Witnesses and evidence

38.31In the conduct of their inquiries, select committees rely very largely on written and oral evidence. The House requires truthful evidence from witnesses and seeks to protect them from being obstructed from giving evidence (see paras 15.5 and 38.59 ).

The House almost invariably delegates its powers ‘to send for persons, papers and records' to a select committee as part of its order of appointment.1 In practice, however, evidence is almost always secured in response to invitations rather than in express exercise of this power. It is the common practice of select committees to seek written evidence initially in particular from those whom the committee intends later to invite to give oral evidence in addition to issuing a general invitation to submit written evidence. This section therefore looks at the practice as it relates firstly to written evidence and the production of papers, and secondly to witnesses. For matters relating to disobedience of orders of a committee, the obstruction of witnesses and the premature disclosure of committee proceedings, see para 38.55 ff.


  1. 1. CJ (1894) 236; ibid (1946–47) 45. The Committee on Fisheries (Ireland) was given power to send for papers and records only, CJ (1849) 75. The Committee on the Boundaries of Boroughs was given leave only to receive and call for maps, memorials, reports, papers and records concerning the boroughs in question, ibid (1867–68) 183. A comprehensive description of the powers of select committees to send for persons, papers and records, is contained in the memorandum by the Clerk of the House in the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1977–78, HC 588-I, pp 15–37.