Learning Objectives• To understand how parliament holds thegovernment to account• To investigate the roles and powers ofparliamentary committees• To assess whether committees hold thegovernment to account
Committee System• A large part of the work of the House of Commons andthe House of Lords takes place in committees, made upof around 10 to 50 MPs or Lords.• These committees examine issues in detail, formgovernment policy and proposed new laws, to widertopics like the economy.Select CommitteesJoint CommitteesGeneral CommitteesGrand Committees
Select Committees• Select Committees work in both Houses. Theycheck and report on areas ranging from thework of government departments toeconomic affairs.• The results of these inquiries are public andmany require a response from thegovernment.
Joint Committees• Joint Committees are committees consisting ofMPs and Lords.• They have similar powers to Select Committees.• Some are set up on a permanent basis, like theJoint Committee on Human Rights.• Other appointments are for specific purposes,such as examining draft proposals for Bills onsubjects ranging from gambling to stem cellresearch.
General Committees• The main role of General Committees is toconsider proposed legislation in detail.• They include all committees formerly known asStanding Committees.• This committee system allows faster processingof Bills and is unique to the House of Commons;the Lords meet as a whole House in this function.• The committees reflect the political makeup ofthe House. The government always has amajority.
Grand Committees• Grand Committees give MPs the opportunity to debateissues affecting their region.• The Commons has three Grand Committees which lookat questions on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.Grand Committees in the Lords debate Bills outside theLords Chamber.• The Committees function in a similar way to theCommons Chamber, with ministerial statements and anopportunity to question the Ministers.• Every MP representing a constituency in the region isentitled to attend Grand Committee meetings.
Task:In your groups of 4 you will be assigned onetype of committee. You must examine;• How do they work?• Membership• Roles & Powers• ExamplesYou will be expected to feed back yourinformation to the rest of the class.
Analysis & EvaluationHow effectively do Select Committees hold thegovernment to account?• Introduction• Effective because…• Not effective because…• Any other issues?• Conclusion
Introduction• Definition of Select Committees• Roles• Powers• Link back to question• Direction of argument
IntroductionSelect Committees scrutinise governmentdepartments; including their polices, activitiesand spending. They conduct enquires andpublish reports, to which the government mustrespond. They can call for any witnesses andany documents. This, in theory, makes them avery powerful body with some arguing thatSelect Committees are the single most effectiveway in which parliament holds the governmentto account.
Effective because…Ministers arguably become more accountable.Regularly embarrass the government over thingsthey’d rather were not brought up. They haveproduced a no of scathing reports includingThe “Westland Affair” and “Arms to Iraq”They generate more information for MP’s andParliament as ministers and civil servants can beforced to attend.MP’s often work across party lines so there is morecooperation here.
Examples:Arms to Iraq• The Arms-to-Iraq affair concerned the uncoveringof the government-endorsed sale of arms byBritish companies to Iraq, then under the rule ofSaddam Hussein. The scandal contributed to thegrowing dissatisfaction with the Conservativegovernment of John Major and may havecontributed to the electoral landslide for TonyBlairs Labour Party at the 1997 general election.• Following the first Gulf War of 1991 there wasinterest in the extent to which British companieshad been supplying Saddam Husseins regimewith the materials to prosecute the war. Fourdirectors of the British machine toolsmanufacturer Matrix Churchill were put on trialfor supplying equipment and knowledge to Iraq,but in 1992 the trial collapsed, as it was revealedthat the company had been advised by thegovernment on how to sell arms to Iraq. Severalof the directors were eventually paidcompensation.Westland Affair• The Westland affair was a British political controversy ofthe 1980s which rocked the Conservative government ofMargaret Thatcher. It related to the troubled Britishhelicopter manufacturer Westland. Faced with economicdifficulties, Westland was forced to contemplateaccepting a buyout from another company or group ofcompanies. An initial offer was made by the Americanfirm Sikorsky, and another followed from a Europeandefence consortium.• The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and the Westlandboard of directors favoured the American offer but somemembers of the cabinet, including Defence SecretaryMichael Heseltine, were concerned about increasingBritains military dependence on the United States andsupported the European offer in the hope that asubstantial European defence industry could besustained.• These divisions within the government led to theresignation of Michael Heseltine as well as fellow cabinetmember Leon Brittan. The dispute foreshadowed latermore substantial divisions within the Conservative partyover European integration and the partys traditionalAtlanticist outlook
Not effective because…Diverted attention away from the Commons, theChamber has become lacking in numbers.Select Committees often lack the time, resources,staff, expertise, and perhaps above all, the will to bemore than a mild irritant to the government.Often the government just ignores the criticisms andrecommendations of the committees2000 a joint report criticising arms sales to ZimbabweThey cannot force people to speak
Examples:Arms Sales to Zimbabwe• The government broke its own and the European Unions armssales rules by granting seven licences for the sale of Hawk aircraftspares to Zimbabwe in February 2000. The breach is regarded as soserious that the committee report recommended that future armssales licence applications should be subject to prior scrutiny by fourcommittees. The proposal, rejected by the Foreign Office,embarrassed the foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who was battling toretain his ethical foreign policy within Whitehall.• The granting of the licences undermined an EU resolution on armssales to Zimbabwe - of which Britain was a co-sponsor - institutedbecause of the countrys instability and its intervention in theCongo civil war. The committees report said that the Hawks wereused in Congo and that "there remains a clear risk that they mightbe so again".
Any other issues?The balance of party power on the committeesreflects that of the Commons as a whole and sobackbenchers of the governing party are usuallythe majority. They generally want to becomefront-benchers and so may be unwilling to fullycriticise and make accountable the executive.Reformers say they need bigger budgets,stronger powers, and more capacity toconduct research.
ConclusionHow effectively do Select Committees hold thegovernment to account?
EXAM FOCUSWhat are Departmental Select Committees?How effectively do they preform their role ofscrutinising the Executive? (10 marks)This is a 10 mark question: You will be awarded upto 7 marks for Knowledge and Understanding(discussion of a range of issues and quality ofexplanation) - You will be awarded up to 3 marksfor your intellectual skills eg: ability to explain thenature of the arguments and ability to link them tothe question asked