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?
In order to raise income, the government needs to obtain approval from Parliament for its taxation plans. The Budget process is the means by which the House of Commons considers the government’s plans to impose ‘charges on the people’ and its assessment of the wider state of the economy.
The Finance Bill enacts the government’s Budget provisions – its income-raising proposals and detailed tax changes. Parliament’s scrutiny and authorisation of these taxation plans are crucial in holding the government to account – between elections – for the money it raises and spends.
Lord Frost’s appointment as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office to lead on UK-EU relations brings some welcome clarity about future government arrangements in this area. However, it also raises challenges for parliamentary scrutiny, above all with respect to his status as a Member of the House of Lords.
The contrasting post-Brexit fates of the two Houses’ EU-focused select committees have come about through processes in the Lords and the Commons that so far have differed markedly. This difference reflects the distinction between government control of business in the Commons, and the largely self-governing nature of the Lords.
Before Brexit, mechanisms for inter-parliamentary relations and scrutiny of inter-governmental relations in the UK were unsatisfactory. Post-Brexit, the need for reform has become urgent. There should be a formal inter-parliamentary body, drawn from all five of the UK’s legislative chambers, with responsibility for scrutiny of inter-governmental working.
The government has established an independent review of judicial review – but post-legislative scrutiny has not yet been conducted on the previous reform of the system, in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. This is typical of the low priority given to post-legislative scrutiny by both government and Parliament.