A core function of Parliament is the holding of government to account through effective scrutiny, including of policy-making and implementation, and the use of public money. At Westminster, scrutiny mechanisms include parliamentary questions and select committees. How well do such scrutiny mechanisms work, and how might they be improved?
Some backbench MPs are seeking to use House of Commons approval of the government’s Main Estimates for 2019-20 as a vehicle against a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, meaning the process is attracting greater interest than usual. We set out how the Estimates process works, how it has changed over the years, and how it could be improved in the future.
On the 40th anniversary of the creation of departmental select committees, Harriet Harman, the longest continuously-serving woman MP, offers some personal reflections on the growing importance of select committees and their chairs, particularly at a time of considerable political instability.
The focus is on what might happen at the end of the pre-summer Commons sitting period now underway – rightly, given its potential political and constitutional significance. But the dearth of government legislative business means the six weeks before then could present opportunities for the opposition, backbenchers and select committees, including on Brexit.
In our April 2019 submission to the House of Commons Liaison Committee inquiry into the select committee system, we made wide-ranging recommendations including a review of the select committee core tasks, and a restructuring of the system to provide for improved scrutiny of delegated legislation and legislative standards and to accommodate post-Brexit needs.
The roles occupied by members of The Independent Group - particularly on select committees, where they retain a number of important posts and command two and a half times as many seats as the Liberal Democrats – could give them more influence than their small, non-party status might normally be expected to accord them.
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