The Study of Parliament Group: The First Twenty-one Years

Next section: Chapter 1

Preface and Foreword


Like most work of the Study of Parliament Group this pamphlet owes a lot to cooperation of its members. A first draft was sent to a number of long-standing members of the Group, Bernard Crick, Nevil Johnson, Geoffrey Lock, David Menhennet, Douglas Millar, David Pring, Peter Richards, Michael Ryle and Roger Sands. With the help of their comments a second draft was prepared and considered by the Executive Committee on March 29th 1985 and subsequently I received further comments and corrections from David Beamish, Bob Borthwick, Helen Irwin, Philip Norton, Michael Rush and Michael Wheeler-Booth. I would like to thank them all for their meticulous help.

Helen Irwin, currently one of the joint secretaries, drafted Appendices 1-3 and Marion Chantry of the House of Commons Library Department was commissioned by the Group to prepare the typescript. Finally Richard Sharpe helped to design the cover. The Group stands in their debt.

House of Commons May 1st 1985
Dermot Englefield


Let the two of us tell the pre-history. In 1964 one of us (Crick) expounded a new approach to the understanding of Parliament in his book “The Reform of Parliament”. The other of us (Ryle) was, like many other readers, much stimulated and impressed by the analysis there set out and the reforms recommended–which matched well with some of his own thinking and that of some of his colleagues. He felt, however, that the author could have benefitted from consultation with House of Commons Clerks, like himself, who could have advised on facts and details of procedure which are not readily available to academic writers from outside Parliament. Ryle contacted Crick who liked the idea that someone would help him get the facts right in a second edition; they met; and they found themselves in agreement on many matters concerning the working of Parliament. In particular Crick said to Ryle (or perhaps it was the other way round–it does not matter) “Let’s meet again, but why confine it to just the two of us? Would it not be a good idea if academics concerned with parliamentary studies met regularly with the officers of the House of Commons who ‘know how the pipes run’? There would be benefit on both sides”. And so the Study of Parliament Group was conceived, with a strange and necessary mixture of enthusiasm and caution, mutual encouragement and mutual restraint–as shown in the composition of the founding meeting and in the character of the first Chairman, Sir Edward Fellowes, a former Clerk of the House.

How the Group was born, and how it has survived for twenty-one years, is told in this short History. Looking back, it really has been a worthwhile achievement–and fun. The History shows how many of our earliest proposals–though not all–were then felt to be radical and even dangerous, but are now part of the accepted wisdom. The main area of success has been the development of a comprehensive, lively, and politically significant select committee system in the Commons. As now operating, these departmental committees go well beyond what we originally envisaged, but at least the Group was early, vigorous and persistent in the fight to get them appointed at all. In other areas of concern to us twenty-one years ago–particularly, perhaps, the Commons’ role regarding both public expenditure and taxation–less progress has been made. But the argument continues; the Group is alive and well today and aware of matters still to be studied and reformed; and perhaps we will have more success to boast about by our next jubilee.

The success of the Group, however, has not been confined to the work of study groups, the publishing of books and pamphlets, or the preparation of evidence for Procedure Committees, on which this History properly concentrates. The Study of Parliament Group is, above all, a body for the meeting of minds, the testing and stimulation of ideas, the establishment of useful contacts and, indeed, for the making of friends. These things have been achieved through our regular meeting with each other, through our sessions with invited politicians, journalists, civil servants, officers of other Parliaments and others, and even through small groups of friends, sipping whisky out of tooth mugs, and gossiping, entertaining each other (who will forget David Coombes’ impersonations of distinguished members of our Group) and continuing the arguments long into the night in some absent undergraduate’s room in Exeter College. Of such is the stuff of true companionship, and members of the Study of Parliament Group have proved themselves good companions. From such friendships and contacts much new thinking about what Parliament is expected to do, how it does it, and what else it could do, has sprung.

But stop. We two fossils of the earliest days are beginning to tell the story. Let the historians take over.

Bernard Crick
Michael Ryle

Next section: Chapter 1

Prepared by Simon Patrick, 7 February 2001. © 1985, Study of Parliament Group