The British Government: Parliaments Committee System
The British Government: A Brief Overview
Information courtesy of The British Information Services
House of Commons standing committees debate and consider public Bills at the committee stage. The committee considers the Bill clause by clause, and may amend it before reporting it back to the House. The standing committees include two Scottish standing committees, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Grand Committees. Ordinary standing committees do not have names but are rererred to simply as Standing Committee A, B, C, and so on; a new set of members is appointed to them to consider each Bill. Each committee has between 16 and 50 members, with a party balance reflecting as far as possible that in the House as a whole.
The Scottish Grand Committee comprises all 72 Scottish members and may be convened anywhere in Scotland as well as Westminster. It may consider the principles of Scottish Bills referred to it at second reading stage. It also debates Scottish public expenditure estimates and other matters concerning Scotland only which may be referred to it. The Welsh Grand Committee, with all 38 Welsh members and up to five others, considers Bills referred to it at second reading stage, and matters concerning Wales only. Similarly the Northern Ireland Grand Committee debates matters relating specifically to Northern Ireland. It includes all 17 Northern Ireland members and up to 25 others.
There are also standing committees to debate proposed European legislation, and to scrutinise statutory instruments made by the Government.
In addition, an MP wishing to discuss a 'specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration' may, at the end of question time, seek leave to move the adjournment of the House. On the very few occasions when leave is obtained, the matter is debatecl for three hours in what is known as an emergency debate- usually on the following day.
Select committees are appointed for a particular task, generally one of inquiry, investigation and scrutiny. They report their conclusions and recommendations to the House as a whole. To help Parliament with the control of the executive by examining aspects of public policy, expenditure and administration, 17 committees have been established by the House of Commons to examine the work of the main government departments and their associated public bodies. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee, tor example, 'shadows' the work of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. A select committee may be appointed tbr a parliament, or for a session, or tbr as long as it takes to complete its task. The composition of the committees reflects party strengths in the House.
Other regular Commons select committees include those on Public Accounts, European Legislation, Members' Interests, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. 'Domestic' select committees also cover the internal workings of Parliament.
In their examination of government policies and administration, the committees may question ministers, civil servants and interested bodies and individuals. Through hearings and published reports, they bring betore Parliament and the public an extensive body of tact and intormed opinion on many issues, and build up considerable expertise in their subjects of inquiry.
In the House of Lords, besides the Appeal and Appellate Committees, in which the bulk of the House's judicial work is transacted, there are two major select committees, along with several sub-committees, on the European Community and on Science and Technology.
Joint committees, with a membership drawn from both Houses, are appointed in each session to deal with Consolidation Bills (Bills which seek to bring together existing legislation) and delegated legislation. The two Houses may also agree to set up joint select committees on other subjects.
In addition to the offtcial committees of the two Houses there are several unofficial party organisations or committees. The Conservative and Unionist Members' Committee (the 1922 Committee) consists of the backbench membership of the party in the House of Commons. When the Conservative Party is in office, ministers attend its meetings by invitation and not by right. When the party is in opposition, the whole membership of the party may attend meetings. The then leader appoints a consultative committee, which acts as the party's 'shadow cabinet'.
The Parliamentary Labour Party comprises all members of the party in both Houses. When the Labour Party is in office, a parliamentary committee, half of whose members are elected and half of whom are government representatives, acts as a channel of communication between the Government and its backbenchers in both Houses. When the party is in opposition the Parliamentary Labour Party is organised under the direction of an elected parliamentary committee, which acts as the 'shadow cabinet'. See Checks & Balances.
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