taking functions of
Public Bill Committees.
In fulfilling its role, it seeks to develop expertise
and best practice and improve the quality of its work by developing
relationships with relevant organisations outside the House.
2. In 2007 the Unit maintained the high level of
activity of the previous session. All the departmental select
committees have made use of the Unit's services at some point
during the session and Unit staff also carried out important tasks
in support of the wider work of the House. Much of the work undertaken
by the Unit concerned the scrutiny of expenditure and performancea
core activity is the regular analysis of the Government's financial
reporting to Parliament. The Unit has also played an important
role in assisting committeesespecially joint committeesin
their examination of draft Bills. However, once again Unit staff
undertook a considerable volume of other tasks in support of committees.
This was partly owing to the fact that work on draft bills was
heavily concentrated into a few months of the session, allowing
us to direct resources to other tasks at less busy times.
3. Several committees have commented on the value
they place on assistance from the Unit. For instance, the Transport
Committee received "a great deal of support from the Committee
Office Scrutiny Unit, which provided us with significant help
with our inquiries" and the Justice Committee referred to
the "invaluable help" of the Unit.
- Overall, almost half (46%) of Scrutiny Unit staff
time was spent on expenditure-related tasks; 23% on draft bills,
and 31% on "other" activities, as shown in Figure 1
5. The variation in the Unit's workload over the
course of the Session is clear from Figure 2 below.
6. The "spike" of work on draft bills between
April and July reflects the fact that draft legislation is now
habitually published in the Spring, with pre-legislative scrutiny
usually completed by the summer recess. On the other hand, the
intensity of work on financial scrutiny remains broadly constant
throughout the yearthereby accounting for a much higher
proportion of the Unit's overall work in, for instance, August.
7. The way in which the Unit's resources are deployed
has changed since it was established in November 2002. In the
2003-04 Session, most (62%) of Scrutiny Unit staff time was spent
on draft bills, with 23% on expenditure-related tasks and 15%
on "other" tasks. Over the last few years, expenditure
and "other" tasks have increased in importance (see
Figure 3 below).
8. The change in types of work reflects both the
falling off in the numbers of draft bills published by the Government
(see Annex for more details on numbers of draft bills) and the
increase in the range and volume of tasks undertaken by Unit staff,
such as supporting public bill committees.
9. Scrutiny Unit staff undertook tasks for each of
the departmental select committees. although there was considerable
variation in the extent to which committees used the Unit's services.
The Treasury Committee made most use of Unit staff (about 10%
of total staff time in Session 2006-07), which is attributable
partly to the obvious synergy between its work and that of the
finance team in the Unit, but especially to staff shortages experienced
by the Committee. The Transport Committee was the second highest
user, accounting for about 5% of staff time. The Welsh Affairs
and Environmental Audit Committees used the services of the Unit
Staffing of the Unit
10. The Unit's staff increased by 2.5 full-time equivalents
over the course of 2007. The current complement comprises: two
legal specialists on short-term contracts, a statistician on secondment
from the House of Commons Library, two financial analysts on secondment
from the National Audit Office and two from Government departments,
an economist on a short-term contract and a Home Affairs/Public
Policy Specialist on a short-term contract. In addition, there
is a core team of the Head of Unit and two Deputy Heads (Finance
and Legislation), an assistant clerk (attached to the Unit for
one year, but not part of the formal complement), a committee
assistant, a team manager, two chief office clerks, a part-time
senior office clerk and an office support assistant. In addition,
an additional committee assistant was assigned to the Unit for
some months in the summer to support work for the joint committee
on the draft Climate Change Bill. The Unit has continued to host
a series of ESRC students on three-month placements.
11. Two of the additional staff were appointed in
response to specific business needs. The part-time office clerk
was needed because of the additional administrative burden arising
from the new evidence-taking powers of Public Bill Committees
(see further below). The public policy analyst post, created in
Autumn 2007, represents a new departure, working across the Unit,
the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee in support
of their work. The appointment reflects the high level of legislation-related
work generated in the home affairs and justice field, affecting
both select committees and public bill committees.
Financial scrutiny work for select committees
12. The Unit continues to support Select Committees
in their core tasks of examining departmental expenditure (core
task 5) and examining performance against key targets in the Public
Service Agreements (core task 6). The finance team provided briefing
for committees on the Main and Supplementary Estimates (including
analysis of departments' Estimates Memoranda), resource accounts,
Autumn Performance Reports and Departmental Annual Reports (DARs)
of all the major Government departments and agencies. This included
briefing for those committees which held evidence sessions on
their departments' DARs. We also contributed to the drafting of
committee reports on DARs and Estimatesfor instance those
by the Defence and International Development Committees. Following
practice in previous years, the Unit has undertaken an over-arching
review of the 2007 DARs, which was published in March 2008.
13. The finance team continues to be particularly
active in its support of the Treasury Committee, including contributing
to briefing on the Budget, the Pre-Budget Report and the Comprehensive
Spending Review, and drafting reports on globalisation and the
regulation of travel insurance. The Committee has noted the benefit
of the Unit's assistance.
