Government by Committee: An Essay on the British Constitution

By K. C. Wheare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
Committees to Legislate

THE use of committees may be demonstrated by two arguments, each of which might appear at first sight to contradict the other. It can be said that a committee should be used because it enables more people to be associated with a particular governmental process. It can be said, on the other hand, that a committee should be used because it enables fewer people to be associated with a process. There is, of course, no necessary contradiction between these two statements. A glance at the reasons which justify the use of committees by town and county councils illustrates the point. A council sets up committees because, on the one hand, it believes that the conduct of administration should not be confided to so numerous a body as a whole council, and because, on the other hand, it believes that the conduct of administration should not be confided to a single person or to a few isolated individuals. In the case of council committees few people could be found to argue that the whole council should control administration; where room for difference of opinion arises is upon the question whether it is wise to confide administration to a plural rather than to a unitary institution -- a question which will be discussed in the next chapter. In other spheres of government, however, an argument arises not upon the merits of the committee as against the single individual, but as between the committee and the larger body of which it is a part and from which it obtains its commission. This is the case in particular with those standing committees of the House of Commons which are set up by the House to take a share in the legislative process.

Few, if any, would argue that the House should delegate its entire legislative function to ministers, although a considerable measure of such delegation exists. But there is room for discussion of the extent to which the House as a whole should undertake

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