Parliamentary committees are considered to be useful for parliamentary work for several reasons, including:
- Assisting Parliament in its duties: The functions of Parliament are varied, complex, and voluminous, and it does not have the time or expertise to scrutinize all legislative measures and other matters. Therefore, committees are an instrument of Parliament for its own effective functioning.
- Providing platforms for discussion: Committees are platforms for detailed discussion on proposed laws, allowing for open, intensive, and better-informed discussions among a smaller cohort of lawmakers assembled on the basis of individual parties and interests.
- Allowing for more meaningful exchange of views: Committee meetings are ‘closed-door’ and members are not bound by party whips, which allows for a more meaningful exchange of views as opposed to discussions in full and open Houses where grandstanding and party positions invariably take precedence.
- Drawing expertise into lawmaking: Members of Parliament may have great acumen, but they would require the assistance of experts in dealing with such situations. It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking.
- Enforcing executive accountability to the legislature: Department standing committees hear from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions and enabling parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely.
One of the important committees in this context is the Estimates Committee. The role of the Estimates Committee includes:
- Examining the estimates included in the budget and suggesting economies in public expenditure.
- Suggesting alternative policies to bring about efficiency and economy in administration.
- Bringing to the notice of the Parliament the ineffectiveness of the policy and the need for changes in policy.
However, the effectiveness of the role of the committee is limited by factors such as the committee’s power to examine the budget estimates only after they are voted upon, the non-binding nature of its recommendations, and its limited scope to examine the budgets of only a few departments in a year.
To strengthen the committee system, research support should be made available to committees, and mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.