Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

MPs' committees 'must be reduced in size and number'

Houses of Parliament
The cohesion of select committees has been weakened, a report says

MPs' select committees must be streamlined to make them more effective at scrutinising government business, a report says.

Some have up to 14 members, making it "well-nigh impossible" for them all to question witnesses properly, the Commons liaison committee adds.

Some MPs regard membership as an "involuntary burden" and have "poor attendance", its report says.

It also calls for the number of select committees to be "rationalised".

The 32-member liaison committee - made up of the chairmen of all the Commons select committees - urges Parliament to "act courageously" in making changes.

It says all frontbench MPs - ministers or parliamentary private secretaries - must be banned from serving on select committees.

The liaison committee's report is the response to another by the Commons reform committee, published last November, which recommended the reforms.

'Misconception'

Its chairman, Labour MP Alan Williams, said: "Many of the reform committee's recommendations are four-square with recommendations the liaison committee has made in the past, but some will not command universal and unqualified support.

"Doubts, however, cannot be used as an excuse for inaction."

The liaison committee's report says: "The enlargement of a number of committees to 14 members at the start of this Parliament was done without consultation.

More and larger committees may result in the perverse outcome of an overall decrease in the quality of Parliament's scrutiny of government
Commons liaison committee

"The declared intention was to widen opportunities for participation. This was a misconception: on a committee of 14 it is well-nigh impossible for all members to participate effectively in the examination of witnesses; and even in private deliberation the influence of each is weakened.

"This leads to disengagement. In practice we find that enlargement has tended to weaken the internal cohesion of committees and has added to the difficulties of finding Members to serve on them.

"Some of those that are put on committees appear to regard it as an involuntary burden and demonstrate this attitude through poor attendance."

The liaison committee also says the number of select committees must be cut to avoid overlaps.

'Thinly spread'

It goes on: "Membership of a select committee should involve a significant commitment of time and energy. The proliferation of select committees in recent years has reached a point where we feel that this commitment is too thinly spread.

"In particular we see a growing risk that increased responsibilities, and more and larger committees may result in the perverse outcome of an overall decrease in the quality of Parliament's scrutiny of government.

"We support the proposal to rationalise the number of select committees."

The liaison committee also supports the proposal that the composition and election of select committees and their chairmen should be decided within six weeks of a Parliament being formed.

Last November, Commons leader Harriet Harman promised there would be efforts to "strengthen" the scrutiny of government by Parliament.

The Conservatives said the opportunity to do so should not be "squandered".



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