Web links: Chapter 09
Rules governing bill committee procedures
The House of Commons Standing Orders set out the process for the appointment of MPs to bill committees (see Standing Order 86) as well as the powers of bill committees (Standing Order 84A). It is Standing Order 86 which states that appointments should be made with regards to the ‘qualifications of [nominated MPs] and to the composition of the House’. Labour MP Diane Abbott has written an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper discussing the power of the party whips over committee appointments. In 2011 the House of Commons Procedure Committee held an inquiry into the selection of members for bill committees, taking written and oral evidence from experts.
The House of Lords also has a set of Standing Orders which, among other things, set out the proper procedures for the committee stage of bills.
Finding committee debates online
Bill committee debates can be found in different places on Parliament’s website, depending on the session in which they sat. Parliament’s bills and legislation pages are the easiest place to find committee debates, lists of amendments and copies of the bill, but only applies to those from the 2007/8 session onwards. For earlier bills there is a legislative committee archive showing details of all public bill committees sitting between the 1997/8 and the 2015/16 parliamentary sessions.
Written and oral evidence
Bill committees which have taken written evidence usually publish this evidence on the relevant committee pages. It is also possible to view a list of all bill committees currently accepting written evidence. Although lots of committees accept written evidence, they do not have to take oral evidence too. See for example the Children and Social Work Bill (2016-17) which published a very wide range of written evidence from individuals as well as charities and other organisations, but took no oral evidence.
Those committees which do take oral evidence may speak to a large number of witnesses. See for example the first committee sitting of the Digital Economy Bill on 11 October 2016 which saw the questioning of ten witnesses including those representing BT, Sky, Virgin and the Countryside Alliance within a two hour sitting. You can watch the full sitting here. Government ministers will sometimes give evidence. The Education and Adoption Bill of 2015-1, for example, saw three government ministers (Nick Gibb, Edward Timpson and Lord Nash) give oral evidence (Question 60 onwards). Until this point in the committee sitting, these ministers were members of the committee. As such, they themselves were able to put questions to other witnesses, before giving evidence.
All bill committee sessions are open to the general public and oral evidence sessions are no exception to this. You can find out more about visiting parliament to watch debates and committees here.