Committees are neutral, says Beckett

13 Jul 00
Leader of the Commons Margaret Beckett has rejected claims that the government manipulates the selection of MPs for select committee posts to ensure minimum opposition from backbenchers.

14 July 2000

Beckett told committee chairmen that the system of choosing members, in which party managers and the Whips' offices play a central role, was free of interference from the government.

'The impression is being created that the government has attacked the work of committees,' she said. 'I don't accept it is the executive who appoints those members now.'

Beckett added: 'Any government that tried to control select committees would not only be wasting their time but they would be profoundly unwise.'

She was summoned by the cross-party liaison group, made up of all the Commons committee chairmen, to explain why the government had rejected its proposals to address the perceived imbalance of power between the legislature and the executive.

Published in a report in March, these included setting up an independent panel to choose committee members, giving them more resources and introducing a weekly 30-minute debating slot for committee reports.

Beckett described the proposals as 'fundamentally flawed', claiming they would cause conflict and resentment among MPs.

But committee members made clear their frustration at the government's attitude. 'What about giving parliament greater authority against the executive?' asked Conservative member Nicholas Winterton. 'How can we hold them to account if government has so much say over those who hold them to account?'

Liberal Democrat Archie Kirkwood added: 'It would be entirely possible in my opinion to construct a system that is far more transparent.'

Beckett's appearance before the liaison committee coincided with Conservative party leader William Hague's launch of a report by the Tory-sponsored Norton Commission on parliamentary reform.

Headed by constitutional expert Lord Norton of Louth, it makes 90 recommendations, including restoring twice-weekly prime minister's questions and removing select committee appointments from the control of party managers.

Hague said these two key findings would be included in the party's election manifesto and went on to condemn Tony Blair's 'total disdain' for parliament.

He said: 'The next Conservative government will stand in stark contrast to the present government that has… sought to diminish our democracy and sideline our Parliament.'


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