Parliamentary committees can range over all the functions that the legislature itself performs, with the exception of determining the formation of the Government. They perform functions which Houses of Parliament are not as well-fitted to perform, such as finding out facts of a case or issue, examining witnesses, sifting evidence and drawing up reasoned conclusions.
Committees provide an increased ability for the Parliament to scrutinise government policy and expenditure. Committees are frequently appointed to parallel the ministerial or departmental structure adopted by the Executive. Each committee has a responsibility to provide oversight of government agencies within specific portfolios.
Committees can be an important part of the legislative process. Examination by a committee can allow public input into the legislative process.
Representation / Education of Members
Committees enable the Parliament to be taken to the people, and enable evidence to be gathered from expert groups or individuals. They enable direct contact between the public and representative groups of Members of Parliament and a flow of information to Members. They facilitate an increased level of collegiality between members from different political parties who may not otherwise have the opportunity to work with one another.
The accountability functions of parliamentary committees include their ability:
- to conduct inquiries;
- to compel the attendance of persons and presentation of documents; and
- to make reports and recommendations to Parliament.
Committees are usually empowered to compel the attendance of individuals and the presentation of documents. The defiance of an order of a parliamentary committee or the provision of misleading evidence may result in charges of contempt of the House.
Working in Committees allows Parliament to:
- Increase the amount of work that can be done
- Ensure that issues can be debated in more detail than in plenary sessions
- Increase the level of participation of Members of Parliament (MPs) in discussions
- Enable MPs to develop expertise and in-depth knowledge of the specific Committee’s area of work
- Provide a platform for the public to present views directly to MPs, something which is not possible in a plenary sitting of -Parliament
- Provide an environment for Parliament to hear evidence and collect information related to the work of a specific Committee.
- They examine specific areas of public life or matters of public interest
- They take care of domestic parliamentary issues
- Committees have the power to summon any person to appear before them, give evidence or produce documents.
- They may require any person or institution to report to them.
The work of Committees is not restricted to government. They may investigate any matter of public interest that falls within their area of responsibility. There is a Committee for each Ministry and its associated government department/s.