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House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

18 - Parliamentary committees

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The principal purpose of parliamentary committees is to perform functions which the Houses themselves are not well fitted to perform, that is, finding out the facts of a case or issue, examining witnesses, sifting evidence, and drawing up reasoned conclusions. Because of their composition and method of procedure, which is structured but relatively informal compared with that of the Houses, committees are well suited to the gathering of evidence from expert groups or individuals. In a sense they ‘take Parliament to the people’ and allow direct contact between members of the public and representative groups of Members of the House. Not only do committee inquiries enable Members to be better informed about community views but, by simply undertaking an inquiry, committees may promote public debate on the subject at issue. The all-party composition of most committees and their propensity to operate across party lines are important features. This bipartisan approach generally manifests itself throughout the conduct of inquiries and the drawing up of conclusions. Committees oversight and scrutinise the Executive and are able to contribute towards better government. They also assist in ensuring a more informed administration and policy-making process, in working with the Executive on proposed legislation and other government initiatives. In respect of their formal proceedings committees are microcosms and extensions of the Houses themselves, limited in their power of inquiry by the extent of the authority delegated to them and governed for the most part in their proceedings by procedures and practice which reflect those which prevail in the House by which they were appointed.1

Authority for the appointment of committees

Types of committees and terminology

House standing committees

House select committees

Conferral with committees of the Senate

Joint committees

Appointment and duration

Membership

Chair

Committee administration — staff and advisers

Powers of committees

Conduct of inquiries

Meeting procedures

Subcommittees