14. Other examples of financial scrutiny work undertaken
for committees in 2007 include an analysis of economic arguments
for space travel for the Science and Technology Committee and
of police funding for the Home Affairs Committee. The Unit has
had a long-running association with the Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs Committee in its examination of Defra's budgetan
example of the Unit's core function of analysing departmental
annual reports widening to include work on the Department's wider
financial management. The Committee has noted the value of the
15. The Unit's statistician, on loan from the House
of Commons Library, assists committees with statistical analysis,
as well as contributing to the general financial scrutiny work
of the Unit. Examples of the statistician's work in 2007 include
assisting the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in
its inquiry into Badgers and Bovine TB and the Home Affairs Committee's
inquiry into police funding.
16. Draft Bills are considered by ad hoc Joint
Committees of both Houses or departmental Select Committees (in
pursuit of core task 3). In 2007, the Government published four
bills in draft, three of which received pre-legislative scrutiny.
The Unit provided legal specialists, administrative staff and
one of its Clerks to support the two joint committees appointed
to examine the draft Climate Change Bill and the draft Human Tissue
and Embryos Bill.
As in previous years, the two joint committees were given a very
tight timetable to complete pre-legislative scrutiny, and thus
an intensive workload for members and staff, but they were nevertheless
able to publish their reports on schedule.
17. The draft Climate Change Bill was also subject
to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs Committee, as well as being considered by the Environmental
Audit Committee as part of a wider inquiry.
This put pressure on specialist staff resources, which was alleviated
partly by the assignment of an NAO specialist to the committee
team, on a part-time basis, and by shared working between EAC
specialist staff and the staff of the joint committee.
Public Bill Committees
18. In 2007 the new procedure under which Public
Bill Committees (PBCs) may take written and oral evidence on bills
came fully into operation. Five PBCs took oral evidence during
the year, holding a total of 15 evidence sessions, and receiving
some 500 written submissionsabout 400 of them in respect
of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. This represented
a significant new task for the Unit's administrative staff, who
manage the receipt, checking and circulation of submissions to
Committee members, and make the practical arrangements for oral
evidence sessions. In addition, the Deputy Head (Legislation)
commissioned and edited briefing for those evidence sessions from
specialist staff of select committees, and she also contributed
to the briefing.
Regulatory Reform Orders and Legislative Competence
19. Legal specialists in the Unit have continued
to work with the staff of the Regulatory Reform Committee in its
scrutiny of Regulatory Reform Orders (RROs) made under the Regulatory
Reform Act 2001. In 2007 one of the Unit's legal specialists undertook
all the work on the Committee's inquiry into the draft Financial
Markets and Services Order.
20. The Government of Wales Act 2006 introduced a
new procedure whereby the National Assembly for Wales can bring
forward proposals which would extend the Assembly's law-making
powers by way of Legislative Competence Orders in Council (LCOs).
The Orders do not themselves change the general law for Walesthey
pave the way to subsequent changes in the law applying to Wales
within the devolved areas of legislative competence.
The Welsh Affairs Committee undertakes scrutiny of LCOs. The Unit's
legal specialists have assisted the Welsh Affairs Committee in
its scrutiny of two draft LCOs. Scrutiny of LCOs looks set to
become a regular task for the Unit's legal specialists.
Other work for committees
21. The Scrutiny Unit continued in 2007 to support
committees in areas outside its core specialisms of financial
and legislative scrutiny. This provision of "surge"
capacity has been of particular help to committees faced with
unexpected demands in workload or gaps in their staff complement.
Once again, a member of staff was seconded on a short-term basis
to the Treasury Committee, but otherwise work was done on a project
basis with staff remaining based in the Unit. A recent example
was the Assistant Clerk managing an entire inquiry for the Transport
Committee. The new Home Affairs/Public Policy Specialist post
(see paragraphs 10-11 above) was created to fill a specific gap
in resources elsewhere in the Committee Office, and was placed
in the Unit to allow flexibility in her deployment.
22. Unit staff have also continued to assist committees
in managing online forums in connection with committee inquiries,
and the Unit has supported the Web Centre in developing advice
and guidance to committee staff in this area. One of the Unit's
office clerks continued to work as the committee assistant on
the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill. The Bill has now completed
its passage through the Commons, and gone to the House of Lords.
This member of Unit staff was seconded to the Lords in January
2008 to assist with scrutiny of the Bill in that House.
Work for the Liaison Committee
23. Unit staff have continued to provide support
for the Liaison Committee's work. We supplied the secretariat
for the Committee's working group on post-legislative scrutiny,
and have made a significant input to the working group on improving
24. Unit staff also advised the Committee on how
to respond to Treasury proposals to merge departmental annual
reports and resource accounts, a project which was piloted by
two departments during 2007. The Unit has also briefed staff of
the select committees which monitor these departments on how the
change affects their scrutiny of financial reporting.
25. As in previous years the Unit has carried out
work for customers other than the departmental select committees,
although we strive to ensure that this does not prevent us from
carrying out our "core work" for committees. Prominent
examples include briefing and support for the Speaker's Committee
on the Electoral Commission in its review of the Commission's
2007-08 Estimate and Corporate Plan. This included consideration
of a new four-year budget for the Commission. Staff of the Unit's
finance team provided briefing for the Committee and its sub-committee,
in advance of its meeting with Commission officials, as well as
appearing themselves before the Committee.
