Admission of the public
38.30Select committees (and their sub-committees, except as the committee otherwise orders) have the power to admit the public during oral evidence sessions (Standing Order No 125). The effect of this standing order is that, unless a resolution is passed to allow the admittance of the public (formally ‘strangers’), evidence has to be held in private. However, it is standard practice now for committees to pass a general resolution at their first meeting, so as to ensure that the great majority of evidence is now heard in public.1 Where the public is admitted, meetings are open to the press and media and a committee has no power, for example, to exclude broadcasters from the meeting other than by going into private session (see also para 6.25 ). The only exceptions are the Committees on Standards and of Privileges, which have power to refuse to allow proceedings to which the public is admitted to be broadcast (Standing Order Nos 149(11) and 148A(8) respectively).
When committees are deliberating, the public may not be admitted. This rule does not apply to appropriate officials of the House, or to specialist advisers (see para 38.43 ).2 It has become the practice for select committees on the quinquennial Armed Forces Bills to have the power to admit the public during the consideration of the bill.3
When the public are admitted, the rules which govern their conduct when present at sittings of the House (see para 6.55 ff) and at sittings of general committees (see para 38.16 ) generally apply.4 Under Standing Order No 161, the power granted to the Serjeant at Arms to take into custody any members of the public who, having been admitted into the gallery of the House, misconduct themselves or do not withdraw when ordered to do so, may, if the Chair so directs, be exercised in select committees sitting within the precincts of the House.5
- 1. For example, Transport Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2010–12, 13 July 2010. The public are from time to time excluded by resolution during the examination of particular witnesses, eg Defence Committee, Evidence (Future size and role of the Royal Navy's Surface Fleet), Session 1987–88, HC 309, pp 20, 39, 56; Foreign Affairs Committee, Evidence, Session 1994–95, 7 December 1994, HC 34–ii. The Liaison Committee admitted Members and other passholders to its meeting to hear oral evidence from the Prime Minister on 6 July 2004 and admitted non-passholders to an adjacent committee room where the proceedings were relayed by video link. This practice has been adopted on subsequent occasions.
- 2. During 2008, the European Scrutiny Committee was ordered (on a temporary basis till 1 January 2009) to sit in public, unless it determined otherwise in relation to a particular meeting or part thereof; the power lapsed and was not renewed, CJ (2007–08) 188; European Scrutiny Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2008–09, HC 156, paras 9–12.
- 3. CJ (2005–06) 333; ibid (2010–12) 359; Votes and Proceedings, 15 October 2015.
- 4. Members of the public (including representatives of the media) may, however, use recording devices in public evidence sessions. For an attempt to serve a writ on a witness in presence of a committee, see Home Affairs Committee, First Special Report of Session 1993–94, HC 107.
- 5. The Standing Order was based on a private ruling by Mr Speaker published in HC Deb (1981–82) 19, c 385.