Administration of oaths by committees

38.37The Parliamentary Witnesses Oaths Act 18711 empowers the House of Commons and its committees to administer oaths to witnesses, and attaches to false evidence the penalties of perjury. By Standing Order No 132, oaths, and affirmations under the Oaths Act 1978, are administered to witnesses before a select committee, by the Chair or by the Clerk attending the committee.

By the Perjury Act 1911, s 1, where evidence is given upon oath, the giving of false evidence is punishable as perjury.2 The power of either House to punish for false evidence is not, however, superseded by this Act. Where evidence is not given upon oath, the giving of false evidence is punishable as a contempt (see para 15.5 ).

It is not usual, however, for select committees to examine witnesses upon oath, except upon inquiries of a judicial or other special character.3

Footnotes

  1. For the background to this Act, see Select Committee on Witnesses, 8 July 1869, House of Commons.
  2. See also para 13.14. For a case where evidence given on oath was referred to the Metropolitan Police for further consideration by them, see Home Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, Formal Minutes, 15 November 2016.
  3. The Committee on Foreign Loans in 1875 was the first to examine witnesses upon oath under the Act; more recent examples include the Select Committee on the Conduct of Members, CJ (1975–76) 589, HC 490 (1976–77); the Trade and Industry Committee, Session 1987–88, HC 732; and the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1988–89, HC 281. In 1997, the Standards and Privileges Committee took evidence on oath from a Member, Eighth Report of Session 1997–98, HC 261. See also Public Accounts Committee, Sixty-first Report of Session 2010–12, HM Revenue & Customs 2010–11 Accounts: tax disputes, HC 1531, Oral evidence, 7 November 2011 (Q533).