What are committees and how do they work?

You’ve probably seen them on the news, when MPs sit in a semi-circle and ask someone lots of questions, but what do select committees actually do?

There are two main types of committee in Parliament: Select Committees and Bill Committees

Bill Committees are when a group of MPs go off and scrutinise a bill in great detail. This is part of the passage of bill which you can read about on our How are laws made? page.

Select committees are cross-party (meaning they have members from different parties). There are some select committees in the House of Lords but most of them are in the Commons.

The main job of select committees is to scrutinise the work of the Government, and each government department has a corresponding committee in Parliament watching what it is doing. Select Committees don’t have any law-making powers, but they can raise awareness about certain subjects and put pressure on the Government to make changes.

Committees decide what subject, policy, or law they want to examine and launch an inquiry into it. The committee will ask people involved in that particular area (including members of the public) to send in written pieces of evidence, and then the committee will hold meetings where they call in witnesses to give oral evidence and answer the committee’s questions.

Once the committee has got plenty of written and oral evidence they will write a report containing recommendations for the Government to make changes to certain areas of the law, or to alter the way it does something.

Once the report has been published the Government has to respond to the committee saying whether or not it will take up their recommendations.