Select Committees and Government Scrutiny

One way in which the HoC can keep the government in check is through Select Committees; a committee of backbench MPs which directly scrutinise the work of one government department and investigate their work.

This week, a senior civil servant was kicked out of the Home Affairs Select Committee by Chairman Keith Vaz for his ‘unsatisfactory’ answers to their questions:

“Mr Robbins, the Home office second permanent secretary, was asked nine times by Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, whether the borders budget had been finalised, without receiving an answer.”

This is a really useful example of some of the powers of Select Committees which are often regarded poorly by students who often claim their powers are too limited. In this instance, it was not only kicking out the civil servant that shows some power, but the fact that it made headlines and is therefore embarrassing both for the civil servant and for the Home Office – using the media in this way is one of the most effective things a Select Committee can do, either in their oral hearings or for their written reports/investigations. A rare but very useful example for questions on the role/effectiveness of Parliament (and backbench MPs!).

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