Published by Tom Brake on 20 March 2015
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In A Parliament of lawmakers Reform recommends further empowering departmental select committees by adding legislative scrutiny to their existing responsibility for general oversight. The report also recommends that select committee members and chairs are given a salary bump to reflect the importance of their work and incentivise MPs to prioritise it. The calculator below allows you to experiment with reforming Parliament by amending the size of departmental select committees, giving committee members and chairs salary increments, and reducing the size of Parliament to pay for these reforms. At the bottom of the page, you can see the total savings, or costs, from your overall reform package. The paragraphs below provides a brief explanation of concepts and recommendations, please refer to the report for the full analysis and recommendations.
House of Commons select committees
Select committees were established in 1979. There is one committee for each government department as well as cross-cutting committees such as the Public Accounts Committee. Departmental select committees scrutinise government spending, policies and administration.
Select committee membership reflects the party balance of the House. Each departmental select committee has a minimum of 11 members, which are elected by their parties, through a transparent, democratic method such as secret ballot. Departmental select committee chairs are elected through secret ballot of the House of Commons and are paid a salary increment of £14,582. Members of departmental select committees are not currently paid a salary increment, and the committees do not currently have deputy chairs.
Empowering departmental select committees
Reform recommends empowering departmental select committees to scrutinise bills alongside their existing general oversight responsibility. Currently the committee stage of bill scrutiny is referred to a public bill committee, which is appointed for each bill and dissolves following the consideration of that particular bill. As such, bill scrutiny does not benefit from consistent application of subject specific expertise. They are criticised for being excessively partisan, leading to an adversarial culture aimed at party political point scoring rather than improvement of the bill at hand. By entrusting bill scrutiny to departmental select committees Parliament would harness the independence of the executive and subject specific expertise characteristic of select committees.
To ensure that departmental select committees continue to prioritise general oversight functions, Reform recommends that the committees are enabled to delegate legislative scrutiny to subcommittees of themselves, which could be chaired by a deputy chair of the committee. Reform recommends that departmental select committees with large workloads should be no larger than 15 members, while committees with small workloads should be limited to seven members. Subcommittees for legislative scrutiny should have no more than five to seven members.
Size of Parliament
Reducing the number of MPs by 50 or more would enable the proposed reforms to the committee system at no cost to the taxpayer, in fact allowing a share of the savings to be re-invested in improving staffing levels of the reformed departmental select committees, while still maintaining an overall saving. In international comparison the House of Commons is large in both absolute number of MPs as well as in terms of constituents represented by each MP, and has long been subject to calls for a reduction in the number of MPs.