PACAC will undertake work of huge importance this Parliament
Lords reform, the role of the judiciary and devolution are just some of the constitutional issues on the table – it would be an honour to chair PACAS as it works on them, writes David Jones MP
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has one of the widest-ranging remits of any of the Commons select committees. Its core functions are to keep under review the operation of the British constitution and the effectiveness of the civil service. In addition, it scrutinises the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
I was privileged to serve on the committee throughout the whole of the last Parliament and part of the previous one. Under the chairmanship of Bernard Jenkin, it has carried out hugely important work, producing reports on issues as varied as the relationship between ministers and civil servants, the authorisation of military force, the size of the House of Lords, the role of the Speaker and the work of the Electoral Commission.
The decisive outcome of the 2019 general election, and the large Conservative majority it produced, bring new challenges for the Committee, and probably an even more demanding workload. There can be little doubt that extensive constitutional change will inevitably follow once we have finally got Brexit done.
Indeed, the Queen’s Speech could not have been clearer: central to it was a commitment to establish a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission, the purpose of which will be, according to the prime minister, “to restore trust in our institutions and our democracy.” That is a noble ambition, but our experience of constitutional reform over the last two or three decades should teach us to tread carefully and be alert to the dangers of unforeseen consequences.
“There can be little doubt that extensive constitutional change will inevitably follow once we have finally got Brexit done.”
In that regard, PACAC will have an important role and tricky questions to consider. Is there to be further legislative and administrative devolution? Should the House of Lords be reformed and, if so, how? What should be the relationship between Parliament, the government and the judiciary?
The Government has also made it clear that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 will be repealed, in accordance with its manifesto pledge. But is that constitutionally possible without replacing it with another Act of Parliament? Can an element of the Royal Prerogative, once superseded by statute, be revived?
These are but a few examples of the problems we are soon to encounter on our voyage through difficult constitutional waters. PACAC must be alert to these difficulties and be prepared to proffer its own recommendations.
And then we have seemingly inevitable civil service reforms, with more political appointments and a likely radical overhaul of departmental architecture. PACAC will undoubtedly wish to take evidence on the proposals, scrutinise and advise.
The next three or four years are likely to witness the sort of extensive constitutional and administrative changes that can be introduced only by a government with a big majority and a matching appetite for reform. In such a context, PACAC’s work will be of huge importance. It would be an honour to serve as a member of a committee with such a challenging remit. It would be an even greater honour to serve as its chair.
David Jones is Tory MP for Clwyd West
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