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Press Release: Constitution Unit research helps drive moves to greater effectiveness by Commons committees

8 November 2012

A major review published today of House of Commons select committees was significantly influenced by research at UCL's Constitution Unit. The report, by the House of Commons Liaison Committee (made up of select committee chairs), calls for a number of important changes to enhance committees' effectiveness and policy impact. Unit researchers welcome the recommendations, and the extent to which their research has been put to practical use.

In 2011 the Unit published a report "Selective Influence" looking at the extent to which House of Commons select committees actually influence government policy, which factors are associated with their success, and where they could do better. The report by the Liaison Committee, "Select Committee Effectiveness, Resources and Powers", draws heavily on this research and on the evidence given to the committee by the Unit's Deputy Director Dr Meg Russell (author of the original report) and Director Professor Robert Hazell (e.g. pages 7, 25, 27, 30, 31, 40). 

Meg Russell said: "We welcome this report by the Liaison Committee, which makes many sensible recommendations for how committees could improve their performance. Select committees are already highly respected, and our research shows that they are effective, but they could be far more so by adopting some fairly simple changes. These include setting clear objectives for inquiries, producing shorter, punchier reports, commissioning their own original research, and following up their recommendations later to check whether government has acted on them". 

This is the first review of select committees since the shakeup of their membership as a result of recommendations from the "Wright committee" (itself heavily influenced by Constitution Unit research). The Liaison Committee agrees with the Unit's analysis that the committees are growing in strength, but could do better. Other recommendations include more training for committee members, improvements in questioning witnesses, and a new "compact" with government, setting out how ministers, civil servants and parliamentary committees can work together better the benefit of good governance. 

 Meg Russell added: "Over the past 30 years the select committees have come to be seen as one of the best features of the House of Commons. They have an important, and growing, role in holding government to account, and also help build up more expertise and independent thinking among MPs. The Wright committee reforms of 2009/10 strengthened them further, and this report by the Liaison Committee is an important next step".

Notes for Editors

1. The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/

2. Dr Meg Russell is available for interview. Contact meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk. The Unit's Press Officer Brian Walker can be contacted on 07802 176347 and the Unit Administrator Ben Webb on 020 7679 4977. 

3. The Unit's report, "Selective Influence: The Policy Impact of House of Commons Select Committees" by Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, was published in June 2011. The research was carried out jointly with the House of Commons Committee Office, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. 

4. The Liaison Committee's report is published at 00.01am on Thursday 8 November and will be available from the committee's website

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