Papers and records

38.32Committees frequently issue calls for evidence at the beginning of an inquiry inviting interested bodies and individuals to send written evidence on the subject of an inquiry to the Clerk of the committee. Once received by the committee as evidence, papers prepared for a committee become its property and may not be published without the express authority of the committee. Some committees have agreed to a resolution at the beginning of an inquiry authorising witnesses to publish their own evidence.1 Committees may, however, decide not to accept unsolicited documents as evidence.

A select committee has no power to send for any papers which, if required by the House itself, would be sought by Address (see para 7.30 ). Consequently, a select committee is not capable of taking the formal step of ordering a Secretary of State to produce papers. Nor can a committee require an officer of a public department to produce any paper which, according to the rules and practice of the House, it is not usual for the House itself to order to be laid before it (see para 7.30 ). Select committees have occasionally argued that there should be a procedure to enable them to challenge in the House a department's decision to withhold papers. Governments have opposed recommendations for a formal procedure to give them that opportunity, but have instead relied on the terms of the House's Resolution on Ministerial Accountability of March 1997 (see para 11.40 ), and in particular its provision that ‘Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest’.2 In addition, the Government has given an undertaking that ‘where there is evidence of widespread general concern in the House regarding an alleged Ministerial refusal to divulge information to a select committee’, time would be provided for a debate in the House.3

The House itself has resolved by Address for papers to be provided to a specified select committee, without a request from the committee; where there was uncertainty as to whether the obligation had been complied with, the Speaker was guided by the opinion of the committee itself.4

There is no restriction on the power of committees to require the production of papers by private bodies or individuals, provided that such papers are relevant to the committee's work as defined by its order of reference. Select committees have formally ordered papers to be produced by the Chairman of a nationalised industry5 and a private society.6 Solicitors have been ordered to produce papers relating to a client;7 and a statutory regulator has been ordered to produce papers whose release was otherwise subject to statutory restriction.8

Although the power is normally given to select committees in general terms, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments is given power to require any government department concerned to submit a memorandum explaining any instrument or other documents which may be under its consideration or to depute a representative to appear before it for the purpose of explaining any such instrument or other document.9

No document received by the Clerk of any select committee of the House may be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the committee (Standing Order No 127).10

Under Standing Order No 137A, all committees with powers to send for persons, papers and records have the power to communicate their evidence to any other select committee in either House and also to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly or to any of their committees.11


  1. 1. See Agriculture Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1995–96, HC 717, p xi. For resolution at beginning of Parliament, see Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2004–05, 18 July 2005; Transport Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2010–12, 13 July 2010; Defence Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2017–19, 12 September 2017. For resolution at beginning of proceedings, see Public Service Committee Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1995–96, HC 733 (1995–96) p iii.
  2. 2. See HC Deb (1997–98) 315, cc 865–963.
  3. 3. For example, HC Deb (1981–82) 966, c 1312; see also Procedure Committee, First Report of Session 1977–78, HC 588–I, para 7.18–27; Procedure Committee, Second Report of Session 1989–90, HC 19-I, para 162; Public Service Committee, Second Report of Session 1995–96, HC 313-I, paras 126–30; Public Service Committee, First Special Report of Session 1996–97, HC 67, p xiii.
  4. 4. Votes and Proceedings, 1 November 2017 (and see Exiting the European Union Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2017–19, 6 December 2017; HC Deb 14 (December 2017) 633, c 605); Votes and Proceedings, 5 December 2017. In a 2010 case in the Canadian House of Commons, the Special Committee on the Canadian Commission in Afghanistan reported its opinion that the Government's refusal to hand over documents relating to Afghan detainees on grounds of national security was a breach of privilege. The report was adopted by the House and, when the Government still refused to hand over the documents, the Speaker ruled that it had committed a prima facie contempt (Debates of the Canadian House of Commons, 27 April 2010, pp 2039–45).
  5. 5. CJ (1977–78) 126.
  6. 6. Home Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1997–98, 19 February 1998, HC 573.
  7. 7. Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2009–10, 19 January 2010.
  8. 8. Treasury Committee, Formal Minutes of Session 2017–19, 7 February 2018.
  9. 9. SO No 151(6).
  10. 10. For examples of leave being formally given, see Welsh Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1979–80, HC 840, p xi; Overseas Aid Committee, CJ (1969–70) 41.
  11. 11. CJ (2001–02) 557.