Explain how Departmental Select Committees act as a check upon the government

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Explain how Departmental Select Committees act as a check upon the government. [16]

Departmental select committees were established in 1979 by Thatcher to look at the work of each government department (Defence, Foreign Affairs, Health, Education etc). If a new development is created a committee will follow, such as the Department of Constitutional Affairs. The role of Departmental Select Committees is to act as a check on the policies and work of individual government departments. Most have 11 members and a very broad remit to examine the expenditure and administration of policy. In the view of many, Departmental Select Committees are a success story of British parliamentary democracy in spite of their lack of powers.

Committees do try to influence policy but they usually make enquiries into failings or areas where concern has been raised, such as the government’s Iraq policy both in the Defence department and the Foreign Affairs department. A key Departmental Select Committee is the Defence Committee, chaired by Dr Julian Lewis. It is made up of politicians from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and DUP.  An example of an inquiry was one that looked into defence expenditure and the 2% pledge. The UK aims to spend 2% of GDP on defence, and the inquiry was set up to discover if it would be sufficient. Evidence was given by Jonathan Parish, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning at NATO, as well as other powerful figures in international defence.

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They take evidence from all involved, including opinions of experts or pressure groups. They can summon ministers and senior civil servants to give evidence. They can also call independent witnesses and initiate their own research. This can be in the form of oral or written evidence. It is a bit like a mini court and the committee can even ask for an oath to be taken but this is rarely used. All evidence is protected by parliamentary privilege which means evidence cannot result in prosecution or civil action.

The committee then writes a report on its findings. These can ...

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