Select Committee Extravagance

Private Eye's 'Gavel Basher' carries an exposure of potential select committee abuse in this fortnight's edition.

The select committees could be a crowning triumph of the parliamentary system. Introduced in 1979 by Conservative Leader of the House Norman St. John Stevas (did Margaret Thatcher, his PM, really understand what he was doing I wonder?), they are there to call government departments to account. Manned and chaired by backbenchers, they are an opportunity for MP's to assert their legislative independence and do a bit of decent scrutiny. Unfortunately, much of the would-be independence of the committees is undermined by the ferocious activity of party whips in ensuring representation on them by tame lobby fodder MP's. Now, according to Private Eye, the government have set up seven new regional select committees as a way of rewarding loyal followers. The committees - designed to scrutinise regional spending that is already scrutinised by other committees - are utterly superfluous, and undermine the principle of independence even further by having Parliamentary Private Secretaries sit on them. PPS's work for ministers, so the chances of them asking hard questions range from nil at the positive end to a significant minus number.

Not content with setting up more committees, Leader of the House Harriet Harman has also decided to start paying the chairman of the allowances committee. The purpose of the allowances committee? To check unjustified spending in the House of Commons. Just the right time to make sure it is now responsible for absorbing a bit of extra spending in the form of this new salary then!


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