Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers - Liaison Committee Contents


Formal Minutes


Thursday 25 October 2012

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith, in the Chair
Mr James Arbuthnot

Mr Kevin Barron

Dame Anne Begg

Mr Clive Betts

Mr William Cash

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

Mrs Louise Ellman

Natascha Engel

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Mr Bernard Jenkin

Miss Anne McIntosh

Andrew Miller

Mr Laurence Robertson

Mr Graham Stuart

John Thurso

Mr Andrew Tyrie

Mr Charles Walker

Joan Walley

Mr Tim Yeo

* * *

Draft Report (Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers), proposed by the Chair, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 76 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 77 read, as follows:

"A more radical suggestion is that committees should use third party experts to question witnesses on their behalf. These might be either experts in forensic questioning (counsel employed by the committee) or subject experts (perhaps the committee's own specialist advisers). In general, we are not in favour of delegating questioning to third parties. The legitimacy of House of Commons committees lies in the fact that they consist of elected representatives, operating with the authority of the House; and part of their value lies in requiring experts to explain issues of complexity to laymen. Most inquiries do not require forensic questioning and committees are not courts of law. However, exceptionally, when a committee is involved in an inquiry which is trying to establish facts in contention, or which may attribute blame to individuals, there may be a case for employing counsel. We note that the Standing Orders already allow for the Commissioner on Parliamentary Standards to appoint counsel to assist an Investigatory Panel and that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has been specifically empowered to invite specialist advisers (including Counsel appointed as specialist advisers) to examine witnesses. We have no doubt that, in circumstances which merit it, the House would authorise a committee to employ counsel, but it is cumbersome and time-consuming for a Committee to have to secure time in the House for a motion to be debated. We recommend that the House empower all select committees to employ counsel, on the understanding that this power would be used exceptionally and would be subject to budgetary control and the approval of the Chair of the Liaison Committee, given the potential high cost."

Question put, That paragraph 77 stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 4 Noes, 7
Mr Clive Betts

Mr William Cash

Natascha Engel

Mr Bernard Jenkin

Mr Kevin Barron

Mrs Louise Ellman

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Andrew Miller

Mr Graham Stuart

Mr Charles Walker

Joan Walley

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraph 78 read, as follows:

"Similarly, we think that there might be circumstances when a committee might usefully be able to involve an adviser in questioning a witness. We think this should be exceptional, or it would fundamentally alter the relationship between advisers and committees; but it could on occasion be appropriate. We note that there are some precedents for non-Members participating in committee proceedings. The Comptroller and Auditor General, for example, is from time to time asked to speak in public evidence sessions of the Public Accounts Committee. We recommend that the House empower all select committees to invite specialist advisers to participate in questioning witnesses."

Question put, That paragraph 78 stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 4 Noes, 7
Mr Clive Betts

Mr William Cash

Natascha Engel

Mr Bernard Jenkin

Mr Kevin Barron

Mrs Louise Ellman

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Andrew Miller

Mr Graham Stuart

Mr Charles Walker

Joan Walley

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraphs 79 to 134 (now paragraphs 77 to 132) read and agreed to.

Paragraph 135 (now paragraph 133) read.

Amendment proposed, in line 3, leave out from "conclusions" to the end of the bold conclusion in line 5 and insert ": there are difficult decisions to be made.".— (Mr Kevin Barron.)

Question, That the Amendment be made, put and negatived.

Paragraph agreed to.

Paragraphs 136 to 140 (now paragraphs 134 to 138) read and agreed to.

Annexes and Summary agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Second Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chair make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available, in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 134.

Written evidence was ordered to be reported to the House for publishing with the Report (in addition to that ordered to be reported for publishing on 23 February 2012, 20 June 2012, 12 July 2012, and 12 September 2012).

* * *

[Adjourned till Wednesday 21 November at 6.00 pm


 
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Prepared 8 November 2012