14 SEP 2017
Nominations of Members to Committees
Thank you for writing to me about this important issue.
There are several types of committees which have been the subject of intense debate in Parliament over the past fortnight. I spoke in the debate on the EU withdrawal bill to highlight my serious concerns about the way that secondary legislation committees are conducted and appointed as this has long been a problem. I hope, over the course of the bill, to help to take a leading role in reforming this and attach a very helpful Hansard Society briefing on this and the kind of reforms that I hope to help put in place through a process open to Parliament by revising our Standing Orders: https://assets.contentful.com/xkbace0jm9pp/4mZb6S8t3yukaqAqKYkskC/955ff1e64ba499649e2bc72f9a942059/Taking_Back_Control_FINAL.pdf
The second area that has been contentious is the balance of opposition and government side on bill committees examining primary legislation. It may be of interest to read the following from a letter to MPs which sets out the government position on this. Unlike secondary legislation which does not have to be approved by a vote in the Commons, anything agreed in bill committees regarding primary legislation can be overturned by the House of Commons when it returns for its final stages. This is an important check on the government's powers:
I am writing to you to set straight some of the inaccurate commentary surrounding the Business of the House motion on the Order Paper for this evening.
These motions have been designed to ensure that the Government's working majority is available right across Parliament - both on the floor of the House and in Committees. To suggest that this is either a 'power grab' or unprecedented is misleading. Where there is an even number of members on a committee there will be parity with other parties. A committee with an odd number of members will see a majority of one.
This is simply about ensuring that detailed legislation can be dealt with in Committee, as usual, rather than the Commons having to laboriously reverse amendments made by an Opposition-controlled committee. This would significantly restrict the amount of business Parliament can consider at this crucial time.
The Government acknowledges the important role that Parliament plays in scrutinising - and often enhancing - legislation. However it is also important that we are provided with the opportunity to implement the legislative commitments made in the Queen's Speech as well as to ensure that we leave the European Union in an orderly fashion.
In practical terms, one of the functions of the Bill Committees is to provide an opportunity for Government to make technical changes that improve the legislation. A majority is required to ensure that these happen. Simply overturning or amending at Report will mean frustrating other important legislation.
The Opposition have made clear that their intentions are not to engage with Parliament in a constructive manner, nor to work with us in the national interest. Their single aim is to oppose every measure that the Government puts forward in the hope of forcing another general election. When the Labour government was faced with a similar situation in 1976 they passed a motion for a majority of one in Standing Committees. We are taking a similar, necessary measure, but we are putting it to a vote, unlike how it was handled then.
As Members of Parliament it is important that we not only deliver on Brexit but also provide the economic security and fairness that is inbuilt to our legislative programme. This evening's motions are a vital tool to achieving those aims and I hope that you will join me in voting for them.
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