40 Years of Departmental Select Committees 1979-2019: 27-28 June 2019, Portcullis House, London

Celebrating 40 years of the Departmental Select Committee

The House of Commons and the Study of Parliament Group are holding a major two-day conference to mark the creation and development of the departmental select committee.


MPs sit around a horseshoe-shaped table with representatives from the Afghan government.

On 25 June 1979, speaking in the debate to establish the first departmental select committees, the then Leader of the House Norman St John Stevas declared that the House of Commons was “embarking upon a series of changes that could constitute the most important parliamentary reforms of a century”.

Almost forty years to the day, the House of Commons and the Study of Parliament Group will hold a major two-day conference to mark the creation and development of the departmental select committee on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th June 2019. The conference will be a chance to showcase and celebrate the work of committees, as well as to reflect on their effectiveness and how they might need to evolve in the future.

Speakers will be drawn from academia, Whitehall and civil society and include current select committee chairs and current and former House of Commons staff. Over the course of the two days, there will be a mixture of plenary and break out sessions, ‘in conversation’ and panel sessions and case studies from committee staff on recent select committee innovations. The first day (Thursday 27th) will conclude with a keynote speech from Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Liaison Committee.

The event is being hosted by the House of Commons and organised in collaboration with the Study of Parliament Group. The Study of Parliament Group brings together parliamentary officials with academics who research and write about parliament. It includes representatives from the Hansard Society, the Institute for Government and the Constitution Unit at UCL.


A group of people sit around a horseshoe-shaped committee table.

The programme will be updated as sessions are finalised so please check back regularly.

Thursday 27 June 2019




Opening comments and welcome

Plenary session: Mark D’Arcy in conversation with select committee chairs

- Nicky Morgan MP, Chair, Treasury Committee
- Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair, Transport Committee
- Stephen Twigg MP, Chair, International Development Committee
- Damian Collins MP, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

In discussion with Mark D’Arcy, Parliamentary Correspondent, BBC


Plenary session: History, origins and early days of select committees

- Professor Gavin Drewry, Emeritus Professor of Public Administration at Royal Holloway, University of London
- Philip Aylett, Clerk, House of Commons
- Mike Everett, Clerk, House of Commons
- Sir David Natzler, Former Clerk of the House, House of Commons

Chaired by Oonagh Gay, former Head of the Parliament and Constitution Centre, House of Commons Library

Plenary session: Digital reach and reports of the future

- Miranda Olivier-Wright, Head of the Web and Publications Unit, House of Commons
- Sarah Davies, Clerk Assistant, House of Commons


Break-out sessions

(a) Powers and Privilege:

- Saira Salimi, Speaker’s Counsel, House of Commons
- Professor David Howarth, Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Cambridge
- Hugh Tomlinson QC, Matrix Chambers

Chaired by Alex Horne, Legal Adviser, House of Lords EU Committee

(b) Select Committees in other Parliaments:

- Ian Macdonald, Principal Clerk, Canadian House of Commons
- Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government, University of Hull
- Jim Johnston, Clerk, Scottish Parliament

Chaired by Zoe Oliver-Watts, Clerk, House of Commons

(c) Public engagement:

- Dr Danielle Beswick, Senior Lecturer, International Development Department, University of Birmingham
- Dr Stephen Elstub, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Newcastle
- Naomi Jurczak, Select Committee Engagement Manager, House of Commons
- Kate Anderson, Petitions and Communications Manager, House of Commons

Chaired by Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics, University of Leeds

(d) Staffing and specialist advisers:

- Jacqy Sharpe, former Clerk of Committees and Acting Managing Director, Chamber and Committee Services
- Professor Tony Travers, Professor, School of Public Policy, LSE
- Brigid Fowler, Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Chaired by Huw Yardley, Clerk, House of Commons


Plenary session: Development and reform

- Tony Wright, former MP and Chair of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons
- Greg Power, Chair, Global Partners Governance

Chaired by Lucinda Maer, Clerk, House of Commons

Plenary session: Brexit and select committees

- Elin Jones, former Brexit Liaison Manager, House of Commons
- Duma Langton, Committee Specialist, Exiting the EU Committee


Keynote speech/Michael Ryle lecture:

- Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair, Liaison Committee

Friday 28 June 2019




Opening comments

Plenary session: Impact - View from Whitehall

- Dame Una O’Brien DCB, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Health
- Sir Edward Troup, former Permanent Secretary, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs
- Rt Hon Peter Riddell CBE, Commissioner for Public Appointments
- Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP

Chaired by Dr Hannah White, Deputy Director, Institute for Government

Plenary session: Putting lived experience at the heart of committee work

- Anne-Marie Griffiths, Clerk, Work and Pensions Committee

Plenary session: Impact – View from the outside

- Sarah Allan, Head of Engagement, Involve
- Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Head of Government Affairs, National Trust
- John Foster, Director of Campaigns, CBI
- Stephen Meek, Director of the Institute for Policy and Engagement, University of Nottingham, incoming Chair of UPEN

Chaired by Dr Abbi Hobbs, Head of Social Science, POST


Plenary session: Getting the public to help decide inquiries

- Danielle Nash, Clerk, Science and Technology Committee

Plenary session: People working in Select Committees: Academic reflections

- Professor Emma Crewe, Professor of Social Anthropology, SOAS
- Professor Nick Sarra, Professor of Psychology, University of Exeter
- Dr Marc Geddes, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Edinburgh

Chaired by Dr Judith Bell, Chartered Psychologist, Tavistock Consulting


Plenary session: Where next for select committees?

- Professor Meg Russell, Director, Constitution Unit, UCL
- Dr Ruth Fox, Director and Head of Research, Hansard Society
- Paul Evans, Clerk of Committees, House of Commons

Chaired by Rafael Behr, Political Commentator, The Guardian

Closing comments

Conference ends

Keynote Speech and
Conference papers

The Work and Pensions Committee hold a round-table event with the public in a committee room.

Michael Ryle was a House of Commons Clerk, serving from 1951 until his retirement in 1989, when he had reached the post of Clerk of Committees, in charge of the House's system of select committees. He founded the Study of Parliament Group in 1964 with political scientist Bernard Crick. Following his death in 2013, his life and work has been commemorated each year with a lecture on a current political theme. The 2019 lecture was given at the 40th anniversary conference on 27 June by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, on the theme of ‘The Good Committee’.

The following papers have been produced for the 40th anniversary by members of the Study of Parliament Group and former and current House of Commons staff.


The following slides were produced by some of the speakers giving presentations at the conference.

Films and photos

MPs on the Transport Committee prepare for an evidence session around a horseshoe-shaped desk; a Hansard reporter checks his notes at a desk in the middle of the horseshoe.

Norman St John-Stevas, the then-Leader of the House of Commons, gives a speech commending the proposals for the establishment of departmental select committees in 26 June 1979.


As part of the 40th anniversary celebrations, POST coordinated a poster competition to highlight innovation happening across committees. Committee Office staff got together to create these ten posters on the innovative ways that committees have scoped inquires, collected evidence, engaged with the public and more.