Procedure Committee (Commons)

The powers of the House of Commons to call for papers inquiry

Inquiry status: open - accepting written submissions

Written submissions are required to be made via the Committee’s online evidence portal, and are invited to be submitted no later than 5.00 pm on Friday 15 February 2019

Scope of the inquiry

The Procedure Committee has decided to inquire into the power of the House of Commons to require the Government to provide documents to the House and the implications of the exercise of those powers.

This inquiry comes in light of the House’s decision to require the Government to provide the House with the Attorney General’s legal advice on the effect of the Northern Ireland backstop agreement. The Government subsequently refused to provide the paper requested, and the House found that the Government was in contempt of the House.

The House's power to request papers from Government is long-standing. All select committees have the power to send for papers and records. In this Parliamentary session, opposition motions have been used in the House to request that Government provide papers to select committees, and Government has duly provided them.

The committee will also examine the long-standing use of the powers by Government to obtain the protection of the House’s privileges for the production of certain classes of paper, such as reports of high-profile public inquiries.

Terms of Reference

Submissions are invited to address any and all of the following issues:

  • The nature and extent of the House’s power to require the production of papers;
  • Whether those powers are subject to any limitation;
  • The procedure whereby such powers are exercised, in cases where motions are (a) unopposed and (b) opposed by the Government; 
  • Whether any changes to the House’s practices and procedures are required in this respect;
  • The implications for the House and the Government of the House’s recent decision to use and enforce its powers to require the production of legal advice to Government from the Attorney General;
  • Whether it is desirable to establish a protocol for the handling of papers required by the House which are of a sensitive or confidential character.
Terms of reference: Send a written submission

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