The Scottish National Party is, as expected, to chair two House of Commons select committees.
With its standout majority of Scottish seats, it was always going to be given the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to chair. Any other allocation wold have been fully biazarre.
The SNP has now also been confirmed to chair the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, a very good fit for the party’s interests and concerns in Scotland – but which apply widely across the nation.
Mike Weir MP, the SNP Chief Whip at Westminster, says: ‘I’m delighted that the SNP has secured the convener-ships of these two very important committees following our record-win of 56 seats in the general election.
‘Both the Energy and Climate Change select committee and Scottish Affairs select committee, are especially important to Scotland in this parliament.
‘We will be seeing one of the major bills coming forward in the Scotland Bill on more powers for Scotland, and of course the Energy and Climate Change committee is of particular importance with our oil and gas sector and renewables industry.
‘The SNP chairing these committees will allow us to make progress on these important issues; and will help us get the best deal for Scotland.’
This last statement may indicate two areas of confusion.
The Select Committees are a form of court, not policy makers or decision takers.
They undertake investigations of important issues in the field for which they are responsible. They call witnesses to attend and to give evidence to them, including in responses to questions from committee members.
They do not have judicial powers to force those called to attend to give evidence – although in practice it is rare for anyone to refuse, because of the unacceptable avoidance of accountability such a refusal would indicate.
Select Committees then produce a report on each investigation, publishing their findings on the issue in question, based on the evidence heard.
These findings, while again lacking judicial status, carry very substantial weight and are used as authorities in public and in legislative debate on the issue in question. Government agencies are expected to keep in mind the findings of select Committees in their pursuit of policy and operational matters.
Campaigners may lobby for Select Committee investigations to be held on issues of serious dispute with nationwide impacts.
An example of this is the National Coastguard SOS campaign getting two successive Transport Select Committee investigations, under Chair, Louise Ellman MP, into the MCA’s demonstrably ill thought ‘modernisation’ [cost cutting] of the national coastguard service.
While the weight of this Select Committee ‘s eventual and quite forensic findings was of immense public relations advantage to the Coastguard campaign and was paid lip service by the MCA, in practice they brought no change of direction in the MCA’s restructuring of the service.
The concerns of the Select Committee are UK-wide and any attempt bu its Chair to hijack the Energy and Select Committee to focus heavily on matters relevant to Scotland would be improper and wojld be resisted by committee members.
An issue that the SNP Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee might wish that committee to investigate might usefully be the principles behind the transmission charges levied by the National Grid.
This has nationwide resonance and is of considerable legitimate interest to Scotland as a member of the United Kingdom.