How effective are Parliamentary committees? [Mark Goodwin, Politics]

How effective are Parliamentary committees? [Mark Goodwin, Politics]

Research by Dr Mark Goodwin, Lecturer in Politics, has been included in a Parliamentary report on the effectiveness of the House of Commons committee system.

Thanks to the Brexit imbroglio, public interest in Parliament has rarely been higher. Last week, BBC Parliament – the channel that streams parliamentary proceedings into the homes of the grateful British public posted record viewing figures of 1.5 million in the run-up to the controversial prorogation of Parliament.

While events in the main Chamber of the Commons have clearly caught the attention of the public, they are only one part of the work of Parliament. Some of the most interesting work done by the House of Commons happens away from the main chamber in one of its many committees, where the work of government , and increasingly broader issues of public concern outside of government, are scrutinised by small, cross-party groups of MPs. While committees are often held up as the mirror image of the main  Chamber with its rowdy, adversarial and partisan style, select committees have also seen their fair share of drama in recent years including Rupert Murdoch being attacked with a custard pie, the leaders of Britain’s banks grovelling in apology for their part in the 2008 financial crisis, and the Prime Minister’s right-hand man Dominic Cummings storming out of a hearing for which behaviour he was held in contempt of Parliament.

This week, the House of Commons Liaison Committee (the super-committee comprised of the chairs of all other select committees) submitted a report to government on “The Effectiveness and Influence of the Select Committee System”, which draws on research evidence provided by Dr Mark Goodwin, Lecturer in Politics in the School of Humanities, along with Dr Stephen Holden Bates of the University of Birmingham and Professor Steven McKay of the University of Lincoln. The report confirms that the view of select committees among parliamentarians, academics and the media is generally favourable. At a recent event to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the modern select committee system, for example, they were described as “the one bit of Parliament that is actually working”. Yet the research by Dr Goodwin and colleagues warns against complacency noting that select committees lack formal power, have a poorly-defined role and have serious problems with gender diversity. Furthermore, Dr Goodwin demonstrated that there was little evidence that reforms to the system undertaken in 2010 had enhanced the effectiveness of committees. This evidence informs the committee’s final recommendations which now pass to the government for a response.

The Liaison Committee report , along with the written evidence submitted by Dr Goodwin can be found on the committee’s website. Further research and commentary by Dr Goodwin on parliamentary committees is listed below:

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “A Means to an End and an End in Itself: Select Committee Membership, Parliamentary Roles and Parliamentary Careers, 1979–Present”Parliamentary Affairs, online

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “Electing to do Women’s Work?: Gendered Divisions of Labour in UK Select committees 1979-2016”, unpublished manuscript available from authors on request.

Bates, I; Bates, S; Geddes, M; Goodwin, M; McKay, S , “Why Can’t Some Select committees Get a Female Witness?” , Political Studies Association Parliaments Specialist Group Blog, 24th January 2019

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “Do UK MPs Engage More with Select Committee Work Since the Wright Reforms? An Interrupted Time Series Analysis 1979-2016”, Parliamentary Affairs, 70:4, 780-800

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “Everyone loves select committees these days. But have they really changed?”, Democratic Audit, 10th November 2017

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; Geddes, M; McKay, S, “The Remainers who now chair select committees will harry the government over Brexit”, Democratic Audit, 14th July 2017

Wilson, S; Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S “Women are still outnumbered on Select committees”, Democratic Audit, 2nd March 2017

Wilson, S; Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “Women on Select committees – has progress been made?”, Institute for Government blog, 14th February 2017,

Wilson, S; Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S. “Are MPs spending more time on scrutiny?”, Institute forGovernment blog, 9th February 2017

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S “Elected chairs do not seem to have brought a new kind of parliamentarian to Select committees”, Democratic Audit, 6th July

Bates, S; Goodwin, M; McKay, S, “Parliamentary Select committees: Are elected chairs the key to their success?”, Political Studies Association Parliaments and Legislatures Specialist Group blog, 5th July2016