Annual Report 2002-03



51. There has been a significant growth in select committee activity in recent years and there were further important developments in 2002-03. Activity centred on the continuing work of the four sessional Select Committees, two ad hoc Select Committees, and on collaborating with the Commons in servicing the Joint Committee on Human Rights and two joint pre-legislative scrutiny Committees.

European Union Committee

52. Lord Grenfell succeeded Lord Brabazon of Tara as Chairman of the Committee in November 2002. The Committee's six Sub-Committees published 33 reports and a significant amount of correspondence with ministers on EU scrutiny matters. For the first time, the Committee took evidence from the European Commission on its Annual Work Programme. This complemented the scrutiny already undertaken in respect of the European Council and the six-monthly Council Presidency. At the end of 2002, the Committee published a Review of Scrutiny of EU Legislation, as proposed by the Group on the Working Practices of the House. The Report made some 70 recommendations, directed to the Government, to the Committee itself and to the Convention on the Future of Europe.

53. Lord Tomlinson and Lord Maclennan of Rogart served as Alternate Representatives of the United Kingdom Parliament to the Convention on the Future of Europe, which is preparing a draft of a new constitutional treaty for the European Union. The Committee heard evidence and reported upon Convention drafts. During the year, the House of Commons appointed a Standing Committee on the Convention.

Sub-Committee D: Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer Protection (Chairman: the Earl of Selbourne) of the European Union Committee receiving evidence in the course of its enquiry into the Challenge of Waste Management.

The purpose of this Committee was to enable the two Commons' Members of the Convention and the two Lords Alternate Members to make statements and be questioned about the work of the Convention; there then followed an opportunity for general debate. Unusually, Members of the House of Lords were enabled to take part in these proceedings and frequently did so.

Science and Technology Committee

54. The Committee continued to operate through its two Sub-Committees. Reports were published on Systematic Biology and Britain's Micro-chip Industry. New inquiries began into Fighting Infection, and Science in the Regional Development Agencies.

Constitution Committee

55. This Committee concluded its Report on Devolution: Inter-institutional Relations in the UK, and began a new inquiry into the Accountability of Regulators. It appointed a Legal Adviser (on specialist adviser terms) to assist with its scrutiny work, and published seven reports on bills which raised matters of constitutional significance.

Economic Affairs Committee

56. The Committee concluded its long inquiry into Globalisation and a much shorter one on Recent Developments in Monetary Policy, and initiated a new inquiry into the Economics of an Ageing Population. Preparations were made for the appointment of a Sub-Committee to consider the Finance Bill, following the Report of the Group on the Working Practices of the House (see paragraph 2).

Joint Committee on Human Rights

57. The Joint Committee of six Members from each House, chaired by Jean Corston MP, published its first major Report, on The Case for a Human Rights Commission. This followed a thorough programme of evidence gathering which included a visit to India, Australia and New Zealand. The Committee also continued its extensive consideration of legislative scrutiny, publishing 15 reports on bills and draft bills.

Ad Hoc Committees

58. The Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures continued its work, including the holding of a conference which brought together witnesses from all sides of this highly polarised debate to discuss key areas. The Report, published in July 2002, argued that research using animals was still necessary, but that more could be done to find alternatives. A further ad hoc Committee was set up on Religious Offences, chaired by Viscount Colville of Culross. The Committee pursued two principal themes: whether existing religious offences (notably blasphemy) should be amended or abolished or left alone, and whether a new offence of incitement to religious hatred should be created and, if so, how it should be defined. The Committee, which reported in May 2003, agreed that a degree of legal protection of faith should be accorded, equally available to all faiths. On matters of detail, where consensus was unlikely, the Committee provided an analysis of the issues so as to inform further debate rather than seek to make specific recommendations.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

59. A Joint Committee, chaired by Lord Puttnam, considered a draft of the Communications Bill in June and July 2002. Its Report attracted considerable interest and was referred to throughout the passage of the Communications Bill, introduced in the following session. Preparations were made for a further Joint Committee on the draft Corruption Bill which was appointed in April 2003, with Lord Slynn of Hadley as Chairman. Providing resources at short notice for pre-legislative committees to conduct their work effectively is difficult. Following the experience of the Committee on the Communications Bill, steps were taken to enable the House more readily to meet the staffing needs of such committees.

Public Presentation of Committee Work

60. A number of steps were taken during the year to improve public understanding of the committee work of the House. A new Weekly Bulletin setting out the current programme of work of Lords' select committees was designed and launched at the end of the reporting period. A new style of layout for select committee reports was designed in conjunction with The Stationery Office and will be introduced with effect from the beginning of the 2003-04 session. A Press and Publicity Officer (Committees) was appointed to assist in promoting contact with the press and in generating press releases and other publicity.

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