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.
In 2010 the House of Commons backed the creation of a House Business Committee to take charge of business in the Lower House, but the 2010-2015 coalition government did not bring forward proposals to establish one. Accordingly, the ‘usual channels’ continue to operate in the Commons as well as the Lords, so the findings of this 2002 report remain current. Indeed, with renewed attention focusing on the control of business in the House of Commons as a result of the Brexit process, it is more valuable than ever to understand how the current process works.
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.
Table of Contents
- The Usual Channels
- 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
Banner image: ‘John Bercow takes the Chair and expresses his thanks to the House of Commons’, by UK Parliament
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