Legacy Report - Liaison Contents

Annex C: Parliamentary Commissions—Note by the Chair of the Treasury Committee and former Chair of the PCBS, Andrew Tyrie MP


1) This paper draws on extensive exchanges with colleagues on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. It also reflects a large number of suggestions from the senior members of staff of the Commission. It addresses two issues:

·  How to decide whether a Parliamentary Commission might be the best vehicle to examine a subject

·  How a Commission might work to best effect if it is selected as the method to be used.

2) The advantages of the Parliamentary Commission approach are:

·  flexibility

·  speed

·  the chance to assemble Parliamentarians with expertise in a subject

·  cost.

The fact that a Commission will be composed of legislators makes it particularly suitable in cases where it will be necessary to translate its conclusions into legislation.

3) Each Commission will be unique and will have its own requirements for success, so they will need to be structured and to operate in different ways. There is no one-size-fits-all model.

Criteria for a Parliamentary Commission

4) Before deciding how to structure any inquiry body, it is important to decide what the problem is that it will be asked to solve, and over what timescale.

5) The experience of the PCBS suggests that the following are necessary for a Parliamentary Commission to be the best choice of method and for such a Commission to be a success:

·  There needs to be a clear and identifiable problem with a high level of public concern and salience

·  This problem needs to be amenable to proposals for change

·  There should be all-party agreement to the idea of a Parliamentary Commission—party divisions would have been fatal to the PCBS

·  The problem cannot readily be dealt with by an existing select committee, and the Commission approach is likely to be quicker and cheaper than a judge-led inquiry or a committee of experts.

6) The narrow space that this combination of features allows will mean that Parliamentary Commissions are likely to be infrequent. In the case of the PCBS, the Treasury Committee could also have been a suitable vehicle to perform the task, but it would have meant the TSC doing little else and made performing its necessary duties (such as scrutiny of the Bank of England, the Autumn Statement, the Budget and public appointments) difficult. The creation of the PCBS meant that the TSC was able to continue work at almost its normal level.

7) If a Commission is decided upon, I would make the following observations.


8) The membership of 10 was at the top end of what is manageable. Certainly for technical subjects, and probably for most other subjects, the smaller the membership, the better—6 would be ideal, unless more are required to balance a lot of different views. But in that case, a different sort of body might be preferable—perhaps one that is a debating forum rather than an inquisitorial body—and so a Parliamentary Commission is less likely to be appropriate.

9) The PCBS had considerable Commissioner expertise. This meant that it was able to acquire credibility quickly, and that the Members were already up to speed with a good deal of the often highly technical subject matter.

10) The membership was also a considerable advantage when considering subsequent legislation, as the peers from the PCBS were able to persuade their colleagues in the upper House, and therefore the Government, of the merits of a number of its key recommendations.

11) The five Commons Members were drawn from existing Members of the Treasury Committee. While the consequent heavy workload for the five of us was a distinct disadvantage, it had the advantage that we were used to working together, had knowledge in the subject area and could maintain contact with the rest of the Committee during the inquiry and subsequently. Nonetheless, the workload of the Treasury Committee scarcely dipped from the very high level of the first two years of the Parliament; its work during the PCBS was still comparable to that of the more active years of the Committee in the previous Parliament.

12) It should be borne in mind that some Members on the relevant departmental committee may feel aggrieved that their committee is not examining the subject of the Commission's inquiry unless they themselves are on the Commission. In the case of the TSC, this was assuaged somewhat by the fact that the need for the PCBS had been triggered by the TSC's own inquiry into the LIBOR scandal.

Setting up

13) The summer recess began very soon after the PCBS was created. This made it much more difficult to recruit staff. Many people in outside organisations were away in August, unable to be interviewed or unwilling to focus on the issue when approached.

14) The Commission held several meetings at the start to plan our work. These gave an essential sense of direction and, importantly, some limit to what we were trying to achieve. There was considerable input from Members, with valuable proposals on how to conduct the work and what to examine.


15) It would be a mistake to assume that future Commissions should necessarily follow the staffing model of the PCBS. The model we used, based around a fairly traditional core of committee staff, may not suit all circumstances.[40] It will always be necessary to deploy some House staff as their experience of committees, Members, procedure and the House will be relevant. We were fortunate in obtaining the services of an outstanding clerk as chief of staff who was made available at very short notice. He did an excellent job in putting together and leading a staff team under severe time pressures. High quality clerk support will certainly be necessary for any future Commission. But although it would be the least risky choice to follow the well understood practice of employing a clerk to be the chief of staff, this may not be the best option. The PCBS was covering a technical area where the Commission might have benefited from a technically expert outsider (a financial lawyer, for example, or someone from the Bank of England) as chief of staff. A trained project manager would also be helpful as part of the team, not least for cost control.

