Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Second Report


List of recommendations


Introduction

1.  We support the aim of providing more opportunities for scrutiny of departmental performance. There are a variety of ways in which this objective could be achieved in practice. (Paragraph 3)

The Governance of Britain

2.  We welcome the Government's commitment to Parliamentary scrutiny of departmental objectives and annual reports. (Paragraph 12)

Timing

3.  We do not consider it appropriate for debates on departmental objectives to take place before the relevant select committee has completed its work on the Departmental Annual Report. (Paragraph 17)

Select Committees and the Chamber

4.  We would expect the Chairman and members of the relevant departmental select committee to take a central role in debates on departmental objectives. We expect, however, that debates on the floor of the House would also open the topic to a broader audience of Members who are not members of the relevant select committee. (Paragraph 18)

PSAs

5.  Debates on departmental objectives should reflect the areas of performance that are of particular significance or importance. Debates should not artificially attempt to scrutinise all objectives equally. (Paragraph 20)

6.  Any new procedure for debating departmental objectives on the floor of the House will need to take account of the new cross-departmental PSAs and allow for the objectives of more than one department to be combined into one debate. (Paragraph 21)

Departmental Annual Reports and other documents

7.  Departmental annual reports, whilst important, may need to be supplemented by other, already available material in order to ensure effective scrutiny of a department's past performance and objectives for the future. (Paragraph 24)

Departmental debates

8.  The effectiveness of any new system depends to some extent on the way it is operated. We therefore consider that any new arrangements for debating departmental objectives and annual reports should be temporary for the current Parliament and subject to review thereafter. (Paragraph 26)

9.  We do not consider it desirable to hold an annual debate on each of the 19 government departments. The departments chosen for debate will vary from year to year. In this context, additional opportunities to debate departmental objectives and annual reports could be provided by rebalancing the present programme of business and identifying existing opportunities more systematically, without the need for changes to the standing orders or the invention of a new formal procedure. (Paragraph 27)

"Tagging"

10.  We recommend that greater use should be made of tagging to identify opportunities to debate departmental objectives and performance and material that may be of use to Members in debate. Departmental Annual Reports and associated select committee publications should be tagged to suitable debates both in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall. After a trial period of one session, a review should be conducted to consider the proportion of departmental annual reports and corresponding select committee reports/evidence that had been tagged and identify any significant gaps. (Paragraph 30)

Debates in government time

11.  We recommend that the Government should devote some of its Thursday afternoons in Westminster Hall to debating departmental objectives and annual reports. The choice of department should be made by the Liaison Committee. This should not be at the expense of existing select committee time. (Paragraph 34)

Using existing Select Committee time

12.  If the Government believes that more opportunities should be provided for scrutiny of departmental performance on a substantive motion, this might best be achieved by increasing the number of days available to select committees in the Chamber. It would be for select committees (via the Liaison Committee) to choose the subjects for debate on these occasions. (Paragraph 38)

Conclusion

13.  The Government's proposal for a more systematic and effective scrutiny of departmental objectives and annual reports in the Chamber is commendable. We consider that this objective could best be achieved through a balance of different practical measures. More consistent tagging of Departmental Annual Reports and associated select committee publications would go some way towards achieving the aim by clearly identifying existing opportunities for debate and providing Members with the material needed for effective scrutiny. Although there is little scope for timetabling additional debates without displacing existing business that is of interest to Members, some time could be found in Westminster Hall. Finally, the Government should consider whether existing select committee time could be extended. We do not consider it necessary to debate every government department each year. Instead, we strongly support Liaison Committee input into the choice of department for debate. The Liaison Committee should also be able to suggest where the debate takes place, requesting a debate on the floor of the House rather than in Westminster Hall if it considers that the issues are of sufficient importance. The objective of any new arrangements for debating departmental objectives in the Chamber should be to enhance and build upon the existing and effective scrutiny carried out by select committees. (Paragraph 39)



 
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