How the Committee works
The Committee’s Remit
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Northern Ireland Office; administration and expenditure of the Crown Solicitor’s Office (but excluding individual cases and advice given by the Crown Solicitor), and other matters within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (but excluding the expenditure, administration and policy of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Northern Ireland and the drafting of legislation by the Office of the Legislative Counsel).
Membership of the Committee
The Committee consists of 13 Members of Parliament, of whom a quorum of 4 is required for the Committee to conduct formal business. The Committee is nominated by the House at the beginning of each Parliament for the duration of the Parliament, although individual Members may be discharged or added during the course of the Parliament. The membership reflects the party strengths in the House as a whole. Thus, in the present Parliament, there are 7 Labour Members, 2 Conservative Members, 2 Democratic Unionist Members, 1 Ulster Unionist Member, and 1 Social Democratic and Labour Member. The Committee appoints one of its number as Chairman.
The Committee’s work
Select Committees operate normally by conducting inquiries into subjects within its area of responsibility. Once a subject has been chosen, and the terms of reference of the inquiry have been agreed, the Committee requests written memoranda from interested organisations. Formal evidence sessions are then arranged with the individuals and bodies principally concerned. Informal briefing sessions may be held and / or visits conducted. On the basis of the evidence, a report is drafted under the direction of the Chairman, which the Committee considers, may amend, and finally agrees to. A report is then published. The Government is obliged to respond to the Committee’s recommendations within 2 months.
Select Committee powers
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is one of the departmental select committees, the powers of which are set out in House of Commons Standing Orders, principally in SO No. 152.
The principal powers of Select Committee are:
1. to send for persons, papers and records;
2. to adjourn from place to place (ie to travel and to meet away from Westminster); and
3. to appoint Specialist Advisers.
In practice, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in common with the other departmental committees, prefers to proceed by consent, inviting the submission of written memoranda and / or witnesses to appear before it.