Parliamentary Studies: School Of Politics And International Relations

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School of Politics and International Relations

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YEAR: FIRST  SECOND  FINAL  ASSOCIATE  ERASMUS  (check the relevant box with a double-click)
MODULE CODE: POL373 – Parliamentary Studies
COURSEWORK NUMBER/TITLE: ‘Just because we hear more from and about select committees, doesn’t mean they’re making more of a difference’.

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‘Just because we hear more from and about select committees, doesn’t mean they’re making more of a difference’. Discuss. 3000 words

There are two separate types of select committees: departmental and non-departmental. The role for the departmental committees is to analyse the organization, spending and programme of their particular office and the other public bodies it is connected to. They are able to use proof from witnesses and require the submission of documents inside specific guidelines. Sub-committees can also be set up in order to carry out particular requests. Occasionally they check in with the House regarding subjects of their choosing; within two months the government must respond to this. However there is no prerequisite that reports are scrutinised by MPs. The non-departmental select committees exist to consider issues within their particular, cross-departmental terms of reference.

Select committees are arguably the best way for government power to be monitored. It is defined as "Committees of the House of Commons that examine bills after their second reading in order to make them more acceptable for their third reading" (Budge, I; Crewe, I; Mckay, D and Newton, K, (1998), p.345)

The standard size of select committee is approximately 11 members however this is varied with a couple of select committees. The current number of select committees in the House of Commons is eighteen departmental. It is generally formed to represent the proportionality of the House of Commons but this isn’t obligatory. The Standing Orders allows for small parties to also be a part of select committees. The chairs of the committees are chosen by the members itself in theory.

Under the Standing Order No 120 several powers of select committees are outlined. The manner in which it is written is vague in regard to its functions, which provides select committees to increase their effectiveness by working without restraints. The roles include appointing special advisors. Special advisors are able to provide expert advice on certain fields, which may be more complex. By compiling their knowledge into reports this can be presented to the House. Other functions include more administrative roles: reporting occasionally, to be able to adjourn in various locations, to send records, reports and people.

Erskine May states that select committees ‘is a group of members who are specially named and appointed by the House to consider, inquire into and deal with particular matters of Bills’. One power that that select committees don’t possess is calling a particular individual to attend to provide evidence. They can also not request that the secretary of state formally produce papers even though in their original powers it states that they are able to call for papers.

In "The Second Report from the Procedure Committee 1990" indicates the successful role of scrutiny that select committees play. Its ability to demonstrate more accountability for ministers and officials is proved to be more effective than that of Question Time. Balfour