MPs must not allow government behind closed doors to continue
Parliament is currently closed. But Harriet Harman urges MPs to establish a Liaison Committee to hold the government to account
Select Committee chairs should act now and establish a Liaison Committee – whether Parliament is sitting or not
Everyone is focusing on how we fight the virus and backing those who are in the front line, particularly in the NHS. Everyone is willing the Government to get it right, to keep us safe and to protect the economy for when we emerge. This has to be a national effort.
We need the best decisions from government and public support and one of the ways to ensure that is for the Government to be scrutinised. Government behind closed doors always makes mistakes.
The media are doing their bit but there is a vital role for Parliament. It’s our job to hold the Government to account and to report to them what’s going on.
With Parliament in recess since 25 March 2020 and not due to meet again till 21 April the only muscles of accountability are our Select Committees. These committees are cross party, their chairs are elected by MPs across the House, and their work has never been more important.
The Health and Social Care Committee is scrutinising the Department of Health and Social Care, challenging them on the crucial issue of testing. The Treasury and Business Committees are trying to ensure the funds allocated by government get to cash-starved businesses and the Home Affairs Committee are asking the police how they are coping with new laws to keep the public indoors. They are doing this by taking evidence remotely and meeting on Zoom.
And the select committee system is now the only way Parliament can question the centre of government. Usually this is done by the Liaison Committee (a committee made up of all the chairs of the select committees) questioning the prime minister in a public session.
But now, the prime minister is unwell and, as yet, no Liaison Committee has been established following December’s general election. Parliament closed down after the select committees had been established but before agreement could be reached on who should choose the chair of the Liaison Committee.
The Government wanted to choose who should be Liaison chair and nominated a former but not current Select Committee chair. But it’s important that we establish a Liaison Committee even though the House is not sitting and cannot establish it formally.
I’m sure that’s what the Members of Parliament would want us to do. And it’s crucial that we choose our own chair.
It’s invidious for those who are to be held to account to set the terms of their accountability. Previously select committee chairs have chosen who should lead us and chair the Liaison Committee. And we should do that again and do it soon.
Harriet Harman MP is Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and Mother of the House.