Review of Investigative Select Committee activity in 2017–18 Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction


1.The House of Lords has a wide range of select committees. The 2010–15 Parliament saw a considerable expansion in select committee activity, with an increase of ad hoc committees (from one to four each session) and the introduction of post-legislative scrutiny committees. There was a further expansion in the 2016–17 session with the establishment of a new sessional committee on International Relations. During 2017–18 no new sessional committee was set up, but the Lord Speaker established a committee on the size of the House, with the aim of achieving a degree of consensus about the way in which the membership of the House might be reduced. The Committee Office expanded its business as usual activity over 2017–18. Twenty committees were active over the period from State Opening 2017 to 15 April 2018 (including two joint committees and seven sub-committees), and in total 109 select committee reports were published during the year. There was thus more committee activity in the House of Lords than ever before.

2.Whilst the extent of House of Lords committees is considerable, this activity has developed organically, over time. With this in mind, in October 2015 the Liaison Committee announced a full review of the structure of investigative committees in what was then expected to be the 2017–18 session: that review has now been extended with the view in mind that it will be completed before the end of the current two year session. The Liaison Committee has carried out regular smaller scale reviews, and in recent years has published a report focusing on the highlights of the previous session, with a longer report covering the impact of committees during the 2010–15 Parliament. As the present session is intended to last for two years, 2017–19, the present highlights report for the most part covers the period from the 2017 General Election to April 2018. This report includes the work of the four ad hoc committees which reported in March–April 2018.

3.Exceptionally high levels of committee activity continued throughout 2017–18, including engagement with the public by Twitter and other means. In the House of Commons there is typically a lull in Committee work following a General Election, and this was the case after the snap election in 2017. Several commentators noted with approval that Lords committees were quickly re-appointed, and were thus able to ensure that scrutiny continued.

The Lord Speaker’s committee on the Size of the House

4.As a point of interest the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House reported in October 2017, and suggested that, over the next decade, the membership of the House of Lords should be reduced by around a quarter to 600. The size would then be capped at that number, with new members appointed in line with election results and serving fixed terms of 15 years. The House debated the proposals in December 2017, and the Prime Minister set out her response in a letter to the Lord Speaker on 20 February 2018. At the time of writing, the committee had reconvened at the Lord Speaker’s request, and discussions were taking place with the Usual Channels.

The Jellicoe Committee (1992) and subsequent developments

5.The current review is the first overarching review since 1992. Following concerns about pressures on the committee resources of the House, which had briefly been considered by a working group in 1988, the Jellicoe Committee was established in 1991 to conduct the first comprehensive review of the use of committees in the House. It reported in 1992 and put forward proposals for a “more balanced and structured committee system”,1 including a recommendation that ad hoc committees should become a regular part of the House’s work and that limited experiments should also be conducted with the use of public bill committees, special standing committees and a Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which was accordingly established in 1992.

6.When the Jellicoe Committee reported there were only two sessional investigative committees in the House of Lords. The European Communities Committee (now the European Union Committee) was established in 1974, and its success led to the establishment of the Science and Technology Committee in 1979. Following the establishment of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee (which, with an expanded remit, is now the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee) there was a pause in further new sessional committees until 2001, when the Select Committees on the Constitution and on Economic Affairs were first appointed. Since then further committees have been added to the structure: the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments (now the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee) in 2004 and the Communications Committee in 2007. As we have already seen, the 2010–15 Parliament saw further significant expansion, followed by the establishment of the International Relations Committee at the start of the 2016–17 session.

7.The impact of the EU referendum result on the scrutiny work of the House of Lords has given the review added importance and timeliness. The present report, like its predecessor on the 2016–17 session, provides useful background information for the review.

1 Liaison Committee, Review of Investigative Select Committee Activity in Session 2016–17 (1st report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 13)

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