Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers - Liaison Committee Contents

8  Our vision for the future

135. The evidence we have received in this inquiry is broadly encouraging: select committees are seen as a key part of the constitutional framework, successful in influencing both Government and external bodies, and a leading forum for public debate; they also greatly extend the engagement of the public with Parliament in a positive way. Committees' legitimacy in the eyes of the public, their profile in the media, and their self-confidence is growing. But they face some obstacles: departments do not always co-operate fully with committee inquiries and Government imposes constraints on committees' access to information and witnesses. Committees' powers to secure the attendance of witnesses and the provision of information are strong, but they are limited with regard to Government, and their enforceability has been brought into doubt. There are things committees could do better themselves: they should be clearer about their objectives, use their time more effectively, and make sure they have the skills to do their work effectively. They need to be more agile in their inquiry process, while retaining their reputation for impartial and evidence-based reporting. The resources committees have at their disposal are necessarily limited, so they need to make sure that they are used to best effect and that they make full use of external support. Committees need to do more to get their message across to the public, particularly through better use of the parliamentary website and new media.

136. We have a clear vision for the future. Our aim is that committees should be respected, listened to and feared by departments and ministers for the quality of their investigations, the rigour of their questioning, the depth of their analysis, and the value of their reports. Their influence will go beyond the subjects they choose to inquire into: departments will be mindful of the reaction of their committee when they make policy decisions and of the high probability of exposure of any administrative shortcomings. Committees will be routinely consulted by ministers and officials but will retain their detachment and ability to offer objective criticism. Their ability to do their job will not be limited by constraints on access to information or the witnesses they wish to hear from, and they will be able to draw on expert advice and research. They will be seen by our stakeholder communities as an important player, influencing Government and public opinion, and as the natural place to go to with concerns and ideas. The role of committees — and the powers which they can draw upon — will be understood by the public, and they will engage with a wide diversity of people in gathering evidence for our inquiries. Their work will be respected for its integrity and relevance to people's lives, and will contribute to reviving faith in the value of parliamentary democracy.

137. This is not a utopian dream, but a vision which we think is achievable — with the co-operation of Government and the support of the public — by the end of the next Parliament. Our aim is to build a consensus for delivering this vision by 2020.

138. As a first step, we will be seeking the support of the House of Commons by asking the Backbench Business Committee for time for a debate on a motion endorsing the conclusions and recommendations set out in this report.

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Prepared 8 November 2012