Select committees

The ability to find political consensus is often seen as a strength of parliamentary committees,[1] and can help them have greater impact. Consensus-building has been particularly valuable during the 2017–19 session, given the minority government’s accompanying lack of a majority on most Commons committees.*

Select committees still provide a space to build consensus

Despite the fractious politics of the 2017–19 session, select committees have continued to be a space where MPs from across parties can reach consensus on a range of emotive and politically contentious topics, including the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s post-Grenfell review of building regulations[2] and the Public Account Committee’s Windrush inquiry.[3] The Lords, too, have continued to use committees to reach compromises, including on the thorny issue of social care funding.[4]

Committees have also managed to reach compromises on the most contentious issue of the session, Brexit. Despite publishing several Brexit-related reports, the International Trade,[5] Efra [6] and Home Affairs [7] select committees have all unanimously agreed on the final draft of their reports. Cross-party agreement has also been seen on Brexit in committees in the House of Lords.[8]

Joint inquiries between committees have had success in building cross-Parliament consensus, as have joint committees – comprising of members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords – even on matters relating to Brexit.[9]

MPs on the ExEU Committee have not overcome their differences

Consensus has proved more difficult to find for the Commons’ Exiting the EU (ExEU) Committee, which inevitably attracted MPs with strong views on either side of the Brexit debate to its membership.

During the 2017–19 session, the committee published 14 reports on the UK’s preparations for leaving the EU. A minority of ExEU Committee members have disagreed with the final drafts of reports, suggesting amendments and prompting formal votes. Whereas votes on select committee reports – when they rarely occur – often reflect party affiliations, the results of divisions on the ExEU Committee frequently reflected MPs’ views on Brexit. That said, the extent to which views on Brexit trumped party loyalty has had its limits, with examples of Leave and Remain-leaning members of the committee voting along party lines in some committee votes.[10]

Following the publication of the committee’s fourth report in April 2018, former ExEU Committee member and Leave-supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg said “select committees’ reports are only influential if they are unanimous” and “dividing on Leave/Remain lines just refights the referendum”.[11]

But while unanimity can increase the influence of select committee reports, the evidence gathered through the select committee scrutiny process still has value – even if MPs cannot agree on the conclusions that should be drawn from it.

*Combined, the Conservatives and DUP have majorities on the Exiting the European Union and Northern Ireland Select Committees.