Press Notice 36, Session 2006-07

15 June  2007

WHITEHALL SHAKE-UPS NEED MPs VOTE

PASC report says effective checks needed on Prime Minister’s power

In a report released today, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) says that major changes to the machinery of government should be subject to Parliamentary approval.

Senior judges and former Home Secretaries are among those who have been critical of the recent changes to the Home Office and the creation of a new Ministry of Justice. In addition, there has been speculation about further changes to the landscape of Government when the new Prime Minister takes office. The Committee calls for a “constitutional safeguard” - a change to the law to make Parliamentary approval of large scale changes mandatory. 

“At present the Prime Minister can effectively make almost any change at will. There needs to be a mechanism to ensure that changes are fully considered before implementation, and that the reasoning behind them stands up to scrutiny.”

The Committee says departmental changes can have “unintended consequences” and may carry significant costs. The Ministers of the Crown Act of 1975, which is supposed to act as a Parliamentary check on the Prime Minister’s power, “does not serve that function well”. The report recommends the Act should be “amended so that significant changes to the Machinery of Government require the assent of both Houses of Parliament”.

It also says that “public money should not be invested in structural changes until they have been approved by Parliament”. If the Act cannot be amended in time, the Committee hopes the new Prime Minister will act in the spirit of it and invite Parliament to approve any proposed changes.

The report is published ahead of the existing Prime Minister’s valedictory session with the Liaison Committee of all Commons Select Committee chairs.

Tony Wright MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: “Significant changes to the machinery of  Government take time to bed in, and services can suffer in the meantime. The costs are not just financial - although these can be significant. Governments also stand to lose expertise, institutional memory and strategic focus. The benefits may well justify these costs, but given what is at stake these changes should be put to Parliament with a full and honest consideration of likely costs and benefits before any changes are made.

“We are working with a system basically bequeathed to us a century ago. It may be that this is still fundamentally the right structure for Government, but given the number of changes to the machinery in recent times, and the issues thrown up by recent changes, the time is ripe for a broader look at the structure of Government for the modern age.”

Notes to editors:

1. The new Prime Minister is expected to take office in the week commencing Monday June 25. 

2. Tony Blair’s final session as Prime Minister before the Liaison Committee takes place on Monday June 18 at 11am. The session is scheduled to last around one and a half hours, with the backbench Chairs of all Commons Select Committees expected to question the Prime Minister on his time in office and over a range of domestic and international issues.

For more information about the work of the Committee, visit our website at http://www.parliament.uk/pasc  

FURTHER INFORMATION:

The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. Its terms of reference are to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments, and other matters relating to the Civil Service.

The Membership of the Committee is as follows:
Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)

Media Enquiries: Jessica Bridges Palmer, 020 7219 0724/07917 488 447, email - [email protected]

Chairman: Dr Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

House of Commons Committee Information Line: Tel 020 7219 2033 for information regarding forthcoming meetings including venues and times (updated daily).

Publications/Reports/Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 702 3474).

Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk