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Select committee MPs should get more work and a pay rise, says think tank

Select committees should take on the additional task of legislative scrutiny and members should receive a £10,000 pay rise, a think tank has recommended.

Reform, which examines public service improvement, has released a new report suggesting that “weak parliamentary scrutiny of government bills threatens the quality of legislation” and making recommendations for its improvement.

The report argues that scrutiny of legislation is “an integral element of holding the executive to account”.

The think tank recommends that permanent departmental select committees take over the task of scrutinising bills before Parliament from public bill committees, which are set up on an ad hoc basis.

The report argues that the ad hoc nature of public bill committees means that their members often lack subject specific expertise, which limits their ability to effectively scrutinise legislation and undermines Parliament’s ability to carry out one of its core functions.

It describes the work of public bill committees as "woefully inadequate", adding that they lack independence due to the control of the government and party whips exercised over members.

The report argues that the new dual-purpose select committees would see legislative scrutiny benefit from the expertise gained by select committees through inquiries, and that general oversight by select committees would gain from insights gathered during legislative scrutiny.

Reform, which tends towards market solutions to public service issues, also recommends that members of select committees should receive a pay rise of £10,000 to “incentivise select committee work”. This extra pay could be docked, however, if MPs do not attend committee meetings and shirk their responsibilities.

Committee chairs would also see their pay rise by £9,000, in line with pay for Parliamentary Undesecretaries, to “reflect the importance of the role”.

MPs are currently not paid for committee work, but committee chairs receive a £14,000 supplement. The average Commons member is paid £67,060 – but they are in line for a 9% pay rise later this year after the independent watchdog said pay should rise to £74,000 after the election.

Reform say that the extra pay for committee members could be made cost neutral by instituting the 2013 Boundary Commission proposed reduction of the House of Commons to 600 MPs.

Report author Camilla Hagelund said: “Weak scrutiny threatens the quality of legislation, hindering efforts to build a stronger economy and society. Giving select committee members a salary boost would improve the status of select committees. It would also create a separate career path for MPs, lessening the power of patronage enjoyed by party leaders, which is weakening Parliament's ability to hold the executive to account."

Summary of recommendations:

  1. Departmental select committees should be made dual-purpose by including in their core function the task of legislative scrutiny alongside their existing responsibility for departmental oversight.
  2. Committee scrutiny should be conducted both before and after second reading on the floor.
  3. Timetabling of committee stages of legislative scrutiny should be agreed between the executive and relevant select committee as represented by its chair, but in general more time should be allocated to the committee stage.
  4. Departmental select committees should be given the power to call hearings and propose amendments on statutory instruments laid before the House.
  5. Departmental select committees should be able to refer legislative scrutiny to a subcommittee of itself to be chaired by the committee’s deputy chair.
  6. Joint legislative subcommittees should be established where needed to scrutinise cross-departmental legislation.
  7. Departmental select committees should vary in membership according to their workload.
  8. Departmental select committees with large workloads should be no larger than 15 members, while committees with small workloads should be limited to seven members.
  9. Subcommittees for legislative scrutiny should have no more than five to seven members.
  10. Select committee members should be rewarded with a salary increment subject to an attendance-related clawback.
  11. The number of MPs should be reduced to 600 or less.
  12. Part of the saving from the reduction in the number of MPs should be reinvested in improved staffing of the select committees.
  13. Unpaid payroll positions should be included within the statutory limitations on paid government positions, with the statutory limit set at 15 per cent of the House of Commons.

(Image source: PA)

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