Bill to allow MPs to call inquiries into ministers proposed by Lib Dem

July 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm 2 comments

Senior Liberal Democrat MP David Heath has presented a private member’s bill to the Commons that would allow Parliament to establish commissions of inquiry into the conduct of a Minister of the Crown.

Mr Heath, the party’s Commons business manager, said he was inspired to act after the government set up an inquiry into the Iraq War.

“It is a Bill to enable Parliament, in at least one respect, to assert its authority, to remove its assumed metaphorical cringe to the Executive and to stand on its own two feet,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker, you will recall the problems that were identified in the debate on the Iraq war inquiry: the very long delay in setting up the inquiry at all, subsequent to the decision of the Prime Minister; the lack of openness that was originally suggested in terms of the way in which the inquiry was to be conducted; and the deficiencies of process, with many hon. Members being worried about the inability to take evidence under oath and the inability of the inquiry to have the power to summon witnesses.

“There were concerns about the composition of the commission of inquiry—not those who were asked to join, but those who were omitted and the particular areas of expertise that they might have brought—as well as about the terms of reference and about the timetable for report.”

Mr Heath said that “when we need an inquiry because of a matter of great public concern, it should be this House that takes the decision, not a member of the Executive and not a Minister.”

He said that in the “dying days of the last Parliament,” the government brought forward the Inquiries Act 2005, “the effect of which was to repeal the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 and to remove entirely the formal role of Parliament in setting up public inquiries.

“I think that that was fundamentally wrong-headed.”

Mr Heath’s bill would restore powers in the 1921 Act to Parliament, enabling Parliament to confer the powers that an inquiry would need to take evidence under oath, to compel witnesses, to ensure that it has the papers before it, to ensure that its composition is appropriate to the task, and to ensure that wherever possible it takes its evidence in public.

“The parliamentary mechanism for the setting up of an inquiry requires a majority of this House, so it is not open to mischief—people will not be able to set up inquiries on spurious grounds, for instance—because a majority of this House is required, and a majority of this House will normally support the Government of the day unless there is a high level of public anxiety,” he said.

The Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry Bill will be given its second reading in October but without government backing it will not become law.


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. davy mac  |  July 10, 2009 at 12:50 am

    great work on the rights for ghurkas campaign.Well done joanna lumley

  • 2. Dewi Poole  |  July 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Excellent I hope ( but doubt ) that the executive dicatorship will allow it to proceed to law. Its about time Parliament held ministers and government to account but it requires fundamental reform of Parliament, the election system and the the whip system .


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