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Remit and powers of select committees

Select committees are cross-party groups of MPs or Lords established by either House for the duration of a Parliament. The work of the Commons committees is governed by Standing Orders (SOs) of the House of Commons; these rules set out their membership, remit and powers and any changes to the rules must be approved by the House.

Committees decide upon their own subjects for inquiry within the broad scope of their remit. They seek evidence from people and organisations with an interest in their inquiries and anyone can submit evidence to the inquiry. The Commons Library briefing, Select Committees: evidence and witnesses, reviews the power of select committees “to send for persons, papers and records”.

Departmental select committees

In the House of Commons there are 20 departmental select committees that shadow the work of the Government departments. Their remit is set SO No.152:

Select committees shall be appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments as set out in paragraph (2) of this order and associated public bodies. Other Commons select committees cover aspects of public policy such as public spending, and the internal administration of the House.

Membership of committees and election of chairs

Membership of select committees reflects party membership of the House as a whole. Since June 2010, chairs of departmental select committees have been elected by secret ballot of the House. Also elected by secret ballot are the chairs of the following select committees [SO No.122B]:

  • Environmental Audit
  • Petitions
  • Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs
  • Public Accounts
  • Procedure
  • Standards

In addition, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is elected at the start of each Session in accordance with SO No.122D.

The number of MPs on the committee is determined by Standing Orders and is noted in the table along with the party affiliation of the chair and a link to each committee’s website which gives the full membership of the committee.

Further information – Commons Library briefings

The practical arrangements for the election of committee chairs by secret ballot are set out in, Select committees: election of chairs and members.

Background on the changes to the way in which members of select committees are nominated is provided by Nominations to Select Committees.

Certain committee chairs are entitled to an additional salary; Since April 2021 this has been £16,422. The briefing on Select Committees – pay for chairs (2014) provides background on proposals for paying select committee chairs. Members’ pay and expenses and ministerial salaries 2021/22 sets out the additional salary per annum since April 2013.

Commons Library Insight: Select Committees: Membership by gender, 24 Sep 2017

Commons Library Briefing: Evolution and changing composition of departmental select committees, 24 Jun 2019

Parliament: facts and figures

This series of publications contains data on various subjects relating to Parliament and Government. Topics include legislation, MPs, select committees, debates, divisions and Parliamentary procedure.


Please send comments or corrections to the Parliament and Constitution Centre. Suggestions for new Lists welcomed.

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