A committee system


A committee system mainly made up with a small number of parliamentary members appointed to deal with particular areas or issues originating in the parliamentary democracy. Select committees exist in the British Parliament, as well as in other parliaments based on the Westminster model, such as those in Australia and New Zealand.

The committee system first introduced in the United Kingdom parliamentary system. The departmental committee system came into being in 1979, following the recommendations of a procedure to select Committee, set up in 1976, which reported in 1978. It recommended the appointment of a series of select committees covering all the main departments of state, with wide terms of reference, and with power to appoint special advisers as the committees deemed appropriate. It also suggested that committee members should be selected independently of the party whips, as chosen by the Select Committee of Selection. The 14 new committees finally start working effectively in 1980.

Committees play an important role in the work of the Parliament – taking evidence from witnesses, scrutinizing legislation and conducting inquiries. Most committees meet weekly or fortnightly (it depends on country to country parliament system). According to SCOTISH PARLIAMENT SYSTEM the Committees usually have between 7 and 11 MPs as members and Members are selected so that the balance of political parties in Parliament is retained. According to Bangladesh Parliament system there are seven members of parliaments are the members of committee system.

Mandatory committees (According to Scottish Parliament System):

Some key committees are required by the Standing Orders (rules of the Parliament). These are:

Procedures Committee

Standards Committee

Finance Committee

Audit Committee

European Committee

Public Petitions Committee

Equal Opportunities Committee

Subordinate Legislation


Subject committees (According to Scottish Parliament System):

The Parliament can create other committees to deal with a particular subject or area. These are known as Subject Committees. Subject Committees set up after the 2007 election:

Economy, Energy & Tourism

Education, Lifelong Learning & Culture

Health & Sport


Local Government & Communities

Rural Affairs & Environment

Transport, Infrastructure & Climate Change

How does the Committee Work in Scottish Parliament System?

Each committee appoints one MSP to be the Convenor who chairs the meeting and will call Members and witnesses to speak. Proceedings are relatively informal and the MSPs normally address each other by first names. MSPs who are not members of the committee are free to attend and may speak at the meeting with the Convenor’s agreement, however they cannot vote. Each committee has at least two clerks. The clerks will sit next to the Convenor during the meeting and advise on procedure. You will also see two Official Reporters sitting at the table. The Official Reporters prepare a report of the meeting which is published within a few days of each meeting. A committee can appoint one of its members to be its reporter on a specific matter and advisers, who are not MSPs, can be appointed also. A committee can invite any person to attend a meeting as a witness. This means giving evidence or producing documents relating to the business of the committee. [1]

Select or special committee system in United States of America:

A select or special committee of the United States Congress is a congressional committee appointed to perform a special function that is beyond the authority or capacity of a standing committee. A select committee is usually created by a resolution that outlines its duties and powers and the procedures for appointing members. Select and special committees are often investigative in nature, rather than legislative, though some select and special committees have the authority to draft and report legislation.

A select committee generally expires on completion of its assigned duties, though they can be renewed. Several select committees are treated as standing committees by House and Senate rules, and are permanent fixtures in both bodies continuing from one congress to the next. Examples of this are the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House and the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is also a select committee, though the name select is no longer a part of its title. [2]

Some 20th-century select committees are called special committees, such as the Senate Special Committee on Aging. However, they do not differ in any substantive way from the others. Prior to the advent of permanent standing committees in the early 19th century; the House of Representatives relied almost exclusively on select committees to carry out much of its legislative work. The committee system has grown and evolved over the years. During the earliest Congresses, select committees, created to perform a specific function and terminated when the task was completed, performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work.


The first committee to be established by Congress was on April 2, 1789, during the First Congress. It was a select committee assigned to prepare and report standing rules and orders for House proceedings, and it lasted just five days, dissolving after submitting its report to the full House. Since that time, Congress has always relied on committees as the best means to accomplish its work in an orderly, efficient, and expeditious manner.

Committee system of House of Commons (UK):

Much of the detailed work of the House of Commons is carried out by committees. Committees may be of three kinds - committees of the whole house, special committees and standing committees. At one time all bills were referred to committee of the whole House, but since the reform of the standing committee system in 1968 most of them are now referred to standing committees. Special committees are appointed on an ad hoc basis and consist of not more than 15 members. The standing committees are the essence of the present committee system and they have three distinct functions which may be described as legislative, financial and investigative. [3]

The Standing Orders provide for 18 standing committees, most of them covering a specific subject area. In addition there are three standing joint committees composed of members of both Houses, one of which is concerned with the scrutiny of delegated legislation - that is, regulations made by the government under the authority of an Act of Parliament.

