The Committee on Standards has today published a report launching its consultation on the interests of committee Chairs. The consultation seeks to establish whether or not the current regime for committee Chairs needs changing. The consultation focuses on Chairs of subject related select committees, but explores the different types of committee in the House of Commons. It provides a brief overview of the current system, and explores some of the major issues, such as how much is committee work enhanced if Members’ have expertise in the topic concerned? What is the nature of the undoubted influence exercised by committee members in general, and Chairs in particular?
The Committee notes that while Chairs play an important role in steering the committee in their work and in setting the committee’s programme of inquiries and evidence gathering, other members of the committee also influence the committee’s work, partake in the selection and questioning of witnesses and agree its reports. It also notes that, however forceful a committee may be, it is for the Government to drive policy; it puts forward legislation, appoints key public servants, and makes policy changes. Committee proposals can only be implemented if a Minister considers them desirable and his or her colleagues in Government agree.
The report also describes the regime for Ministers’ interests.
The Committee welcomes any responses addressing the broad question of whether or not the regime for committee Chairs’ interests needs changing. Respondents are also invited to address the following specific questions:
i. Bearing in mind committees’ scrutiny function, and lack of decision making powers, does possession of relevant interests improve Members’ abilities to scrutinise a particular subject area?
ii. Is it right to restrict consideration of Chairs’ interests to those committees where the committee itself sets the agenda? Should some committees, such as those whose Chairs are elected by the House as a whole, be considered differently from others?
iii. Is it appropriate that an addendum is added to each report stating all committee members’ interests?
iv. If there are to be restrictions on the interests a committee Chair should hold, should there be similar restrictions on the interests of other committee members or are select committee Chairs in a different position to other committee members, e.g. in their ability to influence public policy?
v. What weight should be given to the fact that committee Chairs are generally now elected by the House as a whole? Does that give Chairs greater influence over policy? Or is the fact that interests are widely published before any such election a sufficient safeguard against impropriety?
vi. If Chairs are required to relinquish external interests, should these be all interests, or only those directly related to the subject matter of the committee?
vii. Should any requirement to relinquish interests extend to non-financial interests, such as charity involvement?
viii. Should there be a distinction between financial interests in which an active role is required, such as company directorships, and interests such as shareholdings? Are there other distinctions the committee should make?
ix. Should the rules distinguish between interests known at the time of a Chair’s election, which might be permissible, and those added subsequently? Should there be a ban on a committee Chair adding to his or her interests while in post?
All submissions should be sent to the Clerk of the Committee by Friday 28 February 2014 by e-mail ([email protected])