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Reform in the House of Commons

Reform in the House of Commons: The Select Committee System

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Reform in the House of Commons
    Book Description:

    One of the most significant changes in the British House of Commons has been the development in 1979 of a system of select committees charged with monitoring government ministries. Unlike previous experiments in parliamentary reform, these committees are staffed exclusively with backbench MPs, who regularly review executive policies and offer recommendations. Michael Jogerst reappraises the relationship between the executive and legislative branches in light of these new circumstances, which are likely to affect the entire governmental structure of the United Kingdom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6339-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Since the Reform Act of 1867, parliamentary government in Great Britain has steadily yielded to the primacy of party government. Members of Parliament were first and foremost members of a political party, and their behavior and attitudes were guided by this constraint. Parliamentary politics were understood in terms of front- and backbenchers, leaders and followers, policy-makers and policy-ratifiers. Through this tight nexus of party dominance, Parliament’s purpose seemed to be to ratify what had been decided elsewhere. The leaders of the largest party in the House of Commons returned at the last general election became the nation’s executive branch, retained...

  6. 2 Party Government in a Parliamentary Forum
    (pp. 19-37)

    The introduction of a comprehensive system of committees whose task it is to monitor and scrutinize the executive breaks with parliamentary tradition and practice, given the primacy of party government. Members of Parliament and political scientists have long noted the underlying foundations and practices necessary to support and sustain the Westminster Model. Most important among these characteristics are a strong two-party system, party cohesion and loyalty both in and out of Parliament, large numbers of amateurs or part-time backbenchers who primarily leave day-to-day governing and policy making to a small leadership elite, and party interests that are to take precedence...

  7. 3 Parliamentary Committees under Party Government
    (pp. 38-57)

    The development and dynamics of party government highlighted in the previous chapter had obvious ramifications for the creation and functions of parliamentary committees. In this chapter I examine more closely the use of parliamentary specialist committees prior to the 1966 Crossman Reforms. Given a system of party government supported by amateur and generalist members of Parliament, one would expect few calls for procedural reforms that would result in the creation of legislative committees. And for those committees that were created, one would surmise they were little involved with policy matters and primarily functioned as extensions of the executive in the...

  8. 4 Labour Commits to Reform
    (pp. 58-85)

    With only a slim majority following the 1964 general election, Harold Wilson called another election in 1966 in order to strengthen his party’s parliamentary majority. In this election Labour increased its representation in the Commons from 317 seats to 363. Both the 1964 and the 1966 election brought in several new Labour MPs. A survey of new MPs was conducted by theTimesshortly after the 1966 election. The ensuing article noted that the MPs canvassed expressed considerable discontent with their ability to influence important political matters and took “a dim view of the rusty machinery of West-minster.” The article...

  9. 5 The 1979 Select Committee Reforms
    (pp. 86-110)

    The Select Committee on Procedure inquiry of 1977–78 was one of the most time-consuming and thorough investigations any Procedure Committee had undertaken. There were several factors that contributed to the committee’s decision to investigate parliamentary reform and select committees once again. Chief among them was an acknowledgment of the unsatisfactory state of the current committee structure. The difficulties encountered by the proceedings of the Expenditure Committee and specialist committees had become highly politicized and publicized issues. In its subsequent report, the Select Committee on Procedure noted that the experience of these investigative committees was an important catalyst in determining...

  10. 6 Defining the Role of a Member of Parliament
    (pp. 111-137)

    The preceding chapter highlighted the political realities of parliamentary reform: executive reluctance to strengthen legislative investigatory bodies, committee members’ frustrations with imposed limitations in conducting inquiries, Procedure Committee assumptions about the proper role and powers of select committees in a parliamentary system, and changing orientations of MPs toward their roles as legislators. The Procedure Committee’s report of 1978 was all the more pathbreaking because of what it expected of members of Parliament. For the proposed committee system to be successful, effective, or relevant, members’ attitudes about their jobs, about Parliament, and about committee service necessarily had to differ from the...

  11. 7 MPsʹ Views on Parliament and Its Role
    (pp. 138-154)

    The individual member of Parliament has a number of career paths available. An MP can be a successful debater, an active committee member, a constituency ombudsman, a frontbench spokesperson, or, if the constituency allows, a “gentleman legislator.” With the exception of the latter role, all of these potentially include some policy dimension. One can attempt to influence policy on the floor of the House, scrutinize government policy through select committee service, formulate and articulate party policy on the frontbench, and redress constituents’ grievances as well as champion salient issues and microsectional interests of the constituency.

    Whatever one might think Parliament’s...

  12. 8 MPsʹ Attitudes on 1979 Select Committees
    (pp. 155-177)

    The report of the 1977–78 Select Committee on Procedure had high expectations for the new select committees and for the men and women who would choose to serve on them. The previous chapter highlighted the extent to which members of Parliament also hoped these committees would restore a balance of power between the executive and the legislature and serve as a vehicle for members to assume more active and influential roles in the parliamentary process. Select committees, it appears, could potentially assist both in asserting the institution’s power and influence and in satisfying members’ goals.

    This chapter focuses on...

  13. 9 MPs on Select Committee Roles and Rewards
    (pp. 178-200)

    The previous two chapters highlighted members’ attitudes toward Parliament and toward their roles as members of Parliament. They also addressed why these MPs did or did not join a select committee and, if they did join, why they stayed or chose to leave. The duties and tasks of a committee member, however, differ substantially from those associated with the chamber-related activities noted in chapter 6. Committee members need to specialize in a subject area, whereas on the floor of the House an MP may be expected to move adroitly from one subject to another as debate progresses. In debate, an...

  14. 10 Conclusion and Assessment
    (pp. 201-217)

    Observers of British legislative politics have long been aware of the importance of party government in understanding parliamentary politics. But the reliance on “party government” as a convenient variable to explain all legislative dynamics has outlived its usefulness. Loyalty to party leaders is insufficient in explaining why the 1979 select committees were created or why members would seek positions on them. Members’ desire to establish and then serve on these select committees is inconsistent with party government, but it is not necessarily inconsistent with parliamentary government. Committee members are not acting “irrationally,” nor are they unaware of the many institutional...

  15. Appendix A. Questionnaire and Evaluation
    (pp. 218-221)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 222-238)
  17. Index
    (pp. 239-242)