Select Committee on Liaison First Report


First Report

Session 1998-99


By the Select Committee appointed to advise the House on the resources required for select committee work and to allocate resources between select committees; to review the select committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees.


Future committee activity

1. The Committee has given further consideration to the future committee work of the House. Our Second Report, Session 1997-98, noted proposals including:

(1)  a new committee on Overseas Trade to review developments since the last committee on that subject reported in 1985;

(2)  the retention of a sixth sub-committee of the European Communities Committee, added experimentally in 1996;

(3)  a committee with functions relating to human rights;

(4)  the introduction of pre-legislative scrutiny.

2. In addition, the following further proposals have now been put to us:

(5)  a joint committee on House of Lords Reform, after the Royal Commission has reported;

(6)  a committee to scrutinise treaties;

(7)  a select committee on the Obscenity Bill [HL] introduced by the Earl of Halsbury.

3. We understand that the Clerk of the Parliaments plans to strengthen the staff resources available to serve committees, but that recruitment of additional clerks will not be possible before the autumn. Moreover, the availability of Lords to serve on committees and of accommodation to house additional staff are factors which limit the possible expansion of committee activity.

4. We propose to meet again before the summer recess to consider further what new committee activity to recommend.


5. At this stage we recommend that the Obscenity Bill [HL] should not be referred to a select committee. In view of the competing pressures we consider it inappropriate that resources should be devoted to a committee on a bill with no realistic chance of becoming law.


6. A strong case was put to us for the appointment of a committee to scrutinise treaties. But we have noted that the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords has, in its consultation paper issued earlier this month, explicitly posed the question whether the second chamber should play a greater role in the scrutiny of draft treaties. We have therefore concluded that it would not be timely to appoint such a committee in advance of the recommendations of the Royal Commission.


7. A joint committee on the draft Financial Services and Markets Bill was appointed at the beginning of March, with terms of reference requiring it to report by the end of April. We understand that the Government is likely to propose further pre-legislative scrutiny of this kind, for example in relation to the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill published with the White Paper Local Leadership, Local Choice (Cm 4298).

8. In principle we welcome the involvement of this House in pre-legislative scrutiny. But in view of the pressure for other committee activity we hope that it will be possible to co-ordinate the appointment of similar committees in future and to give reasonable notice in each case. Because of the variety of subject matter of draft bills, we endorse the appointment of an ad hoc committee for each draft bill.

9. We were informed by the Chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee that that committee had accepted an invitation from the joint committee on the draft Financial Services and Markets Bill to submit a memorandum on the delegated powers in the bill. We welcome this development, and we hope that the example may be followed in future. When a draft bill is made available for pre-legislative scrutiny, it can only be beneficial for the delegated powers to be subject to scrutiny at an early stage.

Government replies to Reports from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee

10. We have considered the recommendation made in paragraph 50 of the Special Report from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, Session 1997-98. That recommendation related to the examination of bills by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. After welcoming the practice of some Government Departments of responding in writing to the Committee's recommendations, the Committee went on: "We invite the Liaison Committee to consider whether all Departments should, in future, respond succinctly in writing to those recommendations from this Committee for which they are responsible. We consider that it could assist the House's deliberations if such letters were routinely made available to front-bench spokesmen on the Bill in question, and placed in the Library of the House".

11. We endorse this recommendation, including the proposal that copies of responses should be provided to front-bench spokesmen and placed in the Library of the House. Whereas responses to reports from other committees are expected to be produced within two months (or six months in the case of the Science and Technology Committee), it would not be appropriate to lay down a time limit for such responses. They need to be made in good time for amendments to be tabled to the bill in question. In some cases that will require Departments to act within a few days, and we recognise that occasionally the timetable for the passage of a bill may make the provision of a written response impracticable.

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