28. The ETRA Select Committee recognised the political
and policy arguments for merging the old Departments of the Environment
and Transport into a new department. If this merger were to be
reviewed after the next election, possibly together with other
departmental responsibilities, it must be recognised that any
departmental changes would have significant effects on the select
committee regime and staffing, which must be properly taken into
account. Such changes, however, should not lead to any delays
in setting up select committees.
29. We believe that the ETRA Select Committee has
worked effectively, but this has been because of the co-operation
and good sense of its members rather than because of its standing
orders. If is to be effective, the select committee must be able
to cover the huge range of the Department's responsibilities and
the work of its many associated public bodies. Had the Committee
chosen to work purely in the two sub-committees allowed by the
standing orders- environment and transport - much of the Department
would not have been scrutinised and the particular issue of integrating
transport and planning might not have been pursued. However in
choosing to work in the Main Committee and two sub-committees,
we committed members to a very large work load, and put considerable
pressures on committee resources. Given the good attendance of
members it was a considerable challenge to have 17 members wishing
to question witnesses on occasions. We recommend that a future
ETRAC should not have more than 17 Members, but should be allowed
to appoint 3 sub-committees to cover the full range of the work.
30. The relationship between our role in departmental
scrutiny and the work of Environmental Audit Committees was not
clarified when that Committee was established. The Environmental
Audit Committee seems to have placed very considerable demands
on DETR Ministers rather than the whole of the Government. We
regret that its terms of reference have encouraged it do so rather
than to spend more time looking at the work of other Departments.
31. Select Committees depend on the quality of evidence
submitted to them. We were extremely grateful to all those who
sent us evidence. However, a close scrutiny of our evidence volumes
will show that on some topics it is easy to get very large amounts
of excellent evidence, while on other topics it is much harder.
We must recognise that there are some areas of the Department's
work, which do not affect major commercial issues, nor are they
subject to campaigns by NGOs.