Specialist advice and assistance

38.43Committees are regularly empowered to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference.1 Such advisers normally attend not only meetings of the committee at which oral evidence is taken but also meetings at which the committee deliberates. They do not examine witnesses2 or take part in voting. They are normally paid for work done on a daily basis.3 Committees may also commission research in connection with their inquiries.4

Other persons,5 being in most cases staff of the House with special responsibility in the matter concerned, attend sittings of committees (including their deliberations) without being witnesses. For example, Counsel to the Speaker is appointed to assist the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (see para 31.32 ) as is Counsel to the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords. Other committees receive assistance of a similar kind.6 The duties of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards include advising the Committee on Standards on the interpretation of the Code of Conduct and on questions of propriety and investigating specific complaints from Members and from members of the public in respect of registration and declaration of interests and other aspects of the propriety of a Member's conduct, and reporting on these matters to the committee.7

Committees may also be assisted by other staff of the House, such as the financial and legal specialists in the Committee Office Scrutiny Unit, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and other research specialists from the Library.

Select committees also regularly arrange informal meetings (including seminars) attended by persons who can assist them in fulfilling their duties to the House. Such persons are not treated as witnesses and the information they give is not evidence. Nonetheless, the information obtained from such occasions may very well contribute to the conclusions of the committee as expressed in its report.8 In addition, committees have increasingly used innovative techniques for gathering information relating to their inquiries, such as Internet forums.9


  1. Select Committee on Procedure, Fourth Report of Session 1964–65, HC 303, p ix; Estimates Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session 1964–65, HC 161; Select Committee on House of Commons (Services), First Report of Session 1965–66, HC 70.
  2. Exceptionally, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (a joint select committee) was given power by both Houses to invite specialist advisers (including counsel appointed as specialist advisers) to question witnesses: CJ (2012–13) 180; LJ (2012–13) 233.
  3. Committees have been specially empowered to consult with certain individuals officially concerned with the matters of their inquiry, CJ (1867–68) 182–183; ibid (1932–33) 136; ibid (1933–34) 12. These persons were not present at the deliberations of the committees. Committees on the Army, Air Force, and Naval Discipline Acts have sometimes been given authority to communicate with governmental drafting committees, ibid (1951–52) 245; ibid (1952–53) 10; ibid (1953–54) 9; ibid (1955–56) 194.
  4. For example, Liaison Committee, Third Report of Session 2007–08, The work of the committees in 2007, HC 427, para 87; and First Report of Session 2012–13, Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers, HC 394, para 78. For an example of the use of this facility to conduct a Citizens' Assembly, see joint Report from the Health and Social Care (Ninth Report) and the Housing, Communities and Local Government (Seventh Report) Committees of Session 2017–19, Long-term funding of adult social care, HC 768, paras 7–8.
  5. The general practice is, however, stated by a Speaker's private ruling (Mr Speaker FitzRoy, 1930) that the rule that the deliberations of a committee should be conducted in private ought to be observed strictly. See Estimates Committee, First Report of Session 1926, HC 59; Estimates Committee, Sixteenth Report of Session 1948–49, HC 306, p 102.
  6. See para 38.68 (Regulatory Reform); para 38.72 (European Scrutiny); para 38.79 Finance Committee); and para 38.79 (Administration Committee). See also para 38.66 (Public Administration Committee, in respect of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner) and para 38.65 (Committee of Public Accounts, in respect of the Comptroller and Auditor General).
  7. SO No 149. See paras 5.5, 38.78.
  8. For example, Sixth Report of the Defence Committee of Session 2002–03, HC 93-I, p 31, n 138.
  9. Liaison Committee Reports of Session 2008–09, HC 291, paras 103–5, and of Session 2009–10, HC 426, paras 111–26.