Attendance of Members and Officers

38.34Members of the House, including Ministers, may not be formally summoned to attend as witnesses before select committees.1 When the attendance of a Member as a witness is required before a select committee, and they have not agreed to attend in the normal way, the Chair sends a written request for their attendance. Pursuant to the resolution of 16 March 1688, ‘if any Member of the House refuse, upon being sent to, to come to give evidence or information as a witness to a committee, the committee ought to acquaint the House therewith, and not summon such Member to attend the committee’.2

On occasion, Members have been ordered by the House to attend select committees.3 There has been no instance of a Member persisting in a refusal to give evidence when ordered by the House to do so.4

In a case where a Treasury Minister refused to give evidence to a departmental select committee, the committee made a special report to the House recommending that it order a Treasury Minister to attend.5 The Government, however, declined to provide time for a debate, arguing that Ministers should not be expected to appear before select committees except to answer questions on matters for which their department had responsibility.6

As with Members of the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords, including Ministers, may not be formally summoned to attend. Under Lords Standing Order No 24 (Lords attendance at Commons Select Committees), any Lords Member requested by a committee of the Commons to attend as a witness before it or before any sub-committee appointed by it, is given leave to attend if they think fit. No messages are exchanged. Under Standing Order No 138, the House of Commons has given a general leave to attend to any Member requested to attend as a witness before a Lords committee or its sub-committees, if the Member thinks fit.7

If a committee wishes to examine any Officer of the other House, a message requesting their attendance is sent to the other House and leave given by it.8

Footnotes

  1. An exception to this rule is the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which has the power to order the attendance of any Member of the House of Commons before the committee or any of its sub-committees (SO No 149(6)).
  2. CJ (1688–93) 51. For an instance of a Member (a former Minister) initially refusing to give evidence, see Agriculture Committee, Session 1988–89, HC 108-I-II, para 102, pp 182–90; for an instance of a Member refusing to give evidence, see Trade and Industry Committee, Session 1991–92, HC 86, para 67. In each of these cases the committee publicly criticised the Members for their refusal.
  3. CJ (1718–21) 403. In 1731, Sir Archibald Grant, a Member, was committed to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms ‘in order to his forthcoming to abide the orders of the House’, and was afterwards ordered to be brought before a committee, from time to time, in the custody of the Serjeant, ibid (1727–32) 851, 852.
  4. A committee reported that a Member had declined to comply with its request for his attendance. A motion was made for ordering him to attend the committee and give evidence; but, the Member having at last expressed his willingness to attend, the motion was withdrawn, CJ (1842) 438, 453, 458; see also Report on Precedents, ibid 449; HC 392 (1842).
  5. HC (2001–02) 773.
  6. HC Deb (2001–02) 383, c 704. A Minister of the Crown has declined an invitation to give evidence before a select committee on the grounds that, according to the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, another Minister had direct ministerial responsibility for giving evidence on the matter in question on behalf of the Government, HC Deb (1975–76) 903, c 287.
  7. A committee unable to take evidence from a government adviser because he was a Member of the House of Lords has reported the matter to the House, Fourth Report of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee of Session 2001–02, HC 655.
  8. For example, CJ (1988–89) 501.