The Commons Liaison Committee: What is its role and significance?

Today at 16.00 Boris Johnson will appear in front of the Commons Liaison Committee for the first time since he became Prime Minister. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, he will do so remotely. A follow-up blog will consider his performance in detail.

The Commons Liaison Committee is unique in that it is not a stand alone committee, instead it is made up of the Chairs of the 36 Select Committees in the House of Commons. Its role is to consider the roles of Select Committees, choose Select Committee Reports for debates in the chamber and, since 2002, to regularly (at least twice per year) question the Prime Minister on Government Policy.

Theresa May in front of the Liaison Committee

The election of Sir Bernard Jenkin as Chair has itself been controversial. Since 2010 Chair of Select Committees have been elected by Parliament. After this point, by convention, it was accepted that the Chair of the Liaison Committee must be chosen from the elected chairs who made up the committee. However, Jenkin is not currently the chair of a committee (he was Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee from 2010-2019).

Bernard Jenkin was controversially appointed Chair of the Liaison Committee in 2020

In addition, Jenkin was also proposed by the government of the position. Given that the prime role of the Select Committee is to hold the government to account, it is clear that his impartiality would already have been questioned. As a prominent Leave MP, he has heartily supported Boris Johnson in the chamber. Such was the concern over his appointment that a vote in the House of Commons to bar him from the position was taken. Although it was defeated, 16 Tory MPs voted in favour of the Labour motion. It will be interesting to see how he behaves as Chair.

Traditionally, appearances in front of the Liaison Committee are some of toughest interrogations that Prime Ministers participate in. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • They cannot get away with party political answers – they must give detailed response about policy.
  • They are on their own. There are no civil servants or special advisers alongside them.
  • The questioners are experts in a variety of fields with lots of experience of interrogating ministers.
Theresa May facing tough questioning from the Liaison Committee

So, how will Boris Johnson fare today? Follow the blog to be updated on this with an article about this tomorrow.

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