Government by Committee: An Essay on the British Constitution

By K. C. Wheare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
Committees to Inquire

1

COMMITTEES to inquire are usually also committees to advise. It is seldom that a committee is asked to find out the facts of a situation without being asked also to suggest what should be done about it. Among the important exceptions are committees such as those set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, of which that presided over by Mr. Justice Lynskey in 1948 is a well-known example,1 whose task it is to investigate allegations of malpractice or maladministration and to find the facts. Committees of inquiry into accidents and disasters are similarly often restricted in their terms of reference to the discovery of the cause of the occurrences. Generally speaking, however, the making of recommendations or the offering of advice forms a part, varying in importance from case to case, of the function of committees to inquire.

But although, from this point of view, committees to inquire may appear to form part of the wider class of committees to advise, and to fall to be considered under that head, they exhibit features which make it preferable to discuss them separately. The task which is committed to them and the way in which they set about it have certain characteristics which distinguish them from other types of committees to advise. In the first place their actual investigation of the situation or problem referred to them is regarded as of at least equal importance to the recommendations which they may make. Their report is looked to as an exposition of the situation or problem. They are expected to take evidence and in many cases this evidence is published, and is of interest and value equal to that of the committee's report -- and sometimes of greater interest and value. Moreover, the

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1
Cmd. 7616 ( 1949) Another example was the committee presided over by Mr. Justice Porter (as he then was) to inquire whether any unauthorized disclosure was made of information relating to the Budget for 1936. Cmd. 5184.

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