Committee Shakeup: What happens to ECC?

2 September 2016

On becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May made a raft to changes to Cabinet responsibilities and Whitehall, each of which will have a knock-on effect on Parliament’s Select Committees.

The most obvious casualty is likely to be the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee (ECC), though the breadth of its remit may ensure it survives as a sub-committee within a new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee (BEIS).

All about that BEIS

Some form of amalgamation with the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) committee appears inevitable, which would create a fierce competition for membership of the new body. The extent of this will depend on how many MPs form BEIS.

A typical committee has 11 members but the size of the remit suggests BEIS could well be larger, perhaps with a more or less formalised energy sub-committee, which would echo the arrangement within the civil service whereby the two Permanent Secretaries have, for the time being, remained in situ in the new department.

Looking to the ECC members, Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has been a vocal defender of the steel industry on Teesside and could be reasonably confident of taking a seat on BEIS.

Some of those who hold multiple memberships – such as Conservative MP Glyn Davies – may opt to increase their work on a single committee, in Mr Davies’ case the Welsh Affairs Committee.

Another key question will be the SNP, for whom Angus Brendan MacNeil currently chairs ECC. The SNP was allocated two committee chairships after becoming the third party at Westminster and will fight tooth and nail to avoid being reduced to one.

Brexit Means Brexit Committees

Two committees are expected to be created in order to mirror the Government’s new departments – International Trade and Exiting the EU.

Seats on both are sure to be highly prized due to the centrality of these areas to the post-referendum future. For the same reason, it would be a shock if either were to be chaired by the SNP.

Eurosceptic MPs will use the Brexit committee to ensure the Government proceeds quickly and in a direction acceptable to them. MPs who backed EU membership will regard the committee as a means to hold the Government to account, and perhaps to minimise the depth of the rupture.

Therefore, the membership selection process is likely to be much more strongly contested than is usually the case. The International Trade committee is perhaps less controversial, but will increase in importance over the duration of the Parliament, suggesting MPs who are willing to play a long game may regard membership as a prime role.

Education Education Education

Another, more minor, change is the move in responsibility for universities to the Department for Education. MPs with an interest in higher education may see the Education Select Committee as a more appealing prospect. Education has already emerged as a hot topic for the May administration, owing to an early row over the Prime Minister’s views on grammar schools.

Labour’s Paul Blomfield MP has a particularly strong background in universities policy, and in moving could free up a seat on the highly competitive BEIS. More contentiously, having left the front bench, former Education Secretary Michael Gove could see an avenue to pursue his education reforms from outside the Government, though his ideas on matters educational may go quickly out of style under a new priministerial regime.

Parliament will determine the shape of its own select committees shortly after returning from the summer recess, perhaps as early as next week. The form and membership of these will – especially in the absence of a strong and united official opposition – be pivotal in the formation of the UK’s industrial and Brexit strategies.

Ben Zwolinski
News Assistant

As News Assistant, Ben keeps DeHavilland's Newsdesk functions running smoothly from day to day. A graduate of the University of Sheffield, Ben has experience working for the Council of the EU, and completed a traineeship with Scotland Europa and the City of London Corporation office in Brussels.