(SCC0048)

Written Evidence Submitted by Nicholas Goodwin

 

Introduction:

I am Nicholas Goodwin, currently a student of A Level Government and Politics. I am submitting this evidence as I have an interest in Parliamentary privilege and procedure, and also because I thought that the committee may be interested in the views of someone not associated with either House of Parliament.

 

 

What is the primary role of select committees and what should be the practical limits of the application of their powers (as delegated to them by the House)?

  1. The main role of select committees is to scrutinise the policies of government departments, and to hold members of the government to account on these policies by ensuring that they answer questions about them. The scrutiny of government policy is aided by the ability of select committees to take evidence from experts in the field, or from people that will be affected by the policy.

 

  1. The application of the powers to send for persons, papers and records theoretically allow the committee (through the House) to summon any person in the United Kingdom to give evidence (other than members of the House of Lords) and require them to submit any documents requested to the committee. The only practical limit to these powers is and should be that people summoned to give evidence and any documents required to be provided to the committee should be in some way relevant to an inquiry of the committee. Whether a person or document is relevant to an inquiry should be a matter decided by the committee carrying out the inquiry.

 

 

Do you agree with our assessment of the three options, and our conclusion that a legislative solution is the best available option?

  1. I fully agree with the committee’s view that the option of do nothingis unacceptable as it is clear that instances of witnesses refusing to attend have increased recently.

 

  1. I would (before reading the committee's report) have preferred the non-legislative solution of “reasserting the House’s existing powers by amending Standing Orders or by Resolution” as this would avoid the courts getting involved in parliamentary matters. However, after reading the committee's report I understand that the non-legislative solution would be difficult to enforce and would raise human rights concerns, and so I now agree with the committee's conclusion that a legislative solution is the best available option.

 

 

Do you think the proposed draft Bill provides an appropriate solution to the issue of recalcitrant to witnesses before committees?

  1. I believe the draft Bill provides a solution that will work, and I believe that the solution in the draft Bill is a much better solution than the “contempt of court” model as this solution involves the courts less than the “contempt of court” model.

What do you think the maximum sanction should be for an individual found guilty of an offence of failure to comply with a summons?

  1. The historical position is that the House could imprison for only the remainder of the session of Parliament. I believe that this historic position should be reflected as much as possible. However, this could cause problems if the failure to comply with a summons happened close to the end of a session. Given that a session of parliament (usually) lasts around one year, I believe the maximum sanction should be one year’s imprisonment. I also believe that there should be an option of a fine in addition to or instead of imprisonment.

 

 

Should the legislation be extended to encompass the enforcement of sanctions related to other contempts, or to make equivalent provision for House of Lords committees, or to deal with any other matters relating to parliamentary privilege?

  1. Lying to a committee if being examined under oath is already a criminal offence (perjury), and most contempts listed in paragraphs 15.12-15.23 of Erskine May (“Obstructing Members of either House in the discharge of their duty”, “Obstructing officers of either House” and “Obstructing witnesses and others”) are likely already offences in some way, and so there is no need to extend the legislation to most of these contempts.

 

  1. I believe that the legislation should be extended to the contempt of refusing to answer a question asked by a committee.

 

  1. For the contempts listed in paragraphs 15.8-15.11 of Erskine May (“Constructive contempts”), I believe that the House’s powers to admonish (and to suspend or expel in cases where the contemnor is a Member of the House) are sufficient.

 

  1. Whether the provisions of the Bill should extend to select committees of the House of Lords is ultimately a matter for the House of Lords. I can however see no reason why the provisions of the Bill should not extend to select committees of the House of Lords, and in my view, they should be extended in this way.

 

  1. It should be made clear whether the legislation would apply to joint committees which are given the power to send for persons, papers and records.

 

 

How should the House set out its internal processes and commitment to fair treatment in a way that provides sufficient due process, whilst maintaining the flexibility and effectiveness of the current select committee system?

  1. I agree with Sir David Natzler and Mark Hutton that the draft Standing Orders in the report of the 2013 joint committee are too inflexible. Therefore, I further agree with Sir David that guidance agreed to by a resolution of the House is a better and more flexible approach than the use of Standing Orders.

 

 

The draft Bill provides a power to summon non-Members to attend or to provide information or documents to a committee. Should equivalent powers be included to summon Members of the House, or for a committee of one House to summon Members of the other House?

  1. In my view, the sanctions of suspension or expulsion are more suitable in cases where Members refuse to attend a committee after being ordered to do so.
  2. I do not believe that a committee of one House should be able to summon Members of the other House.

 

3 June 2021