COMMONS

Inquiry into select committees and contempt of Parliament resumed

21 May 2019

The Committee of Privileges has resumed its inquiry into “the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts”.

The Committee proposes to hold several oral evidence sessions in June/July, including from a panel of select committee chairs; further details will be announced in due course. In advance of those sessions, the Committee would welcome further written evidence. 

 

Send us your views

The inquiry includes consideration of the following issues:

  • How can select committees effectively exercise their powers to summon witnesses and call for papers, while at the same time treating potential witnesses with fairness and due respect?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of the three options identified in 2017 by the then Clerk of the House, that is, to do nothing, to reassert the House's existing powers by amending Standing Orders or by Resolution, or to legislate to provide a statutory regime?
  • What are appropriate sanctions for non-compliance or other contempts on the part of witnesses? How should these be applied?
  • What protections or safeguards are necessary for witnesses within either a changed or the current system? How can the House demonstrate that it is treating prospective witnesses fairly?
  • What relevant developments have there been, since the inquiry was originally launched, in other parliaments and assemblies in the UK and overseas?

Written submissions, of no longer than 3,000 words, are invited, to be received no later than Friday 21 June.

Background

This matter was originally referred to the Committee by the House on 27 October 2016.

The Committee took a range of written evidence prior to the General Election of 2017; this is available on its website. It includes a memorandum by the then Clerk of the House (Sir David Natzler KCB) setting out three options for the House: to do nothing, to reassert the House's existing powers by amending Standing Orders or by Resolution, or to legislate to provide a statutory regime.

In 2018 the Committee consulted the Liaison Committee, which comprises the chairs of select committees.

While that committee was unable to reach an agreed position on this matter, its Chair (Dr Sarah Wollaston MP) wrote to the Privileges Committee setting out the discussions among the committee chairs, appending two submissions which present contrasting views from Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and Chris Bryant MP, Chair of the Finance Committee.

This written evidence has also been published on the Privileges Committee website.

The inquiry was suspended for the duration of the separate inquiry into an alleged contempt by Mr Dominic Cummings arising from his failure to obey orders of the House and of a select committee to attend a committee hearing. (The Committee reported on this on 27 March 2019 and the House has subsequently admonished Mr Cummings by formal resolution.)

Standards Committee inquiry into sanctions

The Committee draws attention to the current inquiry by the Committee on Standards into possible reforms to the system of sanctions for breaches of the rules set out in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament.

The two committees (which share the same elected members) will co-ordinate their work as necessary where there is overlap between these two inquiries.

Further information

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