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The impact of house of commons select committees

Researchers: Professor Meg Russell

Project overview


This project examined the impact of Select Committees, and was a collaboration between the Constitution Unit and House of Commons Select Committee staff. Seven departmental select committees were included in the study, as well as over 50 interviews with parliamentary and government insiders.

Findings
  • Committees are highly prolific, producing increasing numbers of reports. Between 1997 and 2010, select committees probably produced almost 1,500 inquiry reports (or 110 a year) and almost 40,000 recommendations and conclusions, of which 19,000 (or 1,450 a year) were aimed at central government.
  • Committee recommendations call for a wide variety of actions by government. Relatively few (around 20%) relate to flagship policies. Around 40% call for a small policy change or continuation of existing policy, while the remainder call for larger changes.
  • Around 40% of recommendations are accepted by government and a similar proportion go on to be implemented. Calls for small policy change are more likely to be accepted and implemented but around a third of recommendations calling for significant policy changes succeed.
  • The report identifies seven additional types of influence: contribution to wider debate, drawing together evidence, spotlighting issues and changing ministerial priorities, brokering (improving transparency within and between departments), accountability, exposure, and generating fear.
  • Select committees are most influential when they are strategic, timely or persistent. They could do more to follow up on previous inquiries and monitor the progress of their recommendations. Media attention is also a double-edged sword. Public embarrassment is a key form of influence but committees can sometimes veer towards ‘ambulance chasing’.

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Team


  • Professor Meg Russell
    University College London

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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