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The Liaison Committee was formally established in 1980, following the creation of departmental select committees in 1979. However, since 1967 select committee chairs had met to co-ordinate administrative matters.

The Liaison Committee comprises all the chairs of select committees in the House of Commons and in the 2019 Parliament is chaired by an additional member, appointed by the House. It considers matters relating to select committees and has administrative, advisory and co-ordinating roles. It advises House authorities on select committee matters; determines which select committee reports are debated; considers issues facing committees; reviews committee practice; and takes oral evidence from the Prime Minister.

In the 2017 Parliament, the Liaison Committee undertook an inquiry into the effectiveness and influence of the select committee system. The Committee’s report was published on 10 September 2019.

Evidence sessions with the Prime Minister

Although the Prime Minister answers parliamentary questions in the Commons chamber, the Prime Minister traditionally refused to appear before parliamentary committees.

Until around 2000, the Liaison Committee focused on administering the select committee system. Then it repositioned itself with a key report which sought to rebalance the relationship between Parliament and government, and staked a claim for its suitability as a forum through which the Prime Minister could be scrutinised.[1] The Liaison Committee’s proposal to take evidence from the Prime Minister was rejected in 2000 and in 2001. However, in 2002, Tony Blair, himself, suggested that he appear before the Committee twice a year.

The Liaison Committee noted that the new format would “at last bring the Prime Minister himself within select committee scrutiny”. It also considered that the format would provide a “calmer setting” for more “productive and informative” exchanges, which it contrasted with the “confrontational exchanges and theatrical style” of Prime Minister’s Questions.[2]

The sessions have become a regular feature. This scrutiny mechanism has operated since 2002, and the Liaison Committee has questioned six Prime Ministers. Between 2002 and 2023, 50 sessions have been held. Initially the Prime Minister appeared for 2½ hours, twice a year. In the 2010 Parliament this was increased to three appearances a year of 90 minutes apiece. The sessions have been described as “a significant advance in the scrutiny of the Prime Minister”.[3]

[1]    Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, 3 March 2000, HC 300 1999-2000; and Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business, March 2001, HC 321 2000-01

[2]     Liaison Committee, Evidence from the Prime Minister (PDF), 3 July 2002, HC 984 2001-02, para 3

[3]     P Cowley, ‘Parliament’ in A Seldon (ed.) Blair’s Britain 1997-2007, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p23

Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme

Dr Mark Bennister, Associate Professor in Politics, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lincoln, was awarded an academic fellowship under the title “Questioning the Prime Minister: How Effective is the Liaison Committee?”. His fellowship ended in 2019.

Richard Kelly is the House of Commons Library contact.

Information on Academic fellowships is available on the parliamentary website.

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