Page last updated at 00:50 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 01:50 UK

MPs 'should launch own inquiries'

Palace of Westminster
MPs and peers should be more able to scrutinise ministers, it is argued

Parliament should be able to bypass ministers and launch its own inquiries into issues of "exceptional" public concern such as the Iraq war, MPs say.

The Commons public administration committee said this should apply where the government was "reluctant" to submit itself to scrutiny.

Currently ministers' permission is needed to initiate an inquiry.

The committee's chairman, Labour's Tony Wright, said it was "up to Parliament to take the initiative".

Demand access

In their report the MPs noted that, despite the government conceding the eventual need for an inquiry into Iraq, there was no sign of one happening in the foreseeable future.

They called for Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry - made up of senior members of both the Houses of Commons and Lords, and appointed by Parliament rather than the government - to be set up.

These would investigate matters of "exceptional" public concern.

The commissions should have powers to summon witnesses and demand access to official papers and hearings should generally be open to the public, the report added.

This is what the public, rightly, expects Parliament to do
Tony Wright MP

Members should be made Privy Councillors to allow them to view secret security and intelligence files, and external members with specialist expertise could be appointed to sit on relevant inquiries.

Mr Wright, MP for Cannock Chase, said: "Parliament should be able to initiate inquiries into serious issues of public concern, such as Iraq - especially in cases where the government is reluctant to set up its own inquiry.

"This is what the public, rightly, expects Parliament to do."

A "sifting mechanism" would be required to ensure Parliament was only asked to vote on the establishment of Commissions of Inquiry on the most important issues, the report said.

It made no recommendation on what that mechanism should be, but suggested the decision to call a vote could be left to the Commons liaison committee - a panel of senior backbenchers which is always dominated by members of the ruling party of the day.

Mr Wright said the commissions "would be a crucial addition to our constitutional arrangements" and "help ensure that Parliament really can hold the executive to account for its actions".

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