Parliament: Labour MPs complain of bullying by ministers

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The Independent Online
SENIOR LABOUR MPs warned ministers yesterday to treat Commons select committees with more respect after backbench complaints of cabinet "arrogance".

Robert Sheldon, a veteran Labour MP and chairman of the powerful Commons liaison committee, revealed that he was reviewing relations with the Government in the light of the concerns.

The liaison committee, which represents all 27 select committees, has heard a catalogue of complaints about the Government's attempts to influence and control them.

Chairmen of the select committees have been told to draw up dossiers of complaints from MPs who feel that they have been bullied or their work undermined by ministers. Select committees are supposed to be independent bodies holding the Government to account. The review would represent the most thorough inquiry yet into relations between the executive and the legislature.

Worries about ministerial interference were heightened when it emerged that the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had received leaked copies of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's scathing report into the Foreign Office's handling of the arms-to-Sierra Leone affair.

Ernie Ross, Labour MP for Dundee West, was forced to resign from the committee last week when he admitted sending the report to Mr Cook.

Mr Sheldon, MP for Ashton under Lyne, said yesterday it was vital that the committees should be able to carry out their work unimpeded.

"What we want to make sure is that select committees continue to occupy this position of questioning the executive and bringing their reports out without any fear of the consequences for the individual members or the select committee system as a whole," he told Radio 4's The World at One.

Mr Sheldon said it was "not very helpful" for ministers to make pronouncements on select committee reports without studying the findings in detail.

Gwyneth Dunwoody, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, also complained the Government was in danger of "forgetting" that the seat of its power lay in the Commons.