I will doubtless not be alone in beginning by discussing the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the health emergency and the Government’s response to it has naturally formed a key part of the work of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee this year and will continue to do so in the coming months.
Parliament had to undergo radical change in a short space of time in order to provide the legislative basis for the Government to tackle the unprecedented health emergency we face. It is however critical that, in the rush to combat Covid-19, we do not lose the vital checks and balances that underpin effective policy making. Slowing the rate of infections has necessitated the use of extraordinary powers to determine how we go about our day to day lives and in our report into Parliamentary scrutiny and Covid-19 we urged the Government to ensure they are not enacted without robust Parliamentary scrutiny.
After the Prime Minister committed to establishing an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, we looked at what form it could take to enable it to identify past mistakes and drive improvements in tackling the health, economic and social consequences to the UK. We found that work would need to begin immediately to establish the administration to support such an inquiry, if not its terms of reference and leadership, for it to have a meaningful impact on the current pandemic, and I would reiterate this call to the Government. We have since launched an additional inquiry to examine how Covid-19 data has been collected and how it has informed policy, as well as how it is understood by the wider world, and will continue this work in the coming months.
The Committee has been mindful not to put our wider work on hold and have continued to examine a broad range of issues within our remit. In July, our Major Projects report called on the Government to ensure that the ‘levelling up’ agenda is underpinned by well co-ordinated, locally driven development. The report additionally urged the Government to clarify its overall aims for major infrastructure spending as soon as possible and provide greater detail on how it will support economic development and regional growth.
Our inquiry into the Fixed-term Parliaments Act highlighted some of the benefits of this much maligned piece of legislation, including the end of the government advantage in picking and choosing the date of an election. While accepting the need for reform it will be important for its replacement to strike a delicate balance between promoting democratic accountability and preventing locking in a Government that is unable to govern.
Looking ahead, we will continue our ongoing work examining the operations and performance of the Cabinet Office. We are also investigating the role and status of the Prime Minister’s Office to see if existing mechanisms for scrutiny are sufficient for the practical reality of its evolving role as an independent operator at the heart of Government. We have also launched a new inquiry to consider what lies ahead for devolution in England, examining the impact of the current approach of bespoke system and considering opportunities for reform. We will publish our findings on these issues in the new year.