Earlier this week, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee threw out the civil servant they were questioning for giving atrocious answers. "Parliament flexes its muscles," said the press. Really? The fact that the best the committee could do was send the official back to his desk shows how powerless Parliament has become.
Parliamentary select committees are supposed to hold government departments to account. Yet they can't actually change what departments do. They have no say over budgets. They can't control appointments. Ministers and officials are free to ignore their recommendations.
Parliament's powerlessness means unelected bureaucrats have a free reign. Officials who not only evade scrutiny in committee hearings but demonstrate that they don't know their brief carry on through the ranks of the civil service anyway. How can this be a good system of government?
It isn't like this everywhere. In the United States, elected representatives have much more power. Congressional Committees don't just have the power to block official appointments, but control the legislative process and the executive's budget.
What if we gave Parliamentary committees more power here? What if top officials needed to be approved in select committee hearings before they were appointed? What if, instead of giving underperforming civil servants a slap on the wrist, select committees could sack them?
In a democracy, the people are meant to be able to turf out their government. Parliament's powerlessness over officialdom means we can't do that. To restore our democracy, we need to give select committees more clout.
"A revolutionary text ... right up there with the Communist manifesto" - Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times
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