A really useful story has arisen today regarding the pledged £10bn extra funding for the NHS. The Health Select Committee, a committee of backbench MPs who have the job of overseeing the actions of the health department, have claimed that the £10bn pledged by the government is a misleading figure and is actually £4.5bn. This is useful in a number of ways.
Firstly, it is a good example of parliamentary scrutiny of government and how they can hold the government to account. In this case, the Health Select Committee have scrutinised the claims of the government and have publicised their disagree with this figure. In using the media in this way, the committee forces the government to justify it’s position, and therefore holds them to account. Conversely however, in this case the government has simply restated that their figure is correct, so the impact of the committee is perhaps questionable.
It is also useful when looking at the power of backbenchers in Parliament. Select committees must be made up of backbenchers so this is one way in which they have some power over the government. This case is particularly interesting as the Chair of the committee is Dr. Sarah Wollaston. She is a Conservative MP so it is interesting that she is willing to make such a statement ‘against’ her own party. More fascinating however is that she was chosen in an ‘open primary’ – a rare experiment in the UK giving the voters a choice between candidates from the same party. Therefore, she is perhaps more willing to rebel against her party being that she could arguably owe her loyalty more to those who elected her than to the party itself (and also perhaps a reason why primaries were not rolled out on a greater basis…useful for democracy/electoral systems too!). This is both useful for the parties topic and Parliament when looking at party unity.
For whatever reason, students often find committees difficult to explain; this is a really good example and easy to understand and use in your essays about Parliament, backbenchers, Government and where power lies.