CHAPTER 4: OTHER COMMITTEES
39. Looking at the Committee's terms of reference
in another way, we agreed that there is a possibility that we
might duplicate the work of existing parliamentary committees.
Having more than one committee engaged on the same task can either
be a waste of time, if they come up with the same result, or divisive,
if they come up with different results and the Government is able
to play them off against each other. These disadvantages in our
view outweigh any gains there might be from constructive tension
between two committees engaged in similar work. We accordingly
wish to avoid duplicating the work of other committees: in particular
those whose work is described in the following paragraphs. We
are taking steps to ensure communication between officials and
in that context we are particularly grateful for the offers of
assistance we have received.
40. The Royal Commission's recommendation for a Constitution
Committee included proposing consideration of a sub-committee
of the Constitution Committee "to serve as the focus for
the second chamber's interest in Human Rights".
Last session the two Houses in fact appointed a Joint Committee
on Human Rights and are expected to re-appoint that Committee
this session. Given this development, we have decided to steer
clear of Human Rights issues, while keeping in touch with the
Joint Committee on Human Rights to ensure an exchange of information
and papers as appropriate.
41. The work of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation
Committee has already been discussed. It could be argued that
the delegation of legislative powers is a constitutional matter,
as it is concerned with the balance between the executive and
the legislature. We will ensure that our work does not overlap
with that of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee,
who are already well aware of the relevant constitutional issues
and keep them under review.
The two committees will exchange papers and information as necessary.
42. The relationship between the United Kingdom and
the European Union is of first class constitutional importance.
Indeed, many would argue that any bill to alter that relationship
would be a matter for the Constitution Committee to consider.
The Committee will, however, wish to avoid conducting general
inquiries into the constitutional relationship between the United
Kingdom and the European Union, as the House already has a European
Union Select Committee which not only scrutinises individual proposals
for European law but also conducts in-depth inquiries into cross-cutting
European issues, such as the work of the IGC. The Constitution
Committee will need to be aware of the work of the EU Committee,
when this covers matters of constitutional sensitivity. In the
long-term, there may be a role for the Constitution Committee
in examining European issues, but in the immediate future co-operation
between the clerks and advisers will in our view be more than
43. Reform of the House of Lords is a constitutional
matter. In the light of the proposal for a Joint Committee on
House of Lords Reform, however, we will not make this a topic
of inquiry, at least for the near future. It should, however,
be noted that during a Starred Question on 14th November 2000,
the Leader of the House, Baroness Jay of Paddington, said that
the proposed terms of reference of the Constitution Committee
would "mean that the Committee could, if it wished, consider
the exercise of the House's guardianship of the constitution."
This could include a study of the special power given to the House
of Lords by the exclusion from the Parliament Acts procedure of
any bill to prolong the life of a Parliament.
44. The House of Commons does not have a Select Committee
covering the constitution. The Public Administration Committee
does, however, consider topics with a constitutional flavour.
We will accordingly wish to work closely with that Committee.
45. It could also be argued that reforms to the House
of Commons, designed to strengthen their ability to scrutinise
and hold the Government to account, could be said to be of constitutional
interest, as they too affect the relationship between the Government
and Parliament. The House of Commons, however, already has a Modernisation
Committee, a Procedure Committee and a Liaison Committee, all
of which look at questions of this kind and we would not wish
to overlap with their work. It would be unfortunate if a Lords
committee were thought to be muscling in on the internal business
of the Commons, and this would be unwelcome, although we might
wish to consider the implications for the broader interests of
this House, and of Parliament as a whole, of any such reforms.
46. All of the committee Chairmen that we spoke to
welcomed the possibility of co-operation with our committee (QQ 11,
39, 85, 109). Jean Corston, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human
Rights, in particular suggested that there should be co-operation
not only between officials involving exchanging of papers but
also between the Chairs of the various committees (Q 40).
Generally, witnesses suggested that there was a need for
committees to complement each other by agreement and avoid duplication
and overlap (QQ 73, 130). Baroness Jay of Paddington suggested
that we would need to avoid being so distinct from the work of
other committees that there was nothing interesting left for us
to do while at the same time avoiding duplication (Q 196).
Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the European Union Committee, went so
far as to suggest that committees should exchange information
before deciding which was best placed to conduct a particular
inquiry (Q 109). Jean Corston too stressed the importance
of using "the very significant resources" of her committee
and ours to avoid duplication of effort (Q 52). As far as
substantive issues were concerned, Lord Alexander of Weedon stressed
that the DPDC's role was only constitutional with regard
to secondary legislation (Q 10); Professor Feldman, Legal
Adviser to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, stressed that
"all rights are potentially constitutional but it depends
on the context as to whether they are or not" (Q 42);
the European Union Committee drew attention to work they already
did to avoid crossed wires with other committees both at Westminster
and beyond (QQ 1145); while Tony Wright said that
his committee did go into constitutional areas and gave specific
examples (QQ 8590).
47. We note that the committees whose relationship
with us is most pertinent would be the Lords European Union Committee
and (as it now is) the Delegated Powers and Regulatory
Reform Committee; the Joint Committee on Human Rights; and the
Public Administration Committee in the House of Commons. Many
other parliamentary committees, however, could also conduct inquiries
into matters which could be thought to be constitutional, examples
include the Procedure, Liaison and Scottish Affairs Committees
in the Commons.
48. It is our view that there is little point in
duplicating the work of these and other committees. We accordingly
asked ourselves whether we should try to carve out a unique and
discrete area for ourselves or accept that there is a need for
some overlap and try to work to make this complementary rather
than duplicatory. It is our conclusion that we will not be too
dogmatic about this. In considering which topics to examine, we
will of course take into account whether or not an issue has been
or could be considered by another committee. If we discover that
it has, or could be, this may not necessarily preclude us from
examining it but it might prompt us to give priority instead to
issues that fall exclusively or primarily within our own remit.
Where we do decide to examine an issue that overlaps with the
remit of another committee we will of course need to ensure liaison
with that committee, in what we hope would be a mutual spirit
of collaboration, in addition to the ongoing exchange of information
and papers that we will work to establish with all relevant committees.
On certain occasions, indeed, we may ask another committee to
work with us, either formally of informally.
49. We do not say much here about the mechanics we
will employ for liaising with other committees: the staff of the
House, both Clerks and Legal Advisers, are aware of these issues
and will work as they always do to ensure appropriate co-operation.
We should note, however, that we are particularly grateful that
the legal advisers of the Human Rights Committee, the European
Union Committee and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee
have already appeared before us and we will wish to make
best use of the available expertise in the future. Accordingly,
we do not seek to ask the House to appoint a free-standing
Legal Adviser for our committee. We do not feel that, in the light
of the co-operation we have been offered, such an appointment
could be justified. We will of course, in the usual way, seek
to appoint specialist advisers on particular topics of inquiry.
20 Op Cit n2 above para 5.33. Back
For example, in their Annual Reports and their submission to the
Royal Commission, which we have studied and found interesting. Back
cols 124ff. Back
Its Terms of Reference are "to examine on behalf of the House
of Commons the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Administration, of the Health Service Commissioners for England,
Scotland and Wales and of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Northern
Ireland, which are laid before this House, and matters in connection
therewith; and to consider matters relating to the quality and
standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments,
and other matters relating to the Civil Service". Its constitution
and powers are set out in House of Commons Standing Order No.
The last of these has reported on multi-layered democracy (2nd
Report Session 1997-98, HC 460). Back
We have in mind here, as an example, the case for possible joint
sessions of evidence, to avoid witnesses coming before two parliamentary