16) The technical nature of the PCBS's work meant that the PCBS required staff from outside Parliament, some of whom had to be paid for—although several were offered free of charge.

17) The PCBS eventually employed around 25 staff in all, although at any one time the team had at most about 20 staff. The outsiders were recruited on a variety of terms including unpaid loan, secondment and short-term contract. This allowed the Commission to carry out its work at a fraction of the cost of a judge-led inquiry. I identified most of the organisations from whom we drew secondees and contacted their leaders to request high quality staff—the chief of staff followed up, usually with an interview. Given the substantial personal engagement between Members and staff on the Commission, there is a case for even closer involvement by the Chairman of a future Commission in the recruitment of secondees and external staff. In the cases of most seconded staff, we took the first choice offered, given the speed required for the work to be done. We would have been able to ask an organisation for someone else, but at the cost of time lost. The Treasury undertaking to refund the costs enabled decisions to be made more quickly. This flexibility worked well. Having all its staff in one place was very helpful, and likely to be so in future cases.

18) The House of Lords contribution to the staffing of the Commission was nugatory: it provided only half the time of a single clerk. The Lords does of course have a smaller staff than the Commons, but even so it appears that it is not capable of providing staff support to joint Commissions on an equivalent basis. The Commons will need to be prepared to provide the bulk of the parliamentary staff for future Commissions. The notion that the Lords take the lead in most Joint Committees, and that they should be run with Lords procedures, should end.

19) Other House staff elsewhere in DCCS (in particular the Treasury Committee and the Scrutiny Unit) and in the Library were also called upon from time to time to help with specific tasks. The support was often outstanding. I would also particularly like to record my appreciation of the imaginative suggestions made by some of the most senior Commons Clerks.

20) The staff recruited from elsewhere adjusted with varying success to the requirements of the Commission. Some became indispensable members of the team; some failed to adapt; some were better placed to contribute ideas than to produce briefings or drafts; and a few promoted their own hobbyhorses too much. None of these behaviours had much to do with seniority. Commissions should be prepared to send people back if they consume too much management or colleague time for the benefit they contribute.

21) Staff interests were declared and conflicts of interests were vetted—this was essential to promote the credibility of the Commission.


22) The Treasury agreed to refund the cost of the PCBS. But if the Government agrees to fund a future Commission, it is important not to kill the goose that is laying the House's golden egg. The House should charge the Government the marginal, not the average, cost of the resources it commits. The House could ask the NAO to allocate someone who could reassure the Government about the costs that are charged and who could work alongside the project manager (see para 15). I needed to devote more time to cost control, and to ensuring that only the marginal cost was charged, than I would have liked.

23) The Treasury initially resisted the notion of direct repayment, suggesting that the House should pass a supplementary estimate to cover the cost. This would have appeared as the House increasing its budget without the Treasury incurring any extra cost. I intervened to resolve this and the Treasury made a direct transfer to the House.

24) It is impossible to estimate the cost of a future Parliamentary Commission without knowing the subject matter: each will have its own demands, and it may be possible to have a Commission without needing to call on any additional Government funding if it is on a subject where the House had expert staff available. There will, however, always be non-financial effects on other committees or departments of the House from the redeployment of staff. If Commissions were to become regular events the House may need to budget for them as it already does Joint Committees on draft legislation.

25) The appendix gives the costs of a number of other recent inquiries. It also compares in more detail the costs of the Commission with that of the Salz review commissioned by Barclays to provide a plan for cultural change following the Libor scandal—a related but more limited subject. These figures suggest that the cost of the PCBS was comparatively modest.

26) Commissions should therefore be capable of offering significant attractions for the executive. They can report more quickly, and at a fraction of the cost. These attractions will, however, depend on the exercise of self-discipline by any future commission.

Use of counsel, etc

27) The Commission was given the power to appoint counsel as specialist advisers to question witnesses. This happened in a few full Commission meetings and in some of the panels, and was generally a success. I would recommend giving this power to any future Commission. I agree with some on the Liaison Committee that select committees should have this power, too.

