Time for Coherence: Parliament and the Constitutional Watchdogs

  • Oonagh Gay


Parliamentarians need as much help as they can get to scrutinise the work of the executive effectively. But MPs seem to be increasingly by-passed by a series of independent or semi-independent agencies with the task of regulating public policy objectives. Yet these bodies would actively welcome more interest in their work from Parliament.1 How is this conundrum to be resolved? We need to return to the nineteenth century to find an answer. The concept of Officers of Parliament has much to offer, but needs modernising to make a more coherent framework for key constitutional watchdogs and Parliament. The pre-eminent Officer is the Comptroller and Auditor General (C and AG), whose modern powers date from 1866, but the characteristics of the post have been borrowed for other watchdogs, and more coherence is necessary after decades of inchoate growth.


Civil Servant Institutional Design Select Committee Electoral Commission Judicial Power 
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  1. 3.
    The five Officers are: Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer, Privacy Commissioner, Information Commissioner and Official Language Commissioner. See O. Gay and B. K. Winetrobe Officers of Parliament: Developing the Rol. (London: Constitution Unit, 2003).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    New Zealand Parliament Finance and Expenditure Committee, Officers of Parliament. Wellington, New Zealand, 1989.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Roy Gregory and Philip Giddings The Ombudsman, the Citizen and Parliament. Politico’s, 2002.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Committee on Standards in Public Life, Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons, Eighth Report, Cm 5663, November 2002.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    House of Commons Commission Report, HC 422, 2002–3. See Chapter 3 in O. Gay and P. Leopold Conduct Unbecoming: The Regulation of Parliamentary Behaviou. (London: Politico’s, 2004) for a full discussion.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Public Administration Select Committee, Fourth Report, Government by Appointment: Opening Up the Patronage Stat. HC 165, 2002–3, para. 99, July 2003.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Joint Committee on Human Rights, Sixteenth Report Commission for Equality and Human Rights: The Government’s White Pape. HL 156/HC 998, 2003–4, August 2004.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Department for Constitutional Affairs, Constitutional Reform: a new way of appointing judges. CP 10/03 (2003).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Part II of O. Gay and B. K. Winetrobe Officers of Parliament: Developing the Role. London: Constitution Unit, 2003.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oonagh Gay

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