The Constitution Unit


New Constitution Unit report on delivering House of Commons reform

3 June 2024

A new Constitution Unit report explores different institutional vehicles for developing and delivering proposals for House of Commons reform.

The dispatch boxes and Speaker's chair in the House of Commons. The image is used on the front cover of the report.

Read the report (pdf)

Read a summary

Recent years have seen many proposals for reforming the internal procedures of the House of Commons, against a backdrop of clear public dissatisfaction with parliament. Less attention has been given to the question of how such reforms might be developed and delivered in practice.

This new Constitution Unit report therefore provides an evidence-based assessment of four different approaches to developing and delivering proposals for House of Commons reform: government initiative, and three different kinds of select committee exemplified by the Procedure Committee, the 2009–10 ‘Wright Committee’ and the 1997–2010 Modernisation Committee.

By comparing how these approaches have worked in the past, the report aims to help current politicians better understand the potential mechanisms through which they could pursue an agenda of Commons reform in the next parliament.

The report’s analysis produces a number of key conclusions and lessons:

  • The choice of institutional vehicle for developing procedural reform proposals matters for the substance of those proposals, their prospect of being implemented, and their ability to attract wide support in parliament.
  • It is rare for major reform proposals to be developed by government initiative alone; this is more often a role left to one of the House of Commons’ select committees. The report therefore suggests that a government or party seeking such reform should work with and through a select committee.
  • Of the three committees studied in the report, the Modernisation Committee had the most success at getting its proposals implemented, partly because it was – unusually for a select committee – chaired by a minister, the Leader of the House. The other committees included only backbench MPs, and faced more obstacles to getting their proposals debated and implemented.
  • Despite being chaired by a minister, the Modernisation Committee quite often considered reforms that aimed to enhance the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny of government or the role of non-government MPs.
  • However, the Modernisation Committee was both unusually divided and divisive when contrasted with the other committees. This sometimes reflected a perception among opposition MPs that it was a vehicle for endorsing proposals which came from (and benefitted) ministers rather than for meaningful deliberation.
  • The other long-standing vehicle, the Procedure Committee, was far less visibly divisive. But disagreement with its proposals was nonetheless often expressed more passively, through government simply not making parliamentary time for its reports to be discussed.

    Based on this evidence, the report suggests that politicians seeking Commons reform in the next parliament may favour an approach similar to that of the Modernisation Committee: a select committee including both backbenchers and frontbenchers, chaired by the Leader of the House. This approach offers the prospect of successfully delivering Commons reforms, but also risks those reforms running into cross-party controversy. The key challenge for any such committee would be to build broad support by proving itself to be a venue for genuine discussion between a wide range of interests: government and opposition, large parties and small, and frontbenchers and backbenchers.

    Delivering House of Commons Reform: What Works? was written by Dr Tom Fleming and Hannah Kelly. It was produced as part of the Unit’s project on The Politics of Parliamentary Procedure, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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