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The Liaison Committee; taking evidence from the Prime Minister

Published Monday, March 26, 2018

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to make her third appearance before the Liaison Committee on 27 March. These sessions with the Prime Minister have occurred since 2002 and have now become an established part of the scrutiny mechanisms available to Parliament. This briefing sets out the background to the evidence sessions.

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The Liaison Committee was formally established in 1980, following the creation of departmental select committees in 1979. However, since 1967 select committee chairs had met to co-ordinate administrative matters.

The Liaison Committee comprises all the chairs of select committees in the House of Commons. It considers matters relating to select committees and has administrative, advisory and co-ordinating roles. It advises House authorities on select committee matters; determines which select committee reports are debated; considers issues facing committees; reviews committee practice; and takes oral evidence from the Prime Minister.

Evidence sessions with the Prime Minister

Although the Prime Minister answers parliamentary questions in the Commons chamber, the Prime Minister traditionally refused to appear before parliamentary committees.

Until around 2000, the Liaison Committee focused on administering the select committee system. Then it repositioned itself with a key report which sought to rebalance the relationship between Parliament and government, and staked a claim for its suitability as a forum through which the Prime Minister could be scrutinised. [1] The Liaison Committee’s proposal to take evidence from the Prime Minister was rejected in 2000 and in 2001. However, in 2002, Tony Blair, himself, suggested that he appear before the Committee twice a year.

The Liaison Committee noted that the new format would “at last bring the Prime Minister himself within select committee scrutiny”. It also considered that the format would provide a “calmer setting” for more “productive and informative” exchanges, which it contrasted with the “confrontational exchanges and theatrical style” of Prime Minister’s Questions.[2]

The sessions have become a regular feature. This scrutiny mechanism has operated since 2002, and the Liaison Committee has questioned four Prime Ministers. Between 2002 and 2016, 33 sessions have been held. Initially the Prime Minister appeared for 2½ hours, twice a year. In the 2010 Parliament this was increased to three appearances a year of 90 minutes apiece. The sessions have been described as “a significant advance in the scrutiny of the Prime Minister”.[3]

[1]     Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, 3 March 2000, HC 300 1999-2000; and Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business, March 2001, HC 321 2000-01

[2]     Liaison Committee, Evidence from the Prime Minister, 3 July 2002, HC 984 2001-02, para 3

[3]     P Cowley, ‘Parliament’ in A Seldon (ed.) Blair’s Britain 1997-2007, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p23

House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme

 

The House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme is run in partnership with the Political Studies Association. It was launched at the end of 2016 and five Academic Fellows were appointed in the first round. The Fellowships are an opportunity for senior political and social scientists to study the work of Parliament, to provide expertise, to contribute to a number of events to help build public understanding of Parliament, and to inform and enhance the work of the House.

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University, has been awarded an academic fellowship under the title “Questioning the Prime Minister: How Effective is the Liaison Committee?’

Richard Kelly is the House of Commons Library contact.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8182

Authors: Richard Kelly; Mark Bennister

Topics: Members of Parliament, Parliamentary procedure

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