I wrote last week about Parliamentary Consultative Committees and the role they should play with regard to legislation. But there is more that they should do, in helping the Executive develop policies and monitor their implementation.

The hopelessness however of expecting them to fulfil these tasks came home to me when, the morning after I got back, I received notice of a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Education, and was rung up also by the Secretary to the Committee Office, urging me to attend. It is possible she does this for all members, but I doubt it, because she mentioned again that no one else on the Committee had commented on the proposals for Education Reform that have been discussed in a Special Parliamentary Committee for over two years now.

They had not commented a few months back when a penultimate draft had been circulated, and they have not commented now, when a final draft has been sent out to all of us for comment. I will continue to hope, as I think she does, that something from someone else will come in before the 15th of January, which is the deadline, but I doubt it.

One of the problems is the manner in which the Committees are constituted. The copy of the Standing Orders distributed to MPs when Parliament was convened in 2010 was printed in 1993, and notes that Committees should have not more than 12 members. This has now been changed and all Committees now have 21 members. The Standing Orders I have say that ‘No Member shall serve in more than one Consultative Committee unless the Selection Committee decides to the contrary’, but either the Selection Committee has made several decisions to the contrary or else the Standing Order has been changed. I am supposed to serve on 7 Consultative Committees, including the Committee on Civil Aviation, about which I have no ideas at all.

I don’t think the Selection Committee has been at all serious in constituting Consultative Committees, but in mitigation I should add that it would be impossible for the Committee to be serious about this job, given that it has to allocate 21 members to each of 60 odd Committees. What would be much more sensible is to ask MPs to apply to Ministers for membership of their Committees, and for Ministers to propose a small Committee of the truly committed who could meet on a regular basis to discuss issues in an informed manner. For meaningful discussion the Committee should have not more than ten members.

It also does not make sense for other Ministers to be members of Consultative Committees unless the portfolios overlap. In that case, there should not be a plethora of Consultative Committees, but rather the work of several Ministries that are inter-related could be combined in a single Committee. This is what happens in India, and I had hoped after the lively exposition of this system last year by the Indian Minister for Parliamentary Affairs to a Parliamentary delegation from here, that some reforms would be instituted. But even though the Speaker and the Chief Government Whip were on the delegation, and took copies of the schedules the Indians followed, there was no follow up at all.

I am told that reports of attendance have been requested for the Presidential Secretariat, but I do not think this will lead to improvement. Some months back the President read out lists of attendance at COPE, and made it clear that he was not amused, following which there was improved attendance for a couple of weeks. Things then went back to normal, with very few members attending, and fewer contributing. This time round the notice recorded that those absent for three sittings without permission would lose their membership of the Committee, but I don’t think that this would be effective either, since they would simply be replaced by others who did not turn up.

To put it quite bluntly, most members are not interested in either policy or in legislation. They cannot be blamed for this, given the very different skills required to be elected under the system prevailing in this country, and to stay elected. That is why we should also move swiftly to electoral reform designed to produce both good constituency Members and also Members with wider perspectives able to input competently into national issues.

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