Select Committees and Scrutiny

One of the functions of Parliament is to scrutinise the government and it has many ways in which it can carry out this function. However, due to the usual strength of government, many students argue that Parliament is not effective as their checks lack ‘teeth’.

In fact, the lack of specific checks doesn’t mean they cannot achieve anything as this article proves. Select Committees cannot make government do anything – they do publish reports and government have 60 days to respond but the response could simply be, ‘thank you’! However, the recognised importance of Select Committees means their report often make national news and this then places huge amounts of pressure on the government to act.

In this instance, Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee (and MP for Leicester East) has criticised the government for the delay in the Passport Office this summer. He suggested that people who felt they had to pay extra for a faster service in order to be able to go on their booked holidays should be compensated. Perhaps more strikingly, the Committee recommended that the Passport Office, which is currently an independent agency but used to be under government/ministerial control, should once again be brought under government control. It was separated to provide better independence and therefore accountability but given the failures this summer, the Home Affairs Committee argue it would be more accountable if it were under the control of the government, who are directly accountable to Parliament.

This shows that Parliament and Select Committees are able, in some manner (of course, this making national news just increases the pressure; it does not require action from the government) to scrutinise and hold the government to account.