The Constitution Unit


Taking Back Control: Why the House of Commons Should Govern its Own Time

Taking back control front cover

Read the report

The House of Commons is the senior chamber in the UK's sovereign parliament, to which the executive is accountable. Yet MPs have surprisingly little control over what the Commons can discuss, and when. This has caused significant controversies in recent years, from the 'seizing of the agenda' by MPs over Brexit, to their frustrations about being locked out of decision-making on COVID-19 and on decisions about virtual participation during the pandemic. This report addresses why MPs lack control of their own institution, what problems this causes and, crucially, what should be done. The report picks up where the 2009-10 'Wright Committee' left off, by suggesting that it is time for the House of Commons to 'Take Back Control' of its own proceedings.

This report is written by Unit Director and UK in a Changing Europe Senior Fellow Professor Meg Russell, and Dr Daniel Gover, Lecturer of British Politics at Queen Mary University of London, and an honorary research fellow at the Constitution Unit. It is produced in collaboration with UK in a Changing Europe as part of the Unit's project on Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution

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What people say about the report:

"Well worth reading. Important contribution to debate about balance of power between govt & @HouseofCommons", tweet by David Lidington, Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, 2016-17.

"There has to be some change, and whether it's another select committee to look at this whole report... I think that would be a good idea. And I think the majority of the recommendations in this report are good." Valerie Vaz MP, Labour Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, speaking at the launch event.

"The interesting and detailed report calls for a raft of changes to transfer control of Commons time from ministers and the Government, to MPs and the House as a whole...The risk in not considering and planning for such reforms are clear...if the Government continues to maintain an ironclad grip on Commons business, it risks change being forced in an uncomfortable and scattergun approach." Karen Bradley MP, Conservative chair of the Procedure Committee, writing for Conservative Home ...

... and speaking at the launch event,"The report gives us some really interesting thoughts and it's really important that I, as the chair of the Procedure Committee, am able to see these kinds of things. I'm really grateful to Meg and Daniel and the whole team for putting this together because it gives us a basis to work from."

"The Unit should be proud of what it's done... there are 20 careful ...constructive and evidence-based conclusions and recommendations on pages 58 onwards. [This is] a modest manifesto that now cries for detailed consideration by politicians." Sir David Natzler, former Clerk of the House of Commons (i.e. the chamber's top official), speaking at the launch event. 

BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D'Arcy: "The Constitution Unit has an impressive batting average in encouraging constitutional changes, and one of the report's co-authors, Professor Russell, has advised on every major reform of parliament - actual or proposed - since the New Labour years. And such has been the level of backbench concern about the Covid restrictions, it's just possible that a majority of MPs might be mobilised, in favour of these changes."

Key links

Read the report 

Read the summary blog post here

Read Meg Russell's article in Times Red Box (£)

Read an article by the BBC's Mark D'Arcy, about the report and the issues it raises, here.

Read an article by Karen Bradley - Chair of the Procedure Committee, and one of the speakers at our launch event - on ConservativeHome here.

Hear authors Meg Russell and Daniel Gover interviewed by Mark D'Arcy on the 22 January episode of Radio 4's Today in Parliament here (from 06.35)

Listen to an in-depth interview with Meg Russell about the issues raised in the report on Mark Pack's podcast here.

Check out a tweet thread of video highlights from the launch event here.

Listen to the podcast recording of the launch event here.

Find out more about the UKICE funded Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution project here