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Select Committees

Select committees are one of the key mechanisms by which the work of government departments is scrutinised. Select committees are now a backbone of the UK's parliamentary system, without which Parliament would be unable to call witnesses and experts to give testimony to Parliament. Other committees such as the Backbench Business Committee and Public Bill Committees provide a platform through which backbenchers have the opportunity to have their issues debated in the Commons, helping to advance political processes.

Committees play an increasingly important role in the UK’s parliamentary system and are responsible for both supplementing and scrutinising the work of Parliament. Among the most prominent of these are the select committees, which examine the work of specific government departments, and the Backbench Business Committee, which hears representations from MPs as to why a particular debate should take place in backbench debating time. Bills have been referred to Public Bill Committees for the committee stage of the legislative process since 2006. These had formerly been known as standing committees.

Select committees, in particular, play an increasingly authoritative and influential role in the political process, providing the necessary expertise where required. Select committees are entitled to question government ministers and civil servants in addition to relevant members of the public. They report their findings, and make these available to the public. This aids the committees in influencing the direction of public policy.

Another increasingly important responsibility which the select committees have is to scrutinise the appointments of major public officials, such as the Governor of the Bank of England. During this process, committees sit to hold pre-appointment hearings during which they scrutinise the credentials of the different candidates..

Whereas the chairs of the select committees used to be appointed by the Prime Minister, committee chairs are now elected by their fellow MPs. Similarly, other members of the committee are elected as well. Generally speaking, membership of select committees is divided up so that the proportion of MPs belonging to a political party in the Commons is roughly equivalent to the proportion of members of a committee who also belong to that party. In other words, if a party has 60% of seats in the Commons, they will have approximately 60% of seats in each committee.

 

A video explaining the role and nature of select committees can be viewed below: