There is a general acceptance amongst both critics of the parliamentary process and those advocating a more open system of government in Britain, that the powers of Parliament are limited, very effectively, by the aura of secrecy which surrounds the actions of the executive organ of the state. It is usually argued that one of the reasons for this is the adversarial nature of proceedings in the two Houses, reinforced by a two party system which almost invariably produces a government with a workable majority in the Commons. The conventions and loyalties associated with a majority government can be used to prevent over-inquisitive members from obtaining all of the information that they might want from ministers whose principal concern is to protect the interests of the government. Civil servants are cited as eager and willing participants in this refusal to provide information. Usually, this line of thought is associated with the view that in some previous 'golden' age Parliament was far more powerful, and was able by a variety of means to acquire the knowledge it needed to participate effectively in the process of developing national policy. Such a nostalgic perception tends to mythologise the nature of parliamentary activity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and seems to ignore the truism that the role of Parliament, from the time of its struggle with the Monarchs of the Middle Ages until the present, has been essentially dynamic rather than static, and influenced by factors other than the immediate dictates of the government of the day.1 Indeed, as Redlich notes, 'the procedure of the House of Commons, its order of business, was worked out so to speak as the procedure of an opposition, and acquired once for all its fundamental character.'2