38.42A select committee has only a delegated authority. Thus it requires the express permission of the House formally to establish sub-committees and to apportion its functions among such sub-committees, or to delegate to a sub-committee any of the authority delegated to it by the House. This authority is commonly provided by either the standing order1 or the order of the House2 under which a committee is appointed.

All select committees relating to government departments, as well as the Committees on Standards and of Privileges, the Administration Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee, the European Statutory Instruments Committee, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Liaison Committee, the Petitions Committee, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Regulatory Reform Committee, have been given powers under standing orders to establish one or more sub-committees.

Where a committee is empowered to appoint sub-committees, the House usually makes an order prescribing the quorum of such sub-committees, and investing them with power to send for persons, papers and records.3

Other restrictions and requirements have also been placed by the House on the use of sub-committees. The House has limited the number of sub-committees which a committee may appoint.4 Committees have been empowered to divide themselves into sub-committees consisting of no more than seven members;5 to appoint one or more sub-committees and to apportion the subjects referred to the committee between them;6 to appoint one or more sub-committees to take evidence or to consider any matter that may be referred to them by the committee;7 or to appoint a sub-committee for a specified purpose.8 A sub-committee has been granted the power to invite specialist advisers to question witnesses, where the same power was granted to the committee itself.9

Though committees with power to appoint sub-committees cannot confer on such sub-committees powers in excess of those which the House has authorised, they may nevertheless make orders regulating the transaction of business by their sub-committees. Thus, committees may, and usually do, appoint the Chairs of sub-committees.10 A committee has also ordered that a Member be appointed to a sub-committee on appointment to the committee.11

A sub-committee may not report directly to the House, but only to the committee by which it has been appointed.12 When, as is now generally the case, the committee has been given power to report from time to time the evidence taken before its sub-committees, it is usual for the Chair of the sub-committee to report the evidence to the House without a prior meeting of the main committee for that purpose.13 Under Standing Order No 137A, any sub-committee may meet concurrently with a committee or sub-committee of either House for the purpose of deliberating or taking evidence.14

Although committees may not formally appoint sub-committees without authority from the House, several have agreed informally that certain members of the full committee should meet regularly to deal with particular inquiries, sometimes with a member other than the Chair acting as Chair, or to undertake activities connected with the business of the committee, such as drafting; in such a case the committee members meeting in this way are formally acting as the full committee.15 A committee has resolved that its formally appointed sub-committees always be discharged after taking evidence and that the reports of sub-committees be drafted by members meeting informally. The subsequent text is presented to the committee in the name of the Chair of the former sub-committee.16


  1. 1. See SO Nos 143 (European Scrutiny Committee), 148A (Committee on Privileges), 152 (select committees related to government departments) etc.
  2. 2. See for example CJ (2012–13) 180 (Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards).
  3. 3. For example, SO No 152(4).
  4. 4. SO No 152(3).
  5. 5. CJ (1994–95) 554 (then SO No 149(4) relating to the former Committee on Standards and Privileges).
  6. 6. See the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1997–98, HC 1162, p iii.
  7. 7. See eg the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2001–02, HC 1316, p 6.
  8. 8. For example, SO No 145(6) and (7), under which the Liaison Committee, in addition to establishing a general sub-committee, is empowered to appoint a sub-committee with a specific role in relation to National Policy Statements.
  9. 9. CJ (2012–13) 180 (Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards).
  10. 10. See the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2001–02, HC 1316, p 17; Select Committee on Science and Technology, First Special Report of Session 1969–70, HC 28 and First Special Report of Session 1974–75, HC 57. Co-ordinating sub-committees may appoint chairs of other sub-committees, CJ (1942–43) 10. Provision may also be made for the absence of the Chair of a sub-committee by specifying by resolution of the committee that a certain Member should take the Chair, or that the sub-committee should choose a Member to take the Chair: Estimates Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1946–47, HC 149, p ccxxviii; ibid Session 1956–57, HC 308, pp 3, 4.
  11. 11. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2001–02, 27 November 2002.
  12. 12. In 1979, provision was made for setting up from time to time a sub-committee, drawn from the membership of two or more of certain departmentally-related select committees, to consider any matter affecting two or more nationalised industries. The order did not identify the select committee to which the sub-committee should report and no joint sub-committee was in the event so established. See Second Report from the Procedure Committee of Session 1989–90, HC 19-I, paras 37–41.
  13. 13. For example, CJ (2001–02) 385, 464, 592, 616, 764.
  14. 14. Previously, such a power had been specifically granted to a committee: see SO No 151(3) relating to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
  15. 15. Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act of Session 1937–38, HC 173, p xlvi. For a recent example of such a sub-committee, see Welsh Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 1979–80, HC 840, pp v–vi, viii. Some committees have appointed rapporteurs to gather information before an inquiry has been launched, see Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2006–07, HC 406, para 76.
  16. 16. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2001–02, HC 1316, p 23.