26. At the request of the Clerk of the House, in
his role as Accounting Officer, the Head of the Unit, the Deputy
Head (Finance) and another member of the finance team carried
out a review of the internal audit function of the House of Commons
Internal Review Service. The report of the review was submitted
in July. Its recommendations were accepted by the Clerk and the
Audit Committee and are in the process of being implemented.
27. The finance team has made contributions to several
Treasury consultations. Examples include the Treasury's reviews
of the new edition of Government Accounting, now re-published
under the title Managing Public Money; and the Treasury's
revision of Supply Estimates: A guidance manual, which
included revised guidance on Estimates Memoranda. Finally the
finance team has continued to support the Parliamentary Observer
on the Financial Reporting Advisory Board (FRAB).
Training and sharing best practice
28. The Unit continued the work started in 2006 to
help train Government and House staff on the evidence-taking aspects
of the new Public Bill Committee procedures, including presentations
to staff of Government departments and committee specialists,
and bilateral meetings. Members of the finance team have also
briefed committee members on aspects of financial reporting, e.g.
the Estimates process.
29. In 2007 the Unit also published a handbook for
Members on parliamentary scrutiny of Government finances, Financial
Scrutiny Uncovered and sought to put more material on its
website. An example of the latter is a note on public sector pensions
liabilities, which was later cited by the Institute for Fiscal
Studies in its 2008 "Green Budget".
30. International interest in the legislative and
financial scrutiny work of the Unit is reflected in regular visits
by staff and members of overseas legislatures. In 2007 Unit staff
briefed visitors from, among other countries, Australia, Botswana,
the Czech Republic, Egypt, Ghana, Gibraltar, Indonesia, Kenya,
Namibia, Nigeria, Portugal and Slovenia.
31. The Unit celebrated its fifth birthday in November
2007. This was a good time to take stock of what we had achieved,
but also to consider how well we do our job and what we could
do better or differently. At around the same time, the Review
of Select Committee Resources produced its report. The Review
The Unit provides a positive model of multi-professional
and cross-Committee collaboration, containing as it does a mix
of accountants, lawyers and other specialists providing support
to a wide range of Select Committees rather than a single customer.
The Review also noted the positive view of the Unit's
work expressed by the majority of chairmen interviewed.
32. The Review team also noted that the Unit could
do more to communicate with its "customers" among committee
staff about how it could help them.
Partly in response to these findings, and also arising from discussions
at our annual awayday, we have reviewed how we communicate with
committee staff and how we can further improve the ways in which
we engage with our customers. We are in the process of implementing
the changes arising from our review.
33. The Review also proposed that the Committee Office
works towards the establishment of a central Research Unit, bringing
together a broad spectrum of skills and policy experience. The
Review noted that the Scrutiny Unit "provides a good model
on which the Committee Office could build" in developing
such a centralised model.
It is not yet clear what model of staffing will be adopted for
the Committee Office, but any significant changes to the current
structure will clearly have a major impact on the Unit.
34. In the shorter term, it is difficult to make
definite predictions about the balance of the Unit's future work,
as this will depend (as ever) on the number of draft bills published
and joint committees appointed, the demands of committees for
"surge capacity" (which will in turn be heavily influenced
by their staffing patterns) and the demands of public bill committees.
The latter have already created a significant amount of extra
work for the Unit in the first month of 2008. However, whatever
the split between different types of work, it seems unlikely that
the total volume of tasks the Unit is asked to carry out will
decline in the foreseeable future.
Head, Scrutiny Unit
Draft Bills published since Session 1997-1998
||Number of draft bills published
||Number of Government bills published
|1 Includes draft clauses of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill and the Gambling Bill
2 Includes draft clauses of the Company Law Reform Bill
3 Includes the European Union Bill (not proceeded with)
164 Transport Committee, Work of the Committee in
2007, para 4. Justice Committee, Work of the Committee
in 2007, para 39. See also Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Committee, The Work of the Committee in 2007, para 50,
Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Work of the Committee in
2007, paras 14 and 15. Back
Treasury Committee, Work of the Committee in 2007, para
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, The Work of
the Committee in 2007, para 44. See also e.g. Culture, Media
and Sport Committee, Work of the Committee in 2007, para
See Annex for more information on numbers of draft bills in recent
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, The Work of
the Committee in 2007, para 14; Letter from the Chairman of
the Environmental Audit Committee, Appendix 1, para 4 Back
Welsh Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Proposed
Legislative Competence Orders in Council: Additional Learning
Needs, HC 44, para 1 Back
See Liaison Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Parliament
and Government Finance: Recreating Financial Scrutiny, HC
426, para 3 - to be published on 21 April 2008. Back
Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Third Report
of Session 2006-07, Third Report 2007, HC 288, para 11
and Appendix 3 Back
Both publications are available online at www.parliament.uk/scrutiny Back
Review of Select Committee Resources, p 65 Back
Ibid., pp 63, 67 Back
Ibid., pp 9, 64 Back