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House of Commons Commission

Volume 521: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Savings Programme

2. What assessment the House of Commons Commission has made of the effects of its savings programme on the ability of Committees of the House to scrutinise the work of the Executive. (34729)

A guiding principle of the savings programme, as agreed by the Commission and the Finance and Services Committee, is that it must not damage the ability of the House to scrutinise the Executive. The Commission is confident that the savings being made in 2011-12 will adhere to that principle and enable Committees of the House to continue to fulfil their vital scrutiny role, and this is a matter that we will keep a close eye on.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. I understand why the House is making savings, but we would not find it acceptable if budget cuts prevented a quarter of our Members from travelling to Westminster to attend debates or Committees. A few of our Select Committees exist specifically to scrutinise the impact and effectiveness of Government policies and expenditure abroad. Does the House of Commons Commission accept that it is sometimes essential for those Committees to travel to other countries, and that, when they do so, none of their members should be excluded from their meetings?

The hon. Gentleman is a noted member of the International Development Committee. There will be £800,000 for Select Committee travel in 2011-12. That is a substantial sum of money at a time of financial stringency, and the Commission believes that it will be sufficient for those occasions on which an overseas visit makes an essential contribution to an inquiry. The Committees that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will have a clear claim to be making essential inquiries, but the way in which the budget is used is ultimately a matter for the Liaison Committee.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as well; he will do a good job. Is he aware that younger, and—dare I say it?—more progressive Members of the House scrutinise the Executive using social media such as Facebook and Twitter? Twitter is free. Will he give us an unequivocal commitment that Members should be able to use Twitter to hold the Government to account?

I deeply regret to inform the hon. Gentleman that I am a dinosaur when it comes to the Twittery thing; I really have not a clue how it works. May I discuss the matter with him later to find out exactly what he is talking about?