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The Governance of Parliament

November 2004 - October 2007

Sponsor: The Nuffield Foundation
Principal Investigator: Dr Meg Russell


Various recent controversies have led to questions about how the House of Commons governs itself. Most notably the row over select committee appointments in 2001 raised questions about whether some responsibilities should be taken out of the hands of the party whips, and given to a more independent parliamentary body. Similarly, concerns about the extent to which government controls the parliamentary timetable, and the reform of parliament itself, are raised regularly. This project investigates to what extent the House of Commons has control over its own business and procedures, and whether there are practices used in other parliaments which could help it to gain greater independence.

We are particularly focusing on the roles of the central individuals and bodies in parliaments, and how their powers are distributed. These include Speakers, House Leaders, Whips and 'Business Committees'. Our comparators are the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the German Bundestag, the New Zealand Parliament, and the House of Representatives and Senate in Australia. Our main interests will be who sets the parliamentary agenda, who decides how committee memberships are decided, and how reform reaches the agenda, but also how other key positions in parliament are filled, how budgets are set and who (if anyone) speaks for the backbenches. The main output will be a report, to be published at the end of the project.

Business Committees Briefing

In August 2006 the project produced its first major output: a briefing examining the case for a cross-party House of Commons business committee with powers over the parliamentary timetable and appointments to other committees. The authors - Meg Russell and Akash Paun - assessed the performance of existing business committees in Scotland, Germany, New Zealand and Australia and sought to draw lessons for potential reform at Westminster. To view this publication, click here.

Issues and Questions Paper

In Spring-Summer 2006, a consultation exercise was run as part of the project. The researchers published an issues and questions paper setting out the main subjects of inquiry and inviting responses from interested parties. The responses received will be used in writing the final report for this project. Although the consultation period has formally closed, responses to the issues raised would still be welcomed. Follow the links below for more information.

  • To download the Issues and Questions Paper, click here.
  • To respond to the Issues and Questions Paper electronically (in Word), click here.
  • To print a response form and complete it by hand, click here.

Final Report

The final report of the Governance of Parliament project was published on 16 October 2007 at a launch event in the House of Lords. Entitled The House Rules? International lessons for enhancing the autonomy of the House of Commons, this report sets out a detailed agenda for reform that would grant backbench MPs and committees greater control over how the Commons is run.

Steering Group

Professor John Uhr (Australia), Professor Elizabeth McLeay (New Zealand), Dr Uwe Leonardy (Germany), Barry Winetrobe (Scotland), Sir George Young MP, Robin Cook MP (until August 2005), Dr Tony Wright MP (from October 2005), Lord (Paul) Tyler, Sir Michael Davies, Oonagh Gay, Paul Evans, Andrew Kennon, Greg Power.

Page last modified on 18 apr 11 13:12

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