Parliament's Select Committees are a powerful, vital and influential element of our democratic apparatus.
While some chairs have, on occasion, fallen foul of their own ego, at their best these cross-party committees allow for forensic scrutiny of ministers, officials, expert witnesses and even the Prime Minister.
Away from the work of the committees themselves, the chair can act as a high-profile advocate for their areas of interest and concern. Yesterday, Nicky Morgan hosted her first session as chair of the Treasury Select Committee but in the weeks before her inaugural outing she had already been a vocal and effective campaigner on a range of issues.
Using her new platform, Morgan has been applying pressure to the FCA over its report into RBS and has put the Financial Reporting Council on notice over the decision to close its investigation into KPMG’s audit of HBOS.
She has also turned up the heat on the Equifax data-breach scandal and raised concerns about the legal status of cross-border insurance contracts post-Brexit. Morgan has used the weeks ahead of her committee’s first hearing to lay several markers, but as she told this newspaper upon winning the chair, it’s Brexit that will dominate much of her time and energy.
She believes that protecting jobs and securing economic growth should be a priority over reducing immigration, setting herself up as a potential thorn in the side of a government that continues to cling to arbitrary and damaging migration caps. Morgan also wants to scrutinise the government’s emerging policy towards a transitional arrangement with the EU.
For all the talk of planning for a “no deal” the PM has reportedly told business leaders that they can consider a two-year transition “guaranteed.” However, some in her Cabinet feel it should be longer and we can expect Morgan to deploy some thumbscrews here.
As much as Brexit will dominate the bulk of the committee’s work, Morgan says she also wants to reopen inquiries into housing policy, access to retail financial services and areas of tax policy.
Her first session yesterday wasn’t electric (not many encounters with Philip Hammond are) but it marked the start of what could be an interesting, thoughtful and illuminating new chapter for one of parliament’s most powerful oversight committees.