Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Directly-elected chairs have been a success for select committees

Directly-elected chairs have been a success for select committees, and the House of Commons should resist any attempt by the front-benches to overturn the Wright reforms and make the election of chairs less democratic and representative. This is the main conclusion of the Liaison Committee’s end of parliament report.   

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP commented:

“It would be a retrograde step to return to appointment of chairs behind closed doors or just within parties. This would harm the standing of select committees in their role of holding to account the Government of the day”.

The Legacy report highlights examples of where select committees have made a positive impact on Whitehall and some of the difficulties they have encountered in doing so. It shows how the combination of directly-elected chairs, better technology, new working practices, and efforts to become more approachable and seek the views of a wider range of people have significantly changed the work and effect of committees.

The Committee strongly backs the Wright Committee view that committees should not have more than 11 MPs, arguing that exact proportionality is not necessary on select committees so long as the balance across the total of committees is maintained.

In a reference to recent difficulties in securing the attendance of BBC Chair of Governors Lord (Chris) Patten and Director General Lord (Tony) Hall before the European Scrutiny Committee, the Committee recommends that people appointed to paid public office be required to undertake (should they be or become members of the House of Lords) not to refuse a request to give evidence to a relevant Commons select committee.

Sir Alan Beith said:

“The Wright reforms have worked and should be retained. Public opinion, commentators and academic critics have all recognised that select committee work is the most constructive and productive aspect of Parliament. Select committee scrutiny is now part of the thinking of ministers and public bodies—it is the context within which they operate—and has a continuing effect in addition to the impact of specific recommendations”

He added:

“The changes made in the past five years to Prime Ministers’ oral evidence sessions with the Liaison Committee have made those meetings effective in scrutinising the influence No.10 Downing Street exercises in policy-making across government”.

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