The formal powers of select committees vary, but they commonly have the power to:
- require documents to be sent to them or summon people to give oral evidence (sometimes known as the power to send for persons, papers and records)
- report whenever they wish, not just on topics referred to them by the House
- travel and meet away from Westminster (committees need the approval of the Liaison Committee to travel abroad)
The formal powers to send for persons, papers and records are used only occasionally, with most requests for evidence met without any need to resort to them. But committees do sometimes use these powers and issue orders for the attendance of witnesses and the production of papers. Members of either House of Parliament can’t be summoned.
The purpose of travel is usually to enable the committee to see people, places and activities in a way that would be impossible, or very difficult to arrange, at Westminster. Committees that travel capture these benefits in a variety of ways. Sometimes formal evidence oral is taken. Committees can also publish notes of discussions and/or quote from discussions in their reports.
Most committees also have the power to
- appoint specialist advisers, who are employed by the committee either to advise on a particular inquiry or on the committee’s general work
- set up sub-committees (smaller committees made up of some of the committee’s members)
- meet and work with other select committees
- meet during recesses or on other days when the House is not meeting
The Welsh Affairs Committee has the power to meet jointly with any committee of the National Assembly for Wales.