Operation of panels

28) The PCBS was given the power to appoint sub-committees ("panels"), with a quorum of only one. Their purpose was to take formal evidence. These were useful on occasion, as they enabled much more evidence to be gathered on a wider range of subjects than would have been possible by the Commission on its own. They also allowed evidence to be gathered in unusual ways, for example through a visit to the home of a seriously ill witness. However, their drawback is that a newly formed group of Members may—for party political or personal reasons—lack the trust in each other necessary to delegate important work to a small group or a single Member with a particular interest or apparent hobbyhorse. There is also the risk that Members may attach less importance to evidence they have not personally heard while emphasising evidence only they have heard: these could cause difficulty in agreeing the Report or Reports.

29) It was probably a mistake that the Commission's panels piggy-backed on existing sub-committee arrangements. Although the panels did not have a power to report, the differences from normal sub-committees in purpose and organisation were not sufficiently clear. Future Commissions should be given the power to create panels for evidence-taking only. These panels must nevertheless give witnesses the full protection of parliamentary privilege. Their powers will need to be defined in the resolution creating any future Commission. This should not prevent a Commission creating conventional sub-committees, should it wish to do so.

Powers to obtain documents and witnesses

30) The PCBS was given the normal powers to send for persons, papers and records. It was able to secure the witnesses and documents it wanted, after a few exchanges on occasion. Future Commissions should have these powers.

Virtual meetings

31) The Commission was given the novel power for the Chairman to report to the House orders, resolutions or special reports on behalf of the Commission, having consulted other Members and obtained a majority. This was designed to speed the work of the Commission, especially during recesses. In the event, this precise power was not used, although the Commission made use of telephone conferences to discuss matters among Members. We might have used them more, but the House's ICT systems remain inadequate. I would nevertheless recommend giving this power to any future Commission. Indeed, I think that 'virtual meetings' should become part of Parliamentary work, reflecting practice in most other walks of life these days. I believe that committees should be able to decide for themselves those things which need to be agreed at a physical meeting (Reports are one clear example).


32) The initial timetable of the Commission—as set by the House at the instigation of the Government—was wholly unrealistic: it envisaged completing legislative scrutiny by Christmas and the report on banking standards shortly thereafter! Governments will often want instant responses. A Commission needs to be set up with a realistic time allowed for its work, so that it can be planned properly. The Commission issued five Reports, but the very large fifth and final one would have been shorter and crisper with more time.

33) During the nine months of the inquiry, some staff and Commissioners worked very long hours during the working week and at weekends. Nonetheless, there was a risk at some stages that the final report would not be delivered on time. The technical nature of some of the report drafting, combined with the need to translate such technical material into an accessible House style, was an enduring problem—technical experts who could contribute to this drafting were always at a premium, as were House staff with a full grip on the subject matter.

34) As already noted, the PCBS produced five Reports culminating in a long final one. All the reports were drafted in conventional committee style with analysis of evidence leading to conclusions. Commissions should consider adopting different styles of reports to suit their subject—for example those of the Franks report into the loss of the Falkland Islands in 1982 or, in particular, the Vickers report into banking. The reporting style may partly be consequent on the choice of chief of staff (see para 15), as well as on the preferences of Members.


35) A Commission has one unique advantage over any other form of inquiry: it consists of legislators, who will be motivated to secure, and capable of securing, any legislation consequent upon a Commission recommendation. This is the main reason why it was a great mistake that the PCBS—and its staff—was dissolved when it made its fifth report in June 2013. It should have been kept in being longer to do the follow up necessary in order to capitalise on its work and, in particular, to ensure that its recommendations were incorporated in legislation. In the absence of a Commission, responsibility for the subject areas of its work lies with the Treasury Committee and the Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

36) Commission Members decided that they wanted to continue to operate informally even if the Commission could no longer make formal reports. But scattering the staff meant an immediate and irrevocable loss of collective memory. This has handicapped follow up work ever since, reducing Parliament's effectiveness.

37) Support for follow up work had to be reassembled. Former Commissioners had the assistance of House legal advisers to draft amendments and one (excellent) person part time from the Scrutiny Unit, but otherwise the follow up on the Bill was done by TSC staff who were also doing other things. Only one of these staff had worked for any time at all on the PCBS, so the team had to get up to speed with a vast and complex subject almost from scratch in some areas.

38) It is in any case a risk to assume that the relevant departmental or Lords committees will want, and be able, to do the follow up work. As it happened, the Lords members of the PCBS were assiduous and committed in working with the Chairman to press the Government to move a very long way on a number of key issues. That the legislative follow up was largely successful should not, however, give any false comfort about how Parliamentary resources were allocated to this work in the months after reporting. The allocation of these resources was inadequate.

39) Commissions should be aware that follow up may be necessary even after any relevant bill has received Royal Assent: secondary legislation and non-statutory implementation will need continuing scrutiny and pressure to ensure that the executive delivers on its promises.