Bills, the estimates of government departments and subjects of inquiry are referred to the standing committees in accordance with their various subject areas. In dealing with bills and estimates the standing committees remove a great deal of detailed work from the floor of the House. In undertaking special investigations they are pursuing their more traditional function of inquiry. Standing committees are empowered to call witnesses and appoint sub-committees, and they are sometimes authorized by the House to travel and hire expert assistance. All committees report directly to the House, their ultimate power being one of recommendation only.

Such control over finance as the House is now able to exercise is due in large measure to the committee system. The Standing Committees have the opportunity of scrutinizing the details of proposed departmental spending and reporting to the House before the money is voted. The Standing Committee on Pubic Accounts, whose chairman is by custom a member of the opposition, has the special function of examining public expenditure after it has been incurred. In carrying out its investigation it is assisted by the Auditor General who makes an annual report top parliament. The Committee examines witnesses from the departments of government and draws the attention of the House to any irregularities it might discover.


The committee system of Australian Parliament:

There are three committee systems in Australian parliament system. Parliamentary institutions have undergone a revival internationally during the last twenty years. As a starting point for our inquiry into parliamentary change, we have focused on the one dimension that has been universally acknowledged as having had transformative effects on world Parliaments (Longley and Davidson 1998). The Australian Parliament over the past two decades has already changed to the point where almost all non-executive members (i.e. excluding the Ministry and shadow cabinet) are preoccupied for much of their time with parliamentary committees. Those who are most attentive to committee work (one quarter of the members) are now devoting at least a quarter of their time to this work. In equivalent full-time terms, this means that at least ten per cent of the time (a conservative estimate) of the Members of the Parliament is now committed to committee work. The number of parliamentary committee reports produced annually in the recent past has ranged between 100 and 200. The Commonwealth Parliament is distinguished internationally by having three committee systems; one located with in each house, the third set operating at the interface between the two and composed of members from both. [4]

The Australian Parliament has passed through several developmental stages during its first century. The development of committee systems has been a central feature of the modern Parliament. In institutional terms this has meant a transformation of the operations of both Houses of Parliament. From a time earlier this century when most members were not actively engaged in committee work, the two houses now have systems which require the participation of most Members of Parliament. For the first two-thirds of its century-long existence, the Australian Parliament possessed a relatively weak committee system. Unlike the majority of other national Parliaments, the Australian legislature did not use specialist committees to appraise proposed legislation (rather, in each House, bills were examined in committees-of-the-whole, a stage normally placed between the Second and Third Readings of proposed legislation). Again, unlike the majority of national Parliaments in Australia, committees played little role in settling disputes between the Houses.

The Australian Parliament has passed several development stages during its first century. The development of committee systems has been a central feature of the modern parliament. In institutional terms this has meant a transformation of the operations of both Houses of Parliament. From a time earlier this century when most members were not actively engaged in committee work, the two houses now have systems which require the participation of most Members of Parliament.

The development of committees can be divided into two distinct periods: from federation (1901) to the late 1960s, and from the late 1960s to the present. Neither the House nor the Senate displayed much interest in committees for their first sixty or so years. The nucleus of a committee system could be said to have first existed in the interface between the two Houses - the joint committee. [5]

It was not until 1987 (with its massive machinery of government changes) that the House moved to establish a comprehensive system of legislative and general committees, which reflected the new structure of government administration, but did not include the function of estimates. The last major reform of this phase occurred in 1994, when the Senate leadership responded to a growing burden of committee work - much greater than that of the House which enjoys a membership twice the size of that of the Senate - with an attempted rationalization. Two parallel comprehensive and isomorphic systems were created - legislation (and estimates) committees (to be chaired by government members) and reference committees. [6]


Using The Parliamentary Committee System for guiding human rights:

