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The real PMQs

Mike McCartney

7th January 2021

In one of our online lessons this week we have been examining the effectiveness of the UK Parliament in carrying out its role as a check on the executive, emphasising the massive importance of the Commons Liaison Committee - a little known body outside the corridors of Westminster.

We have covered the main arguments for and against parliamentary debates, the use of Early Day Motions, Questions to Ministers (including PMQs) and select committees.

With regards to the latter an emphasis was placed on the existence of the Commons Liaison Committee. As an examiner I would say that this body is very rarely mentioned, and to do so does help a great deal in reaching the top end of the mark scheme.

Students can tackle this topic area with a study based on a project report by academics Bannister et al

Here is a summary of our findings on the effectiveness of the Liaison Committee

  • Established 2002
  • Comprises of all MPs who are committee chairs
  • Super committee/super select committee
  • PM takes oral evidence from PM 3/year – something no other committee can do
  • Unique accountability role
  • New power to invite members of other s/c as ‘guests’ – strengthening scrutiny powers
  • Has taken the current PM to task, even during the covid lockdown – and on the subject of the lockdown and the government’s policy on schools have a look at 56 mins onwards on this video: Bojo and covid - exposed gaps in his knowledge and clearly uncomfortable.
  • “Analytical and deliberative setting much more conducive to informative and illuminating exchanges than PMQs.” (Bannister et al.)

But there are concerns that they Liaison Committee is not as effective as it could be

  • Project report by academics Bannister et al found that:
  • Sessions would benefit from sharper questioning
  • More frequent appearances by PM
  • PM should attend earlier during time in office
  • Greater clarity and focus from committee would enhance its profile
  • More co-ordination between members (instead of individual MPs fighting to enhance their own ‘fiefdoms’ [taken from a blog on the Institute of Government site, not the project report by Bannister et al]) would add to scrutiny function in holding PM to account for whole-of-government activity

So, overall, they cab very much be seen as “the real PMQs”. So in this regard I would very much urge students to argue that they are an effective mechanism for executive scrutiny and very much more so than the weekly pantomime that is PMQs.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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