Select Committees

Contributing to a select committee, either in the House of Commons or Lords, is a good way to influence politicians in a substantive way on a specific issue. This is because select committees generally conduct their inquiries over long periods of time, leaving much more time for discussion and fact-finding than House debates. Committees are cross-party, and members are not ‘whipped’ into following party lines, and this fosters a more collaborative and investigative ethos.


Elizabeth Flood from Digital Media @ Newcastle on Vimeo.

Elizabeth Flood, Clerk of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, discusses how committees draw on academic research and evidence

Select committees seek to make evidence-based, rather than ideological, recommendations, and they generally try to hear as wide a cross-section of views as possible. Because of this, committees rely heavily on public and expert evidence and witnesses when conducting their inquiries. They may even employ academic or industry experts to act as special advisers for the duration of an inquiry. Select committees therefore offer the opportunity for your research to be considered seriously, by a group of MPs or members of the House of Lords (or occasionally both) who are devoting significant time and resources to considering an issue. 

The select committee produces a report based on the inquiry, which will summarise evidence heard. The report will make a number of recommendations, and the government must either accept these, or justify its decision not to. Evidence you submit, either in writing or in person, could therefore be read by government ministers, and may contribute to policy changes.

There are two main ways you can get involved with a select committee:

Write a submission and/or give evidence

Once a select committee has decided to conduct an inquiry, it will typically issue a press notice outlining the terms of reference, and invite interested parties to submit written evidence addressing those terms. It may also identify and invite specific witnesses whose views are particularly relevant to the topic to submit written evidence and/or to appear as a witness. Current inquiries will be listed on the select committee’s website, along with past decisions and upcoming inquiries.

Submission must usually be made through the select committee website (select committees are listed here). You should be aware that your submission will likely be published on the website, unless you have a good reason why it should remain private: like the Houses of Parliament, select committees conduct their work before the public.

The following guidelines on writing a select committee submission are taken from the House of Commons’ Guide for witnesses giving written or oral evidence to a House of Commons select committee, which can be downloaded here.

Each submission should:

  • State clearly who the submission is from, i.e. whether from yourself in a personal capacity or sent on behalf of an organisation
  • Be concise – we recommend no more than 3,000 words in length.
  • Begin with an executive summary in bullet point form of the main points made in the submission.
  • Include a brief introduction about yourself/your organisation and your reason for submitting evidence.
  • Have numbered paragraphs.
  • Include any factual information you have to offer from which the committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other witnesses for their reactions.
  • Include any recommendations for action by the Government or others which you would like the committee to consider.

Remember that committee members are not experts – write as you would for any intelligent layperson. Committee staff will always be happy to advise on style and format.

Following the collection of written submissions, the committee will then decide who call for oral evidence. If you are called to give evidence at a select committee hearing, it’s because the committee wishes to question you further about issues raised in your submission, and possibly to hear your views on the evidence of other witnesses. The Guide for witnesses has much more detail about how to prepare for giving evidence in person and how the hearing will proceed, but the key points in terms of the evidence you give are:

  • Hearings are public and members of the media may be present, unless there are exceptional reasons why the hearing should be closed. A transcript of proceedings will be published, and the hearings are broadcast live on parliamentary TV.
  • It’s helpful to the committee if you can be present for the witnesses who are questioned before you, so you can comment on their evidence if required.
  • Committee members will take it in turns to ask you questions which you must attempt to answer.
  • Members may ask follow-up questions or probe further on certain points; answer questions as succinctly as possible, but prepared to provide further information.

Parliamentary TV broadcasts select committee hearings, and watching a committee session is a good way to get a sense of how the hearing will proceed, and the sort of questions you can expect.

Contact the committee clerk

Another option is to contact the committee clerk to suggest a topic for future consideration. Select committees are always on the look-out for future subjects of enquiry, and they draw these from a range of sources, including what’s in the media and the political agenda, but also from current research. Each select committee has its own page on the Parliament website (<link>), where you can find contact details, as well as information about past and upcoming enquiries, and upcoming committee meetings.