Parliamentary committees

The following Public Law practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Parliamentary committees
  • In brief
  • Select committees in the Commons
  • Select committees in the Lords
  • Joint committees
  • Public bill committees in the House of Commons
  • Committee of whole House of Commons
  • Committee of the whole House of Lords
  • Grand committees

Parliamentary committees

In brief

A great deal of the business of Parliament is carried out by committees of MPs or peers working on a specific subject or task. Public bill committees work specifically on scrutinising and debating the detail of bills. Select committees take evidence and publish reports in specific policy areas.

Select committees in the Commons

Select committees have existed for centuries, but in the 20th century it began to be felt that they could be an important tool for scrutinising government, which had expanded in the modern age.

Sir Ivor Jennings (Parliamentary Reform, Victor Gollancz, 1934, chapter XI) argued that an

extension of the committee system...[would] make for stronger and more democratic government. They would bring the Government more closely into touch with public opinion without weakening its power to govern

In the 1960s, six select committees devoted to specific policy areas were set up, and named Crossman committees after the then Leader of the House, Richard Crossman. But the present system of departmentally related select committees has existed since 1979, when the House agreed to what is now Standing Order No. 152 which essentially provides that for each major government department there will be a select committee to scrutinise its work. The remit of each committee is to examine the ‘expenditure, administration and policy' of the Government departments and its 'associated public bodies' which can include regulators, non-departmental

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