The House of Commons has just passed an alteration to Standing Orders allowing the Government to have a majority on the Committee of Selection and on all committees that have an odd number of members. This is a seemingly arcane piece of business but it is both constitutionally proper and important.
The Committee of Selection is a little known body that decides which members will sit on a variety of Commons committees. It does not nominate to Select Committees, which are elected by the parties, but does decide on Public Bill, Statutory Instrument and European Scrutiny committees. The first two are crucial instruments in the Government of the Country as they are law making bodies. The Committee of Selection is made up of Government and Opposition Whips as well as representatives of the minority parties and is chaired by a senior Government Backbencher. It achieved a little notoriety a few years ago when it would not put Dr. Sarah Wollaston on a Health Service Bill committee as the Government was worried that she might not have been supportive. This was a reminder that its purpose is to ensure the Government puts on people from its own side, Members who will give it its business, not join with the opposition. This is not as unreasonable as it sounds as committees represent the House where the Government must have a majority or fall.
Achieving a majority on the Committee of Selection ensures only loyal supporters are put on committees, likewise making sure the Government has a majority in the committees themselves means business can be carried out smoothly without regular reversals needing to be made in the whole House if the Government were to lose in committee.
This is fair because, although the Conservatives did not win an outright majority at the General Election, with the support of the Democratic Unionists they command a working majority in the Commons. If they did not the Government would fall, hence as with the minority Labour Government of the late 1970s Standing Orders must reflect political reality. The Constitution requires that the Queen’s Government must be carried on.