Select Committees work in both Houses. They check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs. The results of these inquiries are public and many require a response from the government.
Evidence gathering by a Select Committee
When a Select Committee launches a new inquiry they often request written evidence from interested parties. A call for evidence is often published at the same time as the terms of reference for the inquiry.
The Committee will use this written evidence to help shape their inquiry and it may influence the choice of witnesses the Committee calls to appear before them during the oral evidence stage of the inquiry. In recent years select committees have increasingly used web forums to help gather material for inquiries.
Commons Select Committees
There is a Commons Select Committee for each government department, examining three aspects: spending, policies and administration. These departmental committees have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. Findings are reported to the Commons and the government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee's recommendations.
Some Select Committees have a role that crosses departmental boundaries such as the Public Accounts or Environmental Audit Committees. Depending on the issue under consideration they can look at any or all of the government departments. Other Commons Committees are involved in a range of on-going investigations, like administration of the House itself or allegations about the conduct of individual MPs.
Lords Select Committees
Lords Select Committees do not shadow the work of government departments. Their investigations look into specialist subjects, taking advantage of the wide-ranging expertise of Members of the Lords and the greater amount of time (compared to MPs) available to them to examine issues.
Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on five main areas: Europe, science, economics, communications and the UK constitution.