House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

18 - Parliamentary committees

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Authority for the appointment of committees

The power of the House to appoint committees is not in doubt but the source of this power, particularly in regard to investigatory committees, cannot be stated precisely. The following three sources have been suggested:

  • section 49 of the Constitution on the basis that the power to appoint committees of inquiry was one of the ‘powers’ or ‘privileges’ of the United Kingdom House of Commons as at 1901 within the meaning of that section;
  • section 50 of the Constitution on the basis that to provide by standing orders for the setting up of committees of inquiry is to regulate the conduct of the business and proceedings of the House; and
  • that by virtue of the common law, the establishment of a legislative chamber carried with it, by implication, powers which are necessary to the proper exercise of the functions given to it.

As there is no doubt about the power of the House of Commons to appoint committees,[2] section 49 of the Constitution appears to be a clear source of power, with extensive ambit, for the Houses of the Parliament to appoint committees of inquiry. The other sources ‘could be called in aid to extend its breadth or to sustain what otherwise might be uncertain about it’.[3]

2. The term ‘committee’ originally signified an individual (i.e. to whom a bill had been committed). Lord Campion, An introduction to the procedure of the House of Commons, 3rd edn, Macmillan, London, 1958, p. 26.
3. Parliamentary committees: powers over and protection afforded to witnesses, Paper prepared by I. J. Greenwood and R. J. Ellicott, PP 168 (1972) 3.