Monday, 17 October 2016

Breaking new ground

Our parliamentary select committees attract a lot of attention from parliaments and emerging democracies throughout the world.
In the House of Commons, there is a select committee for every government department. Each committee is concerned with examining the relevant department’s performance on spending, policy and administration. Committees are all-party with membership proportional to each party’s representation in parliament.

Each committee decides what it wants to investigate. It invites written evidence, holds oral hearings to question relevant witnesses and publishes reports to which the government is normally meant to respond within 60 days. The real strength is in the way members work together; it is quite rare for reports to be other than unanimous.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be re-elected as the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee. I am pleased to be able to report that we are breaking new constitutional ground.

We conducted an inquiry into homelessness. We discovered enormous pressures on most councils which was resulting in some placing individuals and families a long way from where they worked, other members of their families lived and where the children went to school. But we also found some quite unacceptable services in some local authorities, where people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless often face a hostile process.

We recommended the introduction of a mandatory code of good practice for councils. We also wanted an emphasis on homelessness prevention, provision for domestic violence victims and consideration for those with mental health conditions.

Normally, we would just report, recommend and then harry Ministers to make changes and then follow through any policy or practice changes.

However, on this subject, one of the Committee members drew up a Private Member’s Bill – that is one that isn’t promoted by the government – based on our recommendations. We then examined his draft Bill in pre-legislative scrutiny and proposed a list of amendments.

The outcome is that on 28th October, the House of Commons will be considering this Bill, together with the Committee’s amendments. As the MP who drew up the Bill has drawn second place in the ballot, this amended Bill stands a really good chance of making it into law.

This will be the first time this has ever happened and I’m very proud of the way that everyone has worked together to achieve this.