Blockages as committee system struggles to get going

Dominic Grieve Image copyright HoC
Image caption Keen to stand: will Dominic Grieve be the chair of the ISC?

As the new set of select committee chairs don their purple striped togas, there are still a few vacant niches in key parts of the committee system.

First off - the Intelligence and Security Committee. The ISC is emphatically not a select committee of Parliament; it is a committee of parliamentarians appointed by the prime minister to oversee the security services.

The point here is that it has to be composed of people the spooks can trust - or the necessary level of candour will simply not be there, and ISC investigations will hit a brick wall.

I'm told the ISC Chair from the last parliament, the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve wanted to be re-appointed and wanted the committee up and running, and able to commission a new set of investigations before the summer recess. Given all that has happened in the last few months, that does not seem unreasonableā€¦.. but there is no sign of the committee members being appointed.

Inquiring minds want to know why.

All the Conservatives on the previous committee want to be re-appointed, although that is in the PM's gift.

But there are two vacancies on the Labour side after Fiona Mactaggart and Gisela Stuart stood down as MPs; and one on the SNP side, after Angus Robertson lost his seat in June.

The new SNP-er is expected to be his successor as Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, but who will the new Labour members be. Will Jeremy Corbyn be content to nominate some heavyweight ex-ministers, or will he want someone more in tune with his politics?

Passage of bills

A less glamorous cog in the system is the Committee of Selection, the assemblage of whips which names MPs to Public Bill Committees, which do the detailed scrutiny work on ordinary legislation.

The non-appearance of this body is the reason that the committee stage of quite humdrum bills like the Ait Travel Organisers Licensing Bill is being taken on the floor of the Commons, because there is no mechanism for delegating bills to smaller committees of MPs until it is set up.

Here the blockage is that the government wants to have a majority on the committee, so that it can then guarantee itself a majority on those Public Bill Committees, thus seeing off ambushes during the detailed scrutiny stage of legislation.

Will they get it?

I hear that Labour are more ambivalent than you might imagine, because were the May government to be replaced by an even more minority Corbyn administration, a guaranteed majority for that government on bill committees would come in pretty handy.

Alternatively, if one of the non-Conservative seats on the Committee of Selection were taken by their semi-allies in the DUP, the Tories would then have a majority, even if the DUP member simply didn't turn upā€¦.

After the rows about the delays in setting up select committees, and the lack of Opposition Day debates, here's another issue where, I suspect, we're guaranteed a furious procedural row.

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