Today has seen another blow for the credibility of parliamentary committees, following the UK Border Agency’s decision to pay out big bonuses against the recommendations of the home affairs select committee.
After publishing details of UKBA staff bonuses, chair of the committee Keith Vaz MP said:
“In January 2011, we recommended that no bonuses should be paid to senior staff. Despite this, the permanent secretary has revealed that some staff have been rewarded with bonuses of up to £10,000.
“The payment of bonuses in the midst of failures such as the relaxation of border controls, the inability to clear the asylum backlog and the reluctance to tackle bogus colleges through unannounced inspections must cease. We will continue to monitor the home office’s progress on this throughout the year.”
This is not the first time a parliamentary committee has been largely ignored. Vince Cable controversially went against concerns raised by the business, innovation and skills committee when appointing Professor Les Ebdon as the new Director of the Office for Fair Access.
The culture, media and sport committee’s phone hacking report was vital in bringing the details of the scandal into the open. Likewise, the Public Accounts Committee played a key part in stripping A4e of its government contract following allegations of fraud.
Regardless of this good work, parliamentary committees still hold very little power. They are made up of cross-party backbench MPs with the aim to give a balanced critique of the government, yet are given no power to act on their conclusions.
A report on the impact of House of Commons select committees says:
“[Only] 40% of recommendations are accepted by government, and a similar proportion goes on to be implemented.”
While Treasury select committee member Michael Fallon wrote:
Select committees have no legislative or budgetary powers: their influence depends on tough questioning of key witnesses, the authority of their reports and the all-party unanimity behind them… But parliament should be more than a forum.
Fallon suggested two reforms that “could turn our select committees into watchdogs with real teeth”:
• No supplementary estimate should be presented to parliament before it has first been approved by the appropriate departmental select committee.
• To require all major public appointments to be confirmed by the respective departmental committee before being taken up.
In wake of the great work done by the culture, media and sport and public accounts committees, as well as the growing evidence of some recommendations being ignored, haven’t parliamentary committees earned the right to more power?