Clause 8

Part of Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 3rd March 2010.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 11:00 am, 3rd March 2010

And that is the whole point. Clearly, they are entirely reliant on those who appoint to keep themselves in that position. I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich to look at that issue. In fact, the problem goes beyond that unacceptable situation. I have seen examples of the majority group not only appointing the chairs but influencing who goes on the committees, to the extent that, where another group has put forward a proposal, the person in question has not achieved the satisfactory level of support and somebody else—either from another group or even, ludicrously, from the same group—has been put on that committee by another party. That brings into question the whole basis of the independence and objectivity of these committees.

One thing we pride ourselves on here is our Select Committees: if they are not independent and objective they are completely useless. That is why I am always nervous about PPSs going on to Select Committees,  even in desperation when we have to make the numbers up. They are inevitably wearing two hats, even though the Committee may not be in their Minister’s area. There is inevitably confusion if not in their minds, then in the minds of other Committee members and—dare I say it?—in the minds of those whom we represent. Which hat are they wearing at any one time?

We need to look at this issue. This is one of the few improvements to come from the loss of the committee system. As a long-term servant of local government I had some loyalty to that system, although I accept that it had its weaknesses as well. The problem is that in moving to the current system of overview and scrutiny, these committees have to be independent and objective and must be seen to be so. It is not acceptable to have people from the executive on them. I hope that we can look at this again on Report so we can establish that.

I am going beyond where we are now but this is a real problem in local government at the moment, and it could be a growing problem, because unless we nip it in the bud, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, there will be some slippage. This could be quite a nice position for someone who is not on the executive but who is in a strong majority situation, and who could be encouraged to think that this is another job they can do.