Select Committee on Liaison First Special Report


The Liaison Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:

Evidence from the Prime Minister


1. In late April, our Chairman received an approach from the Prime Minister offering to appear twice a year before the Liaison Committee "to discuss domestic and international affairs".[1] At the end of the last Parliament, our predecessor Committee had sought to arrange an annual session with the Prime Minister to discuss the Government's Annual Report, but this had been turned down by Mr Blair on the basis that he would be trespassing on the territory of individual ministers.[2] The Government no longer publishes an annual report.

2. The Committee was glad to agree to the Prime Minister's proposal for twice-yearly sessions.[3] Select committees have become the most effective parliamentary vehicle for holding the government to account. The appearance of the Prime Minister in public before a committee containing all the Chairs of select committees complements the investigative work of individual committees, notably those monitoring the work of government departments. It will at last bring the Prime Minister himself within select committee scrutiny. He needs to be accountable in detail both as Head of the Government, and in respect of the staff and advisers who answer directly to him and for whom no-one else can answer.

3. The format of the occasion offers a further advantage, as the Prime Minister implied in his Written Answer. Exchanges in the calmer setting of a committee room should prove more productive and informative. The current operation of Prime Minister's Questions in the Chamber, with its confrontational exchanges and theatrical style, provides an unsuitable setting for questioning in depth.

4. We set out below the arrangements that have been made, in consultation with the Prime Minister, for the initial sessions of oral evidence. To some extent they remain experimental, and may need to be adjusted in the light of experience.


5. The first session of oral evidence will take place on Tuesday 16th July at 10.30 am. Subsequent sessions will take place in January and July at a similar time. Each session is expected to last for between two and two and a half hours.


6. The meeting will be held in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House. This committee room contains some hundred seats for the press and public, and is equipped with television cameras for broadcasting, enabling the media to make use of the signal for live and recorded broadcasts. The session will also be available on Parliament's internal television network and be webcast via This should ensure that the Prime Minister's evidence is immediately accessible to those who are not able to be present in the committee room.

Organisation of Questions and Themes

7. We have already noted that this occasion provides a framework for questioning different from the rapid and often superficial exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions in the Chamber. For the new opportunity to be properly used, permitting more substantial exchanges of greater depth to take place, the questioning will be based on a limited number of themes selected in advance.

8. Each session will cover both domestic and international affairs. While committees may suggest possible subjects to their Chairs, it will be for the latter as members of the Liaison Committee to agree the final agenda for the session. Questioning on each topic will be led by a different member of the Committee.

Official Record of the Meeting

9. An uncorrected transcript of the Prime Minister's session transcribed by the House's official Shorthand Writer will be placed on the Internet and in the Library of the House as soon as possible. The corrected transcript will be published in due course.


10. In responding positively to the Liaison Committee's invitation, the Prime Minister has provided a welcome extra opportunity for parliamentary accountability of the Government's policy and actions. It marks further progress in strengthening the scrutiny role of select committees, taking advantage of the committee format which has long proved effective for the individual committees which we chair.

1   HC Deb, 26 April 2002 , col 538w Back

2   Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2000-0 Shifting the Balance Unfinished Business, HC 321, paras 143 to 151. The Public Administration Committee had earlier been refused in its request to take evidence from the Prime Minister on the Ministerial Code. See Public Administration Committee, Third Report of Session 2000-0 1, Improving the Rule Book, HC 235, Appendix 4. Back

3   As a result, the terms of reference of the Committee were amended to include the hearing of evidence from the Prime Minister on matters of public policy. See Votes and Proceedings,14 May 2002, p 869. Back

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