Select committees related to government departments
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38.63First established in the 1979–83 Parliament,1 the departmental committees have been reappointed in each successive Parliament. They represent the largest part of the select committee structure.
Standing Order No 152, which governs the appointment of departmental select committees, specifies that committees ‘shall be appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments' and ‘associated public bodies'. The government departments concerned and the titles of the committees are listed in the standing order.
The current list of committees, the government departments with which they are concerned and the maximum number of members, in each case are as follows:
1 Business, Energy and Industrial
||Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy||11|
|2 Defence||Ministry of Defence||11|
|3 Digital, Culture, Media and Sport||Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport||11|
|4 Education||Department for Education||11|
|5 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs||Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs||11|
|6 Foreign Affairs||
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|7 Health and Social Care||Department of Health and Social Care||11|
|8 Home Affairs||Home Office||11|
Department for International Development
|10 International Trade||Department for International Trade||11|
|11 Justice||Ministry of Justice (including the work of staff provided for the administrative work of courts and tribunals, but excluding consideration of individual cases and appointments, and excluding the work of the Scotland and Wales Offices and of the Advocate General for Scotland); and administration and expenditure of the Attorney General's Office, the Treasury Solicitor's Department, the Crown Prosecution service and the Serious Fraud Office (but excluding individual cases and appointments and advice given within government by Law Officers)||11|
|12 Levelling Up, Housing and Communities||Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities||11|
||Northern Ireland Office; administration and expenditure of the Crown Solicitor's Office (but excluding individual cases and advice given by the Crown Solicitor); and other matters within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (but excluding the expenditure, administration and policy of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Northern Ireland and the drafting of legislation by the Office of the Legislative Counsel)||13|
14 Science and
||Government Office for Science||11|
|15 Scottish Affairs||Scotland Office (including (i) relations with the Scottish Parliament and (ii) administration and expenditure of the offices of the Advocate General for Scotland (but excluding individual cases and advice given within government by the Advocate General))||11|
|16 Transport||Department for Transport||11|
|17 Treasury||Treasury, HM Revenue & Customs||11|
|18 Welsh Affairs||Wales Office (including relations with the National Assembly for Wales)||11|
|19 Women and Equalities||Government Equalities Office||11|
20 Work and
||Department for Work and Pensions||11|
Changes to the structure of government, such as the establishment of new departments of state or the abolition of a department and the transfer of its functions to another department (or departments), have usually been followed by government motions to amend the standing order.2 The structure of the system of committees has thus traditionally been adapted to mirror the current structure of the Government. Normally, the order changing the committee's name provides that the new committee shall be treated as if it were the former committee for all purposes relating to its proceedings and the House's rules. But, where there has been delay, or complexity, in implementing such amendments to the standing order, committees have continued to operate in the meantime under their existing titles and orders of reference.2A
Where a government department (the Department for Exiting the European Union) was established on a specifically non-permanent basis, the House established a committee to monitor that department, along similar lines to the departmentally-related committees (save for the number of members of the committee), by temporary standing order.3
Standing Order No 152 provides that each of the departmental committees may appoint a sub-committee.
Committees (including select committees not appointed under Standing Order No 152) are able to meet jointly for certain purposes under Standing Order No 137A (Select committees: power to work with other committees). These powers allow committees to take evidence and to consider draft reports jointly. The formal agreement of a report must however be made separately by each committee: what are procedurally then two or more reports, with an identical text, are published as one document in the names of the participating committees.4 The Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and International Trade Committees (and their predecessors) have routinely met jointly in this way since 1999, operating under the informal title of the Committees on Arms Export Controls,5 to consider issues relating to strategic export controls.6 Other committees have worked jointly on a more ad hoc basis.7
- 1. See HC Deb (1979–80) 969, cc 33–252.
- 2. For example, CJ (1990–91) 559; ibid (1994–95) 558; ibid (1997–98) 102; ibid (2001–02) 57, 714–15; ibid (2005–06) 122. SO No 122B(4) provides for changes to the structure of select committees arising from a machinery of government change at the beginning of a Parliament to be included within the motion setting out which party is to chair each committee.
- 2A. See, for example, letter to the Chairs of the Foreign Affairs, and International Development, committees, from the Leader of the House, dated 2 December 2020, following the merging of the Department for International Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2020.
- 3. Votes and Proceedings, 11 October 2016, renewed 4 July 2017. Although the Department for Exiting the European Union closed at the end of January 2020, the House re-established the Committee for one year by temporary standing order with the same provisions as before: Votes and Proceedings, 16 January 2020. Before appointing Members to the Committee, the House renamed it (as the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union) and removed its role in scrutinising the department (replacing it with a remit ‘to examine matters relating to the negotiations on the future relationship with the European Union’). See Votes and Proceedings, 2 March 2020.
- 4. In 2016–17, where four committees had conducted a joint inquiry, but only two agreed the final report, the report was published as a joint report from those two committees only (First Joint Report of the International Development and International Trade Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679); a third committee agreed its own separate report (Fourth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, HC 688) and the fourth (the Defence Committee) agreed no report.
- 5. Formerly the Quadripartite Committee.
- 6. For example, First Joint Report of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, Session 2009–10, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2010): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2008, Quarterly Reports for 2009, licensing policy and review of export control legislation, HC 202.
- 7. For example, the Work and Pensions and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees (First Report of the Work and Pensions Committee and Fourth Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, BHS, Session 2016–17, HC 54); the Environmental Audit Committee (Fourth Report), Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Fourth Report), Health and Social Care Committee (Third Report) and Transport Committee (Second Report), Session 2017–19, Improving Air Quality, HC 433.