Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 16:01 UK

Committees are small groups of Members of Parliament which are set up in order to discuss, examine or advise upon specific public policy issues or pieces of legislation.

The membership of each committee is in proportion to the composition of parties in the House setting up the committee.

This means that the government will always have a majority in Commons committees - but this may not be the case in committees of peers.

The committee system allows specialised groups to carry out tasks that the House or government, acting as a whole, could not carry out effectively.

A large number of committees perform a variety of functions:

• Public bill committees examine legislation in detail as it passes through the House;

• Select committees allow MPs to examine government policy and hold the government to account;

• Backbench committees provide a forum in which MPs from individual parties can meet to discuss party policy in particular areas;

• Joint Committees have similar powers to select committees, but draw their membership from both Houses;

• And various other committees handle the administration of the Palace of Westminster.

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