Improving the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny: Various items - Procedure Committee Contents

Letter from Rt Hon Sir George Young MP, Leader of the House of Commons (P69, 2010-11)


Thank you for your letter of 9 December, continuing discussions on the proposal to allow select committees to table amendments to bills and motions in their own right. I have had further discussion within Government on this issue.

I support efforts to increase the greater transparency and visibility of the very important work undertaken by select committees. As you are aware, I have been keen to work with the Liaison Committee, the Backbench Business Committee and your committee to seek progress in this area, for example, our recent discussions about improving the procedures for select committee chairs to have access to the chamber floor to launch important reports.

Your committee, in its report on Tabling of Amendments by Select Committees, published in November 2009, itself set out our main concerns in paragraph 6. The report says that proceeding this way "would have implications for individual members of a select committee who might disagree with the proposed amendment, either at the time of its adoption by the committee or afterwards. A Member cannot be bound to support a motion, even where his signature has been appended to it". These concerns were also raised by the former Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, who sought views on what provisions might be offered to protect individual members in her letter to you in January 2010. You also mention in your letter of 28 October 2010 that to protect dissident members of a committee from association with an amendment, "that there would be a guarantee that the amendment had been agreed by the committee under conditions more stringent that those required to agree a committee report."

This area remains our main concern, but I can see the benefits of providing greater clarity in this area, where it is obvious that a proposed amendment has the support of the entire committee. Your first report raises the possibility of a symbol being inserted on the amendment paper to signify its relationship with a committee. While I do not wish to prescribe exactly what form this should take, I see this as a proportionate solution to the problem of raising awareness of select committee work, and their support of certain amendments. I would suggest that to protect individual members, the symbol should only be inserted where every member of the committee has signed the amendment. Further options to improve clarity, grouping of the names together, for example, could also be considered to help improve understanding.

This is said in the context, as recognised by your committee, that the House already accepts that Government or Opposition amendments are tabled in a single name but are understood to have been tabled on behalf of the Government or a party.

Your letter also raises the proposal that these amendments are considered favourably for selection under programming. While matters of selection are a matter for the Chair, I share the concern of my predecessor that a maximalist interpretation of this recommendation might undermine the long-established practice of the House, possibly increasing the number of divisions, at the expense of debate on other amendments, and moving from the principle that amendments should be chosen on their merits, to the detriment of other backbench Members.

There are many other avenues open to select committees to make their own work more visible in this area without necessarily changing procedure. For example, committees are already able to publish a report specifying motions that have been tabled and which have their support, highlighting any relevant previous work in the area and furthering arguments to gather support for them. I would encourage select committees in this area. Their work is fundamental to the effective scrutiny of Government and I look forward to working with colleagues to strengthen their work in the future.

I am copying this letter to the Chairs of the Liaison and Backbench Business Committees.

January 2011

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