Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords


10.01  The House may appoint committees to perform functions on its behalf. All committees whose members are appointed ("named of the Committee") by the House from among its members are select committees.[439]

10.02  A select committee is appointed by "orders of appointment" setting out the committee's remit ("orders of reference"), powers and membership, and naming a time and place for its first meeting. Typically, a committee fulfils its remit by making one or more reports to the House.

10.03  A committee may be appointed to perform a particular task, on completion of which the committee ceases to exist (an "ad hoc select committee"). Alternatively a new committee may be appointed for a specified period, such as the duration or remainder of a Parliament, or to a particular date. A committee may be given continuing existence by being reappointed session by session (a "sessional select committee"); but the continued existence of such committees may be reviewed, particularly at the start of a Parliament.[440] This chapter concludes with a list of the committees currently reappointed session by session, with notes on each.

Motions of appointment

10.04  A committee being set up for the first time is usually appointed by means of two motions. The first, moved by the Leader of the House, sets the orders of reference. This gives the House an opportunity to discuss the desirability of setting up the new committee, and authorises the Committee of Selection to select members. A second motion is then moved, by the Chairman of Committees, to complete the orders of appointment. Both motions require notice, and may be debated and amended.

10.05  Certain committees are reappointed every session and are known as "sessional committees":

10.06  For a sessional select committee, the orders of appointment are made on a single motion. The Chairman of Committees may, at the beginning of a new session, move en bloc the motions appointing select committees, deputy chairmen and other bodies nominated by the Committee of Selection without the need for a business of the House motion. Notice is given by means of an italic note in House of Lords Business informing the House that, unless any Lord objects, the motions of appointment will be moved en bloc.[441]


10.07  The House may amend, amplify or restrict a committee's orders of reference at any time by passing an instruction, e.g. to consider (or not to consider) a certain aspect of the matter, to give certain parties an opportunity to give evidence, or to report by a given date. An instruction may be mandatory or permissive.


10.08  The Committee of Selection[442] selects and proposes to the House the membership of select committees, with the exception of the Committee of Selection itself, the Appellate and Appeal Committees, and committees on private legislation.[443]

10.09  There is no formal rule on the political balance of committee membership, and in most cases no fixed number of members.

10.10  The Chairman of Committees may propose to the House, without reference to the Committee of Selection, members of the House to fill casual vacancies on select committees.[444]

Rotation rule

10.11  In order to secure a regular turnover of membership, a "rotation rule"[445] operates in the case of most committees, whereby members who have been appointed (or co-opted) for a given number of successive sessions may not be reappointed in the following session. The House Committee is subject to a five-session rotation rule. All other committees of the House are subject to a four-session rotation rule, with the Chairman exempt for three sessions after appointment. The following committees, which meet only rarely, are exempt from any rotation rule—

    Joint Committee on Consolidation etc. Bills[446]
    Joint Committee on Tax Law Rewrite Bills
    Committee for Privileges
    Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee
    Personal Bills Committee
    Hybrid Instruments Committee.

10.12  The Lord Speaker, Leaders, Chief Whips, Convenor of the Crossbench peers, Chairman of Committees and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are exempt from the rotation rule.

10.13   Members who leave a committee under the rotation rule are eligible for reappointment after the lapse of one session.[447] Select committees apply the rotation rule to their sub-committees.


10.14  The chairman of a committee may be appointed by the House on the proposal of the Committee of Selection. Otherwise the Chairman of Committees or, in his absence, a Deputy Chairman takes the chair.[448] In the absence of an appointed chairman, the committee may appoint a substitute. Alternatively, a committee may be given power to appoint its own chairman; this is usually done only in the case of a joint committee.


10.15  A select committee may be appointed to report on a matter referred to it. When such a committee has reported, it ceases to exist. Alternatively, a committee may be given power to report "from time to time", i.e. more than once.

10.16  A committee cannot appoint sub-committees or delegate its powers to sub-committees without an order of the House. This rule does not apply to the Procedure Committee and the Committee for Privileges, which may appoint sub-committees without any specific authority from the House. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the maximum number of members on a sub-committee is 12.[449] The Liaison Committee has recommended that the number of members on each sub-committee of the European Union Committee should not exceed 11.[450]

10.17  A committee may be given power to co-opt other members of the House as members of the committee or of a sub-committee.

10.18  A committee may call for such witnesses and documents as it requires.[451] Ordinarily witnesses attend and documents are produced voluntarily. Should it be necessary to compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of papers, an order of the House would be required.

10.19  Members or staff of the House of Commons, and persons outside United Kingdom jurisdiction (such as foreign ambassadors), may give evidence by invitation, but cannot be compelled to do so. If a committee desires to examine an officer of the House of Commons, a message is sent requesting the official's attendance, and the leave of the House of Commons must be obtained. No such messages are sent in respect of joint committees or committees on private bills, nor in respect of Members of the House of Commons.[452]

10.20  Committees on private business have authority to hear parties by counsel or on oath but other committees do not have this authority unless authorised to do so by the House.[453]

10.21  An order "that the minutes of evidence taken from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be published" gives the committee power to print evidence, or make it available on line,[454] in advance of its report.

10.22  A committee may be given other powers including:

  • power to appoint specialist advisers;
  • power to "adjourn from place to place", i.e. to travel.

10.23  Select committees have the power to confer and meet concurrently with any committee or sub-committee of the Commons appointed to consider a similar matter. Such meetings can be held to deliberate or to take evidence. Select committees may also give this power to sub-committees.[455]

10.24  The powers of committees of the House to inquire into matters relating to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not been limited formally by the devolution statutes.

