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Do committees make a difference? : an examination of the viscosity of legislative committees in the British House of Commons

Thompson, Louise


Louise Thompson


Philip Norton

Cristina Coutinho Leston-Bandeira


Public bill committees in the British House of Commons play a crucial role in the scrutiny of government legislation. The reform of the bill committee system in 2006 and the introduction of oral evidence taking as a standard procedure significantly raised the profile of this stage of the legislative process and had the potential to increase the power of bill committees to constrain the government in the passage of legislation.

Yet there remains no detailed analysis of the work of these modern bill committees and of their impact on government bills. This thesis seeks to address this gap, with the most comprehensive quantitative analysis of bill committee work since that of John Griffith in 1974. It analyses 139 bill committees and report stage debates over a ten year period in great detail and supplements this with a series of interviews with Members of Parliament and parliamentary officials.

The thesis finds that the context in which bill committees are working is very different from that identified by Griffith. Whilst the majority of bills leave committee with amendments, a culture of resistance among government ministers means that 99 per cent of all successful amendments are government amendments. The real impact of committee stage is then identified as taking place at the report stage of bills. It is here that committees can – and do – make a difference to government legislation, with an average of ten changes being made at the report stage of every bill on the basis of undertakings ministers have made in committee. Ultimately the thesis finds when the MPs appointed to committees have specialist knowledge of the subject and when good use is made of oral evidence sessions, the capacity of committees to make a difference to government legislation increases considerably.


Thompson, L. (2013). Do committees make a difference? : an examination of the viscosity of legislative committees in the British House of Commons. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 10, 2013
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Politics
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Politics and International Studies, The University of Hull
Award Date May 1, 2013


Thesis (1.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2013 Thompson, Louise. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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