In the News

Sunak and the Liaison Committee

Mike McCartney

20th December 2023

This über select committee challenged the PM on his flagship Rwanda plan

And it pretty much underlined what many people have been saying. The Rwanda 'plan' isn't really much of a plan.

Suggested questions on the video clip

1. Why are no airlines willing to contract with the government to remove people to Rwanda?

2. What steps need to be taken before flights can be operationalized to Rwanda?

3. How much money has been spent or will be spent on the migration and economic development plan?

4. Why does the government disclose the funding for Rwanda on an annual basis?

5. What did the Deputy Prime Minister say about the funding for Rwanda?

6. According to the home office impact assessment, how much does it cost to send someone to Rwanda?

7. How does the government justify the cost of the scheme compared to the rising costs of the asylum system?

8. Why is the permanent secretary at the home office hesitant to sign off on the Rwanda policy?

9. What evidence does the government have that deterrence works?

10. How has the returns agreement with Albania demonstrated the effectiveness of deterrence?

Video answers:

1. Airlines are concerned about reputational damage.

2. Legislation needs to be passed through Parliament.

3. The total amount is not disclosed in the video.

4. To maintain professionalism, integrity, and accountability.

5. The Deputy Prime Minister said the funding was unlimited.

6. The video does not provide a specific cost per person.

7. The government believes the scheme's deterrent effect justifies the cost.

8. The permanent secretary has not expressed concerns about value for money.

9. The government cites the returns agreement with Albania as evidence of deterrence.

10. The returns agreement with Albania has resulted in a 90% decrease in arrivals.

Summary of the Q&A from the Evening Standard:

"Rishi Sunak declined to provide further details on how much the Government expected to pay Rwanda under the asylum deal.

Asked by Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson about the cost of the scheme, he said: “We disclose these things on an annual basis.”

He added: “It’s absolutely right for what are commercially sensitive negotiations that there is a degree of ability for the Government to negotiate these things and then provide the appropriate level of transparency to Parliament which it is doing on an annual basis.”

Challenged by Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier on the “secrecy” surrounding the costs, Mr Sunak said: “It may well be that we want to have other conversations with other countries.

“But again it wouldn’t be right to talk about these things if we’re having private conversations with other countries about potential alternatives to add to our Rwanda policy.”"

In context of A Level Government and Politics

This is clearly about the relationship between the legislature and the executive and the ability of Parliament to effectively hold the government to account.

As I've written previously, select committees are often called the real engine rooms of government, and the clash between the select committee chairs and the Prime Minster is an interesting case study.

To repeat, one of the principal ways that Parliament serves the people is holding the government to account - echoing ‘great reformer’, William Gladstone, who is reported to have said to Members of Parliament that ‘Your business is not to govern the country, but it is, if you think fit, to call to account those who do’.

And when it comes to this function, select committees are far more effective than other mechanisms, such as PMQs. The introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979 allows these non-partisan bodies to call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive. Furthermore, as we have seen with the latest appearance by Sunak in front of the committee PMs are now called to face close scrutiny twice a year by the Liaison Committee. Peter Riddell, the former Times columnist, argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government.’ And within that context the Liaison Committee is a further development. To read more on the workings of this committee, see this report by the Institute for Government.


Explain what is meant by 'select committee'

Research some recent work by select committees and highlight cases where their chairs have made the newspapers

Discuss the view that Parliament can effectively hold the government to account

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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