Core tasks

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38.64In February 2002, the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons recommended that there should be an agreed statement of core tasks for the departmental select committees, which should be drawn up by the Liaison Committee and for which they provided an illustrative model.1 The recommendation was agreed to by the House on 14 May 2002,2 and in June 2002 the Liaison Committee accordingly agreed a list of ten indicative core tasks for the departmental select committees. Updated core tasks were agreed by the Liaison Committee in November 2012, and endorsed by the House in January 2013, covering examination of departmental strategy and objectives, examination of policy, examination of expenditure, scrutiny of draft bills, consideration of bills and statutory instruments, post-legislative scrutiny, scrutiny of European Union proposals, scrutiny of major public appointments, production of timely reports to assist parliamentary debate, and assisting the House in engagement with the public.3

In 2019 the Liaison Committee revisited the subject of core tasks, recommending a more concise summary of the responsibilities of committees: ‘To hold Ministers and Departments to account, and to investigate matters of public concern where there is a need for accountability to the public through Parliament.’4 Committees could pursue this by examining policy, expenditure, administration and implementation by departments, as well as considering wider matters of public concern. This was in part a recognition of the increasing tendency of committees to examine matters of public policy that were within their areas of expertise but not the direct responsibility of Government. Unlike the 2002 and 2012 versions, the 2019 revisions have not been endorsed by the House. Nonetheless, they can inform the approach to scrutiny taken by committees.

Pre-appointment scrutiny, as set out in the core tasks, offers a substantial role to committees in the scrutiny of some Government appointments. The Government has published a list of posts it considers suitable for pre-appointment hearings,5 although committees have held hearings with candidates for posts not on the Government's list.6 Following a hearing committees, have chosen to support a candidate's appointment;7 or to support it subject to conditions, such as discharging a conflict of interest;8 or to recommend that a candidate not be appointed.9 Both the Liaison Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committees have published further reports on practice in this area.10 The Treasury Committee is given a specific statutory role in relation to the Chair of the Office of Budget Responsibility, in that the consent of the Committee is required to the appointment of the OBR Chair.11

The inclusion of post-legislative scrutiny in the formulation of the core tasks endorsed by the House in 2013 reflected in particular the role of departmental committees (alongside Lords and ad hoc committees) envisaged in the Government's arrangements for post-legislative scrutiny of Acts, launched in 2008.12 Under these arrangements, for most Acts the relevant government department publishes a post-legislative assessment of the Act three to five years after a law has been passed, which is submitted to the relevant departmental select committee.13

Footnotes

  1. 1. First Report of Session 2001–02, HC 224. See also First Report of the Liaison Committee of Session 2002–03, HC 558, Appendices 1–3.
  2. 2. CJ (2001–02) 553.
  3. 3. Liaison Committee, Second Report of Session 2012–13, Select Committee effectiveness, resourcing and powers, HC 697, para 16; CJ (2012–13) 511.
  4. 4. Liaison Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, The effectiveness and influence of the select committee system, HC 1860, Box 3.
  5. 5. Cabinet Office, Pre-appointment scrutiny by the House of Commons select committees, 2019, annex D.
  6. 6. Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Third Report of Session 2014–15, HC 223.
  7. 7. Science and Technology Committee, First Report of Session 2017–19, Pre-appointment hearing: chair of UK Research & Innovation and executive chair of the Medical Research Council, HC 747.
  8. 8. Health and Social Care Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2017–19, Appointment of the Chair of NHS England, HC 1351, which recommended the candidate resign their party's whip in the Lords prior to taking up their appointment.
  9. 9. Health Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013–14, Appointment of the Chair of Monitor, HC 744. The Government has on occasion chosen to appoint a candidate contrary to a committee's recommendation: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, First Special Report of Session 2017–19, Appointment of the Chair of the Charity Commission: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2017–19, HC 908.
  10. 10. For example, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2017–19, Pre-Appointment Hearings: Promoting Best Practice, HC 909.
  11. 11. Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011, s 1.
  12. 12. Cm 7320, Post-legislative Scrutiny – The Government's Approach, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, March 2008. See also Liaison Committee, Second Report, HC 426 (2009–10) paras 137–39.
  13. 13. See for example, Post-legislative assessment of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, Department of Health, July 2014, Cm 8909; Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Post-Legislative Assessment of the Mobile Homes Act 2013, January 2019, CP 6; see also Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2014–15, paras 69–73.