Publications / Reports

Opening Up The Usual Channels

2 Dec 2002
Government Chief Whip, Mark Spencer MP, Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP in the House of Commons during the Queen's Speech, 14 October 2019. © UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

This 2002 report lays bare the operation of one of the most distinctive, mysterious and critical features of the Westminster Parliament: the 'usual channels' - that is, the relationships between the government and opposition parties through which Parliament's business is organised.

Although the initiative in arranging the parliamentary agenda at Westminster lies largely with the government of the day, in practice the government negotiates with the opposition parties - particularly the official Opposition - to arrange parliamentary business through what are euphemistically known as the 'usual channels'.

The 'usual channels' operate differently in certain respects in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but across both Houses few records are kept of what has been agreed, and the system operates entirely informally and privately.

The operation of the 'usual channels' in the Westminster Parliament contrasts with the practice in many other legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly, where parliamentary business is arranged through a Business Committee.

The report explains what the 'usual channels' are, how they came into existence, how they work, and who the key figures are in the 'usual channels' system. The report also asks how effective the 'usual channels' are, and whether Parliament should have greater control over its own agenda.

  • Introduction

  • What are the Usual Channels?

  • Who are the Usual Channels?

  • What do the Usual Channels Do?

  • A History of the Usual Channels

  • A Week in the Life of the Usual Channels - the House of Commons

  • The Usual Channels in the House of Lords

  • Government Domination of Parliament

  • The Importance of Personality in the Usual Channels

  • Programme Motions

  • The Usual Channels Outside the Usual Channels

  • A Critique of the Usual Channels

  • A Westminster Business Committee?

  • Opening up the Usual Channels

Rush, M. & Ettinghausen, C. with Campbell, I & George, A. (2002) Opening up the Usual Channels (London: Hansard Society)