ACT are proposing that select committee membership should change from being proportional to the total number of MPs in Parliament to being proportional to the number of MPs not in the Executive.
I hope this proposal is given serious consideration as it would be a change that would enhance Parliament massively. They explain:
Select committees are a rubber stamp because the Government has a majority on most of them. Instead, their membership should be made proportional to non-executive MPs (i.e. those MPs who aren’t Ministers) so the Opposition has a majority on most committees. Select committees would then be worth submitting to because they could actually change legislation. The Government could still change it back in the main Parliament where it would still have a majority. But the possibility of real change would make select committees a place of real policy debate. The Government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use its large majority to make this change at little cost to itself.
Select Committees would become a forum where the Government can be scrutinised far more strongly – as we saw with the Epidemic Response Committee.
There would be political incentives for opposition parties to not use select committees just to vote down government bills. An opposition that was purely obstructionist would suffer a backlash.
An associated change that I would make is to mandate that if a select committee is not unanimous it can produce two reports – a majority and minority report – each with their own marked up amended bill.
And then at 2nd reading the House can vote not just on whether to proceed with the bill, but whether to accept the majority or minority version of the bill. This would allow the Government to still gets it way (as it should if it has the numbers in the House), but means the House explicitly votes on the two reports.
So this standing order change would not be about stopping the Government from being able to legislate. It would be about empowering select committees to be more independent. Without near automatic government majorities, they will be more likely to pursue inquiries, call in expert witnesses etc.
This would not be a minor change. This change would make a huge difference to the role of select committees and Parliament. I hope it is considered.