MPs by Year Group   Constitution   MP Duties   About Us   Photo Gallery
 
Committees
 
 

The Role of Committee Chairpersons

It may be helpful to draw a comparison between the role of the congressional committee chairman and parliamentary committee chair¬man. The former exercises a great deal of power and influence. The Chair in the Congressional Committee system is appointed by seniority from the majority party. He can determine his committee's agenda and (sometimes decide when the committee should meet).

He can decide which of the many bills referred to the committee should be considered and in what order. By this arrangement, he can expedite, retard and even stifle bills at his convenience. He can decide which witnesses shall be heard by the committee and he leads the questioning. He has the power to punish breaches of order and decorum at committee meetings.

The Chairperson plays a dominant role in the recruitment and organization of committee staff and controls the expenditure of the commit¬tee. He supervises the writing of the committee's report to the House or he nominates a member to do so. He has the power to create sub-committees and to nominate their members to whom he can refer bills.

The sub-committee may have their own staff and sizeable budget of their own. The extent of power and influence of a congressional committee chairman is enormous. It is therefore not surprising that Woodrow Wilson described the American system of government as "a government by the Chairmen of the Standing Committees of Congress".

In contrast, the role of the Chairman of the parliamentary commit¬tee is constrained. He is appointed by the leadership of his party and not by the committee itself on seniority. He presides over the meetings of the committee by applying standing orders or procedure set by resolution to ensure procedural fairness. When he takes the chair, it is the members of the committee who decide on the agenda, the witnesses to be heard and how the inquiry is to be conducted.

At each meeting the Chairman leads the questioning of each witness. But other members who may wish to raise other points may interrupt him. He can close a meeting to the public in accordance with Standing Order 199 and can remove disruptive persons from the committee room in an open sitting.

At the conclusion of an inquiry, he directs the Clerk to produce a draft of the report with the assistance of specialist advisers (in the case of Public Accounts Committee, the Auditor-General and Controller and Accountant-General). The draft is put before the Committee for its consideration. Amendment may be proposed by other Members and vote taken on it. He and the Clerk sign the report of the Committee for presentation to the House and he moves a motion for its adoption by the House.

In our parliamentary committee system, a committee (not the Chair alone) can set up a sub-committee only on the authority of the House depending on workload. When the committee is given power it decides who the members and chairman of a sub-committee should be. A sub-committee will report to the parent committee which issues the report as its own.

While the congressional committee can employ its own staff (professional and clerical staff), the parliamentary committees have their staff assigned to them from the Clerk's department by the Clerk of the House who is the accounting officer.

The Congressional Committee Staff are employees of the Committee while those in parliamentary committees and sub-commit¬tees are employees of the House. The work done by the support staff in both congressional and parliamentary committees include advising the chairman and members, writing reports and handling administrative problems.

The Chairperson of a parliamentary Committee is the committee's spokesperson with the Presiding Officer (i.e. Speaker) in the House and in correspondence with Ministers and senior government officials. He consults the leadership of the House, particularly the Chairman of the Business Committee with regard to presentation of the committee's report to the House and date for debate on it.


Back to top

© Copyright 2010 . All rights reserved. | Privacy & Disclaimer