Proceedings in committee

10.25  The quorum of a committee is three, unless the House orders otherwise. The quorum of sub-committees of the European Union Committee is two.

10.26  The chairman of a committee has a vote, but not a casting vote.

Participation by non-members

10.27  Members of the House who are not members of a select committee may attend and speak when evidence is being taken; but they may not attend any meeting while the committee deliberates, unless invited by the committee to do so, they do not count towards the quorum, and they may not vote.[456] Members of the House who are not members of a committee or sub-committee do not receive papers on a regular basis.[457]

Recess, prorogation and dissolution

10.28  A committee can sit at any time during a recess, but no committee may sit during prorogation or dissolution.[458]

10.29  Sessional committees, and their sub-committees, continue over prorogation until they are reappointed in the next session.[459] Other committees cease to exist at prorogation. All committees cease to exist on the dissolution of Parliament.

10.30  If an "ad hoc" committee has not completed its inquiry in the session in which it is appointed, it may be appointed again in the following session. In this case an order may be made to refer the evidence taken before the original committee to its successor. In the case of a sessional committee this is unnecessary.


10.31  A report from a committee embodies the text agreed by the majority of the committee on the basis of a draft presented by the Chairman. Members of a committee may not make a minority report. However, members who wish to express dissent may move amendments to the chairman's draft report or propose an alternative draft report. Amendments moved or alternative drafts proposed are recorded in the minutes of proceedings of the committee, together with a record of any vote. The minutes of proceedings are published with the report whenever a difference of opinion has been recorded in a division.[460] Minutes of proceedings are also required to record the making of any amendments to a bill by a select committee on a bill, whether there is a division or not. The minutes of proceedings serve as the authority for the making of the amendments and the reprinting of the bill as reported.

10.32  When a committee has agreed its report, an order is made for the report to be printed, usually with the evidence taken by the committee.[461]

10.33  A motion to debate the report of a committee requires notice. Reports of some committees are debated on a neutral motion to "take note" of the report. Other reports are debated on a motion to "agree to" the report, to which amendments may be moved. A committee report may also be debated as the subject of a question for short debate.

10.34  The House has agreed that it is desirable that there should be regular debates on select committee reports in prime time.[462] The House has also agreed that select committee reports may be debated in Grand Committee with the concurrence of those concerned. The report is referred on a business of the House motion. Whether select committee reports are debated on the floor of the House or in Grand Committee, the debate may be time limited.[463]

10.35  The government have undertaken to respond in writing to the reports of select committees, if possible, within two months of publication.[464] Debate takes place after the government has responded, unless the committee wishes otherwise.[465]

10.36  There is no set time limit for government responses to reports from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, as these need to be made in good time for amendments to be tabled to the bill in question. These responses are made available to frontbench spokesmen on the bill in question, and placed in the Library of the House.[466]

10.37  A committee without leave to report from time to time may make a special report on incidental matters relating to its powers, functions or proceedings. Committees have used this procedure to invite evidence, or to review their own work over a period.

Joint committees

10.38  Joint committees of both Houses of Parliament usually have an equal number of members from each House, but this is a matter for arrangement between the Houses.

10.39  The standard procedure for setting up a joint committee proposed by the Lords is as follows. A motion is moved that it is desirable or expedient that a joint committee of both Houses be appointed to consider some particular subject. If this is agreed to, it is communicated by message to the Commons, with a request for their concurrence. If the Commons signify their consent, the House then appoints a select committee, on a proposal from the Committee of Selection, and requests the Commons by message to appoint a committee to join with them. On receiving a message from the Commons that this has been done, the Lords propose the time and place of meeting. This is customary even if the proposal for the joint committee has originated with the Commons.

10.40  An addition to the number of members of a joint committee, or a change in its order of reference, is made in the same way.

10.41  Leave is always given to a joint committee to appoint its own chairman. Any power to be exercised by a joint committee must be granted by both Houses. The procedure in a joint committee is that of select committees of the House of Lords.

439   The following committees are not select committees: Committees of the whole House, Grand Committees, unopposed private bill committees, and committees to prepare reasons for disagreeing to Commons amendments to bills. The Ecclesiastical Committee (see paragraphs 10.75 and 7.216) is a statutory body and not a select committee. Back

440   Liaison 3rd Rpt 2005-06. Back

441   Procedure 1st Rpt 2000-01. Back

442   SO 64. Back

443   Unless the Chairman of Committees or two or more members of the Committee of Selection think otherwise: SO 64(2). Back

444   SO 64(7). Back

445   Procedure 1st Rpt 2005-06. Back

446   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2006-07. Back

447   Procedure 10th Rpt 1970-71. Back

448   SO 62. Back

449   Procedure 1st Rpt 1992-93. Back

450   Liaison 1st Rpt 2005-06. Back

451   SO 67. Back

452   Commons SO 138. Back

453   SO 67. Back

454   Procedure 2nd Rpt 2006-07. Back

455   SO 68. Back

456   SO 66. Back

457   Procedure 1st Rpt 1992-93. Back

458   Except an Appellate Committee. Back

459   SO 65. Back

460   Procedure 3rd Rpt 1981-82, 1st Rpt 1982-83. Back

461   SO 69. Back

462   Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02. Back

463   Procedure 3rd Rpt 2003-04. Back

464   Departmental evidence and response to Select Committees, Cabinet Office July 2005. Back

465   Procedure 1st Rpt 1992-93, as amended 9 July 1992. Back

466   Liaison 1st Rpt 1998-99. Back

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