Parliamentary committees can enhance levels of human rights protection in-country. This unit describes how committee systems in various countries have broadened their remit to ensure adherence to international human rights standards and treaty commitments. In showing how a range of parliaments have established committees to promote and protect human rights - several with exclusive human rights mandates. This unit lists the different types of committees and the impact they can have. As such, this unit is an easy reference for collecting various replicable examples of good practice. Parliamentary committees are the workhorses of parliament. Recognizing that it is not practical for parliament as a whole to undertake detailed oversight tasks, much of the close examination and careful work of parliament is done in committees: reviewing legislative proposals, scrutinizing budgets, examining the policies and programmes of departments, and keeping an effective surveillance over government. Additionally, parliamentary committees are usually empowered to recommend amendments to legislation as appropriate - including improvements to make laws more human rights friendly. [7]

Parliament Committee System in Bangladesh:

The Jatiya Sangsad (JS), as the parliament is called in Bangladesh, has traditionally made some use of committees. But, until recently, the committees did not experience balanced growth. Nor did their work arouse any serious public or political interest, mainly because of the country’s lack of continuity in constitutional rule, as we shall see later. However, in recent years, in particular since the election of the Fifth Parliament in 1991, committees have received important, if not widespread, recognition. These are now more visible and much talked-about institutions, and have a better scope to assert themselves, although the extent to which they can live up to the expectations of their sponsors is yet to be ascertained properly. This paper explores the factors that have discouraged a steady growth of parliamentary committees in Bangladesh. It examines the reasons that account for the differential performance of various parliaments in setting up committees and making them work. The paper also seeks to identify the factors that may limit the growth of committees as an important site of policy-making and a scrutineer of government policies. One of the important problems confronting the modern democratic state is to identify the ways to balance relations between the executive and the legislature. Everywhere, the executive has become interventionist, assuming the responsibility for functions, especially law-making, traditionally considered being the prerogative of the legislature. This trend, however, is more noticeable in Westminster systems than in consensual democracies or congressional systems. [8]


Roles of committee system in Parliament:

1. To provide Ministers/Deputy Ministers/Secretaries a forum to understand the role and function and the mandate of Committees of Parliament.

2. To outline the specific manner on how Parliament exercises its oversight functions.

3. To enhance interaction between backbenchers and front benchers.

Section 32 of the Constitution provides that

1. The Legislative authority of the country is vested in the Legislature consisting of the President and Parliament

2. In terms of section 33 of the Constitution, Parliament consists of two Houses, the Senate and House of Assembly. [9]

Functions of Committee System in Parliament:

1. The function of Parliament is to legislate, to scrutinize the policies.

2. Activities of the Executive, to hold the Executive to account for its actions.

3. Act as a forum for democratic participation by all members of society.


How the committee system be more effective :

A major strength of effective upper houses is the existence of a strong and vibrant committee system. Although the major committees in the all house committees resourced from both the legislative assembly and the legislative council, a number of specialist committees in the council are formed from time to time.

There is a perception that the committees lack independence from the influence of the major Parties, and that committee decisions are guided by the party political allegiances of their members, rather than objective assessments in the best interests of the community. This comes about from the method of appointment of committee members, reflecting the relative position of the political parties in the two houses.

In view of those concerns the commissioners had discussions with local government representatives, people who have conducted studies and inquiries, and members of the public. Responses to the Commission’s survey in the consultation paper provided a number of suggestions for improvement. As noted above, a large majority, 82 per cent, supported greater use of committees by the council. Other suggestions for better links with the victorian community were greater use of public meetings; more visits by ministers and more parliamentary open days.

It is therefore recommended that each region should have a regional committee, comprising all regional members of the legislative council. These would be official committees of the legislative council and would report to it. Legislative assembly and federal members for the region, representatives of its local governments and community representatives could be invited to attend and participate in discussions. Only the legislative councilors would vote on the committee. [10]



A committee system was preferred because it was felt that this was in line with the key of principles. In particular, the committee system was designed to:

Encourage significant public involvement in the Parliament’s activities.

For example, individuals as well as members of organizations and groups can

appear before committees or write to them to give evidence.

Enable the parliament to hold the executive to account effectively. Part of a committee’s work is to scrutinize the work of the executive. The ministers in the executive do not sit on committees but can be asked to appear before the committee to answer questions.

Encourage the sharing of power. Committees can investigate any item which falls within their remit, hold inquiries and make recommendations to parliament and the executive. Committees also have the power to initiate legislation themselves. [11]