Select committee proceedings during the current pandemic
On 24 March 2020, the House agreed a temporary order enabling select committees to conduct their business virtually. The Speaker extended the arrangements under the temporary order on 8 June and 22 July 2020, and again on 12 January and 22 April 2021. The order now applies until 21 June 2021. Under this order, select committees can hold private meetings and oral evidence sessions online using video conferencing tools. Select committees can also hold ‘Hybrid’ evidence sessions, for which some Members and witnesses are physically present, and others attend virtually, while maintaining social distancing. Members of select committees should contact the staff of their committee for guidance on taking part in virtual or hybrid meetings.
Select committees are cross-party groups of backbench MPs who work as a team to produce reports and other information. Most of them scrutinise the Government. They examine policy formation and delivery, public spending, and the way departments are run. You can be appointed by the House as a member of a select committee.
Most select committees meet in public regularly to take oral evidence from ministers, officials, organisations, and individuals. They also meet in private to decide the subject of their inquiries and other initiatives, consider the evidence they receive and agree reports. Many committees visit locations in the UK and/or abroad, where they may hold formal or informal meetings.
There is a select committee to scrutinise each government department. These are known as the departmental select committees. There are also cross-cutting select committees that look at policies across departments—for example, on the environment and sustainable development.
Not all select committees are policy-based or focused on the Government. There are also select committees that are focused on the House of Commons and look, for example, at procedure or the way the House is run.
Joint committees are made up of MPs and Members of the House of Lords. There are permanent joint committees that look at subjects such as human rights and temporary joint committees, which are sometimes set up to examine draft legislation.
A full list of Commons select committees and joint committees, and their remits is available on Parliament’s website.