Appendix on costs

In November 2012, Chloe Smith, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, provided details of the costs of public inquiries held in the last ten years:

John Stevenson: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office (1) what the (a) highest and (b) lowest cost was of a public inquiry held in the last 10 years; [119573]

(2) what the average cost was of public inquiries held in each of the last 10 years; [119574]

(3) how many public inquiries there have been in each of the last 10 years; [119575]

(4) what the average length of time taken was for a public inquiry between 2002 and 2012 to date; and what the (a) longest and (b) shortest such inquiry has been. [119576]

Miss Chloe Smith: I refer the hon. Member to the following table:
InquiryChair Legislation DurationCosts (£ million)
Bloody Sunday Inquiry Lord SavilleTribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 January 1998 to June 2010 (1)191.5
Shipman InquiryDame Janet Smith Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 January 2001 to January 2005 (1)21
Investigation surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly Lord HuttonNon-statutory July 2003 to January 2004 1.68
Soham Murders Inquiry Sir Michael BichardNon-statutory December 2003 to June 2004 1.9
Zahid Mubarek Inquiry Mr Justice KeithNon-statutory April 2004 to June 2006 4.2
The Billy Wright Inquiry Lord MacLeanSection 7 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953. Converted to inquiry under Inquiries Act 2005 November 2004 to October 2010 30.5
Rosemary Nelson Inquiry Sir Michael Morland Section 44 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 November 2004 to May 2011 46.46
The Robert Hamill Inquiry Sir Edwin JowettSection 44 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. Converted to inquiry under Inquiries Act 2005 November 2004 to present. (Although the RHI report has been completed and the Inquiry fulfilled its terms of reference, the Inquiry report will not be published until the conclusion of related legal proceedings) 33
The ICL InquiryLord Gill Inquiries Act 2005 January 2008 to July 2009 1.91
The Baha Mousa Inquiry Sir William GageInquiries Act 2005 May 2008 to September 2011 12.99
Outbreak of Clostridium difficile infection Dame Deirdre Hine Inquiries Act 2005October 2008 to March 2011 2
Iraq InquirySir John Chilcot Non-statutoryJune 2009 to present (2)6.1
The Al Sweady Inquiry Sir Thayne ForbesInquiries Act 2005 November 2009 to present (3)12.5
The Azelle Rodney Inquiry Sir Christopher Holland Inquiries Act 2005 March 2010 to present(4)1.435.485
Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Inquiry Robert Francis QC Inquiries Act 2005June 2010 to present (following on from earlier inquiry from January 2005-March 2009) (5)11.75
The Detainee Inquiry Sir Peter GibsonNon-statutory July 2010 to present (6)1.70
The Leveson Inquiry Lord Justice LevesonInquiries Act 2005 July 2011 to present (7)3.9

(1) Inquiry commenced more than 10 years ago but ended within the timeframe requested.

(2) To end March 2012.

(3) As at 31 July 2012.

(4) As at 30 September 2012.

(5) As at 5 September 2012.

(6) To end March 2012.

(7) As at 30 June 2012.

Comparison with Barclays' Salz review:
Cost category Salz ReviewParliamentary Commission on Banking Standards
Report leadership, consulting, media, PR and report writing services £11.9m£0.57m
Fees and expenses for legal advice £0.7 (plus a further £1.1 incurred in support of the interview process) £0.14m
Leasing of office space and IT equipment (in London) £1.0m£0.03m
Other costs including customer research, travel, printing £0.1m£0.25m
Total£13.7m (plus a further £1.1 incurred in support of the interview process) £0.98m
Main caveats·  Barclays provided temporary office space in New York.

·  In addition, Barclays retained Boies, Schiller & Flexner as its own legal advisers.

·  The estimated costs of the Review (above) include VAT, which banks in the UK cannot reclaim.

·  The House of Commons provided office space, security, and a significant proportion of the parliamentary staff at less than full cost (approximately 1/3 of full cost was not charged for).

·  Nine members of Commission staff were seconded from outside of parliament at no cost to the Commission, and a further member of staff was seconded to the Commission from outside parliament at a discounted cost.

·  The estimated costs of the Commission's work (above) are net of VAT, which the House of Commons can reclaim.

40   A Clerk/Chief of Staff at SCS level; a Library specialist in the subject area temporarily promoted to SCS level; 50-75% of a senior specialist in the subject area at band A2; a second clerk at band A2;two committee assistants at band B2; a committee assistant at band C; a committee support assistant at band D1; and a media officer at band B1 Back

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Prepared 24 March 2015