16 March 2010
SELECT COMMITTEES GO FROM 'STRENGTH TO STRENGTH' IN HOLDING GOVERNMENT TO ACCOUNT
Pre-appointment hearings "should be permanent"; committees "no longer an optional extra"
In its annual report of the 2008-9 session released today, Tuesday 16 March 2010, the Commons Liaison Committee says that in a year in which Parliament has had to take a hard look at itself and consider how it functions and engages with the electorate, select committees have continued to go from strength to strength and offer excellent value for money in the job they do of holding the Government to account.
The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Alan Williams MP said:
"The final Report of the Committee before the Election shows the scale of the work that committees do on behalf of the public. As the Report says, they have moved from being an adjunct to the plenary, and are now "part of the House's core business". They need the commitment of time and resources if they are to carry out their enlarged list of duties successfully."
The last full session before a General Election saw committees hold more meetings and publish more reports than in any of the previous sessions of this Parliament. Public engagement activities have also broken new ground as committees made use of Parliament's new outreach service to help with meetings outside Westminster.
In addition Committees continue to take on new roles. This year saw the beginning of formal involvement in the planning process with the scrutiny of National Policy Statements; the first signs of post-legislative scrutiny activity and wider use of the new system of pre-appointment hearings - 29 hearings in the 2008-09 Session.
The Government's original rationale for pre-appointment hearings was based on "increasing democratic scrutiny of public appointments" and on providing "greater public reassurance that those appointed to key public offices are appointed on merit". A recent independent report concludes that this objective "has been achieved" and the Committee concurs.
In principle it supports the continuance of the hearings on a permanent basis, and recommends the consolidation of guidance on how the hearings are run. The list of posts covered should be revisited on the basis of clear criteria and agreed between the Government and the Committee.
The Committee hopes that its successors will hold a review of select committees' terms, resources and modes of operation. There is a need for realism about the tasks given to select committees, and a "key pinch point" is the time and attention available from the Members who serve on them. The work of committees is "fundamental" to the discharge of the House's democratic function.
NOTE FOR EDITORS:
The Committee is appointed to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees; to advise the House of Commons Commission on select committees; to choose select committee reports for debate in the House; and to hear evidence from the Prime Minister on matters of public policy.
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