A lot of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is done in committees, as it gives a chance for small groups to examine issues in much more detail. Committees collect written evidence and question witnesses before reporting back to the House of Commons or Lords. The Government then has 60 days to respond to the committee’s recommendations.
There is a House of Commons Select Committee for each government department which examines the policies and expenditure of that department as well as how it is run. Select Committees also scrutinise proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Each committee has a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather the evidence.
In recent years a number of changes have been made to the system to make it more accountable and democratic. Select Committee Chairs are now elected by their fellow MPs, and a Backbench Business Committee has been established which allows Backbenchers, such as myself, to put forward issues that they believe need debating. The Backbench Committee is also responsible for allocating time to debate the recently introduced e-petitions.
With my background as a criminal barrister I was lucky enough to be chosen to sit on the Justice Select Committee. I served on the Committee from 2010 to early 2013 The Justice Select Committee has undertaken a number of inquires and published many reports during the time I have been a member. These include:
- Draft Sentencing Guidelines: allocation, offences taken into consideration, and totality (27 October 2011)
- Presumption of death (21 July 2011)
- The Budget and Structure of the Ministry of Justice (21 July 2011)
- Joint Enterprise (21 July 2011)
- Youth Justice (21 July 2011)
- Draft Sentencing Guideline: Drug Offences and Burglary (07 April 2011) An inquiry on the draft sentencing guideline on drug offences
- Work of the Director of Public Prosecutions (17 January 2011)
- Access to Justice (22 December 2010) An inquiry into the court closure programme and the proposed reforms to legal aid and sentencing
- Draft Sentencing Guidelines on Assault (27 October 2010) An inquiry into the draft sentencing guideline on assault
- Work of the Lord Chief Justice (26 October 2010)
- Court closures and other issues within the Minister’s remit (19 October 2010) An inquiry on the Government consultation papers setting out proposals to close 103 magistrates’ courts and 54 county courts
- Role of the Probation Service (21 July 2010) An inquiry into the role of the probation service in the context of the proposed ‘rehabilitation revolution’
- Operation of the Family Courts (July 2010)
From late 2012, I was appointed to serve on the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, which then became two committees in early 2013. I continue to serve on the Commons Standards Committee, which examines complaints against Members of Parliament, and also the Commons Privileges Committee, which examines allegations of breaches of Privilege.