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2 January 2015

The Rise of the Parliamentary Select Committee

Written by: Gurpreet Brar, Managing Director at Edelman

Government Affairs

Select Committees are an increasingly important and often challenging part of Parliamentary scrutiny. While the Committees have been in existence since 1979, the 2009 Wright reforms, ensuring the election of members and chairs of Select Committees by secret ballot, have meant that Select Committees have become ever more powerful.

The rise of the Select Committee can be seen in the context of wider erosion of Executive hegemony since 2010, with the dynamics of coalition politics giving the Commons more opportunities to challenge the Executive. The reforms have loosened the grip of the Whips, meaning there is a wider range of influencers on each Party’s benches. With no Party clearly accountable for the actions of Government, the Select Committees have asserted their role in scrutinising the actions of Ministers, civil servants, public bodies and, increasingly, the private sector.

This has had a range of repercussions on the private sector.

Companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, Google and Deloitte have had to contend with huge reputational challenges as their tax arrangements and profits have been called into question. The banking sector has discovered that Select Committees have continued to generate headlines long after the news agenda would otherwise have moved on. And AstraZeneca and Pfizer have found that Select Committees have the capacity to use businesses as political footballs. Meanwhile, Ovo Energy has shown that challenger companies can take advantage of the platform Select Committees provide to raise their public profile and grow their customer base.

In the wake of the expenses scandal, Select Committees have provided an important vehicle for restoring trust in the UK political system, and their influence is likely only to increase through the next Parliament.

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