Legacy Report - Liaison Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We recommend that SO No. 145 (Liaison Committee) be amended by inserting in para (2) after 'Prime Minister', 'and from the Deputy Prime Minister' and in para (10) to reduce the quorum for oral evidence sessions to six. (Paragraph 11)

2.  Our overall impression is that government departments are taking committees seriously and engaging positively with them. While there have been occasions of late replies to reports and disagreements about witnesses and evidence, most relationships between select committees and departments appear to be constructive. (Paragraph 16)

3.  The House should resist any attempt by the front-benches to overturn the Wright reforms and make the election of chairs less democratic and representative. Such a retrograde step would harm the standing of select committees in their role of holding to account the Government of the day. A return to appointment of chairs behind closed doors or just within parties would be unacceptable. (Paragraph 21)

4.  We recommend that SO No. 134 (Select committees (reports)) be amended to read:

All select committees shall have power:

(a) to authorise the clerk of the committee to supply copies of their reports under embargo to such persons as those committees consider appropriate after those reports have been reported to the House; or

(b) to make known to any individual whose conduct the committee intends to criticise the nature of such criticism, before it has been reported to the House. (Paragraph 47)

5.  The resources and expertise of the Scrutiny Unit have very greatly helped committees undertake the important work of scrutinising how taxpayers' money is spent by departments and other public bodies. The Scrutiny Unit has also enabled the Liaison Committee to develop a positive engagement with the Treasury about the clarity of financial information published by government. (Paragraph 64)

6.  We recommend that in future people appointed by ministers to paid public office, whether subject to pre-appointment hearing or not, be required to undertake (should they be or become members of the House of Lords) not to refuse a request to give evidence to a relevant Commons select committee. (Paragraph 81)

7.  The Liaison Committee welcomed the appointment of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, with the caveat that the resources for such a body should not affect support for other committees. We believe that the House should be prepared to set up such bodies again when the need arises and that the necessary funds and planning should be prepared for. (Paragraph 89)

8.  We recommend that Standing Orders be amended to enable committees to make all decisions other than consideration of reports, which they could properly make at quorate deliberative meetings through any form of communication provided that all members have been given sufficient notice and any decision is supported by a majority of the committee. (Paragraph 98)

9.  Select committees should be able to arrange public meetings with interested parties without taking oral evidence. (Paragraph 100)

10.  There is a wider problem which was also highlighted by the Wright Committee: a finite number of backbenchers has to be spread over an increasing number of select committees. The size and number of select committees remains an issue. (Paragraph 104)

11.  As the Wright Committee recommended, departmental select committees should have a maximum of 11 Members. (Paragraph 106)

12.  The balance need not be identical on each committee if the overall representation across all committees was fair and proportionate. Otherwise there is a risk of committees getting bigger and bigger to incorporate Members from smaller parties—and spreading Members too thinly over many committees. (Paragraph 107)

13.  On the basis of experience in the 2010-15 Parliament, our advice to new committees set up in the next Parliament is:

a) Discuss amongst themselves and with stakeholders the most effective working methods

b) Adopt a communication strategy from the start of each inquiry

c) Make the best use of additional funding to improve scrutiny

d) Harness opportunities of digital technology and new media

e) Maintain quality of investigation, rigour of questioning, depth of analysis and value of reports—in order to:

  i) extend longer-term beneficial influence on government

  ii) sustain reputation with stakeholders and

  iii) increase public understanding of Parliament. (Paragraph 114)

14.  Our principal conclusions are:

a) The Wright reforms have worked and should be retained and developed, with chairs continuing to be directly elected by the whole House and Members elected within parties

b) Public opinion, commentators and academic critics have all recognised that select committee work is the most constructive and productive aspect of Parliament

c) Public engagement has been achieved on a large scale, with a wide range of people, giving oral and written evidence, taking part in committee on-line consultations or surveys, and drawing on committee reports on their work

d) Select committee scrutiny is now part of the thinking of ministers and public bodies—it is the context within which they operate—and has a continuing effect in addition to the impact of specific recommendations

e) Prime Ministers' oral evidence sessions with the Liaison Committee have become more effective in scrutinising the influence No. 10 Downing Street exercises in policy-making across government. (Paragraph 115)

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Prepared 24 March 2015