Select Committees

Select Committees

These have a significant role to play in challenging the executive because:

  • They scrutinise government policy, shadowing the work of major government departments. They do this by carrying out inquiries, writing reports, carrying out question and answer sessions (through which they can call witnesses, including government ministers), and ask to see government papers

The role select committees play is restricted by the fact that:

  • The government has a majority on the committees, reflecting their Commons majority, so can dominate them (although the chairs of select committees are elected by Parliament as a whole)
  • Whips control individual appointments to the committees, meaning loyal MPs can be placed on them
  • Select committees can criticise government policy, but cannot change it


The second largest party in the Commons is the official Opposition. It is significant, because:

  • It is given privileges at debates, for example during PMQs the opposition leader can ask the Prime Minister more questions
  • On ‘opposition days’ opposition parties can choose subjects for debate, and often use the day to criticise and scrutinise government policy and actions

The opposition can be argued to be less significant, because:

  • They have no real ability to initiate legislation
  • The government usually has an overall majority, giving them dominance of the Commons
  • They have a lack of resources relative to government (for example, the civil service is duty bound to support and enact government policy)
  • The opposition party is often in a position of weakness and may be divided, as they will have lost the election

Question Time

The best-known example of this is PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions)- this takes place every Wednesday from 12-12.30pm. Question Time has a role to play in scrutinising the government because:

  • The Prime Minister (or whichever minister is being questioned) must answer questions on subjects which they (in theory) are not aware of, and must justify and explain their actions, which holds them to account
  • During PMQs, the opposition leader can ask supplementary questions, allowing them more opportunity to scrutinise the PM

Question Time is argued to be ineffective, because:

  • Questions are often not properly answered by the PM/ministers
  • It is often described as an example of ‘Punch and Judy’ style politics, whereby the PM and opposition leader try to embarrass each other and score cheap political points, rather than it being proper meaningful scrutiny
  • The raucous (perhaps boorish) nature of Question Time, PMQs particularly, damages the reputation of Parliament and politicians in the eyes of the public
Name the three parts of Parliament.
Your answer should include: Commons / Lords / Monarch
How many MPs make up the House of Commons?
Which party members persuade MPs to vote in particular ways?
Which type of committee scrutinises government policy, rather than particular bills?
Your answer should include: Select / Committee
When does PMQs take place?
What is the final stage of a bill becoming a law?
Your answer should include: Royal / Assent
True or false: a bill can be voted down at the first reading.
What is the convention by which the Lords will not block government manifesto pledges?
What are the majority of bills known as?
Your answer should include: Public / Bills
Who organises and chairs debates in the Commons?