Select Committees work in both Houses. They check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs. The results of these inquiries are public and many require a response from the government.
Differences between the two Houses
House of Commons Select Committees are largely concerned with examining the work of government departments. Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on four main areas: Europe, science, economics, and the UK constitution.
Commons Select Committees
There is a Commons Select Committee for each government department, examining three aspects: spending, policies and administration.
These departmental committees have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. Findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee's recommendations.
Some Select Committees have a role that crosses departmental boundaries such as the Public Accounts or Environmental Audit Committees. Depending on the issue under consideration they can look at any or all of the government departments.
Other Commons Committees are involved in a range of on-going investigations, like administration of the House itself or allegations about the conduct of individual MPs.
Following the adoption by the House of recommendations from the Reform of the House of Commons Committee (which was chaired by the former MP, Dr Tony Wright);
- the majority of Select Committee Chairs are now elected by their fellow MPs. This applies to departmental committees and the Environmental Audit, Political and Constitutional Reform, Procedure, Public Administration and Public Accounts committees.
- a Backbench Business Committee has been established with the ability to schedule business in the Commons Chamber and in Westminster Hall on days, or parts of days, set aside for non-government business.
Lords Select Committees
Lords Select Committees do not shadow the work of government departments. Their investigations look into specialist subjects, taking advantage of the Lords' expertise and the greater amount of time (compared to MPs) available to them to examine issues.
There are currently five major Lords Select Committees:
the European Union Committee
the Science and Technology Committee
the Communications Committee
the Constitution Committee
the Economic Affairs Committee
These five committees are re-appointed at the beginning of a new session. Each one runs inquiries and reports on issues within their specific areas. Occasionally, other committees are set up to look at issues outside of the five main groups.