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DEFENCE SELECT COMMITTEE

VITAL ROLE OF HOUSE OF COMMONS DEFENCE SELECT COMMITTEE AND CHOOSING THE RIGHT CHAIRMAN!
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

09 Jan 14. Select Committees of both the House of Commons and separately, of the House of Lords do not sit in judgement over senior ministers and peers lightly. And despite perceptions that select committees are through the work they do to be seen as judge, jury and executioner of government policy the truth is that they are there to protect the electorate us, to monitor and to assess decisions and actions of ministers and others in the public sector but also those in the private sector as well. The point for all of us to remember is that the ‘select committee’ process of Parliament is there to provide necessary transparency and accountability between Government and the electorate.

The Select Committee role is thus vitally important not only in the process of attempting to ensure that taxpayer money is not being wasted but also because of the work they do in terms of accountability. The Chair of a select committee plays perhaps the most pivotal role in the work that they do. Once elected they will most usually although not always retain the position until they either choose to retire or find themselves no longer being a member of the House. In the case of the House of Common Defence Select Committee (HCDC) which since 2005 has been ably led and chaired by the Member of Parliament for North Hampshire, James Arbuthnot the announcement that he is to stand down as an MP in 2015 brings forward the need to elect and appoint a new chair of HCDC before the next General Election.

It is I believe traditional that when the ‘chair’ of a select committee decides to stand down as an MP he or she will most likely opt to leave about one year before the next election might be expected. James Arbuthnot has in mine and those that have and continue to serve with him on the HCDC done a superb job of work as its chair this past nine years. Through that period he and his eleven fellow committee members have delved hard into a variety of very relevant defence issues and they have done so without fear or favour. HCDC staff have worked hard to ensure that the right people have been brought before members and as each complicated inquiry has been completed they have sought and been shown not just to criticise Government or its predecessors wherever necessary but also to provide sound and reasoned advice to the Government of the day of what needs to be both done and in future observed.

Although he is not departing the role just yet James Arbuthnot is to be praised for the hard work and dedication to matters defence and also in the non confrontational manner in which the HCDC, made up of twelve members of Parliament from all three major parties, has conducted its affairs. We wish him well for when he stands down from Parliament next year and we hope that his successor is at the very least as good as he has been in raising the prominence of this brilliant and hugely valuable committee.

The matter of selecting a new chair of HCDC has already begun and in the manner of how these things are usually done we know that the post of Chair HCDC will remain in the Conservative domain. My understanding is that three of the four existing ‘Conservative’ members of HCDC are likely to throw their hats into the ring for the post of chair. These are Col. Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Julian Brazier (Canterbury and Whitstable) and James Gray (North Wiltshire). Other suggestions as potential candidates for chair are the Tory MP Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Douglas Carswell, the visceral right wing member for Clacton and the highly respected former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) who was a member of the HCDC for a two year period from 2001 before moving onto become a member of the Armed Forces Bill Committee. Others may yet throw their hats into the ring but given

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