Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Protecting MPs outside Westminster

Yesterday I attended an afternoon conference at Westminster, “Departmental Select Committees – 30 Years of Scrutiny”. It was an interesting and topical conference jointly organised by the Hansard Society; Study of Parliament Group; and the House of Commons. It was such a feast that I will be sharing observations and information from it for some time on this blog.

My favourite anecdote came from Christopher Price, a former Chairman of the Education Select Committee. It concerns a sub-committee of the predecessor Education Committee in the late 1970s.

The subcommittee, which Mr Price chaired, was enquiring into the ‘student revolt’ of the time. They intended to make a visit to the Guildford College of Art. Many attempts were made by Surrey County Council – who ran the College – to stop the visit. They even argued that it would be “unconstitutional” for a Parliamentary Committee to conduct a visit covering a local government institution. {Law students may wish to discuss that claim}. It failed.

The Commons authorities became involved. They feared that an incident might occur during the visit, and said that there was no precedent to enable them to allocate funds for proceedings outside parliament. Fortunately the Clerk of the subcommittee was able to find an ancient precedent. The House of Commons had hired bodyguards to protect MPs when they were on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral to give thanks for the restoration to sanity of George III.

House of Commons Standing Orders now provide that committes shall have the power "to adjourn from place to place"