Review of Investigative Select Committee activity in 2017–18 Contents

Chapter 3: Ad Hoc Committees

Introduction

62.The State Opening of Parliament on 21 June 2017 resulted in the four new ad hoc committees being appointed later in the year than is usually the case. Although they were appointed swiftly, only a few days after the State Opening, the committees inevitably had slightly less time available for their inquiries than in previous years. Nevertheless, they all managed to agree their reports by the deadline set by the House, and the reports were published in March and April 2018.

63.Since the expansion of ad hoc activity in the 2010–15 Parliament most ad hoc committees have been appointed for a session. In the light of the anticipated two-year session the 2017–18 committees were ordered to report by 31 March 2018, creating a calendar deadline rather than the end of the session.

Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence

64.The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Committee was established “to consider the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in artificial intelligence” on 29 June 2017.47 The Committee received 223 pieces of written evidence, and took oral evidence from 57 witnesses during 22 public sessions. The Committee undertook visits to businesses working with AI (including to DeepMind and Microsoft Research) and, with techUK, convened a roundtable discussion with UK-based companies developing artificial intelligence.

65.The Committee also took the unusual but welcome step as an ad hoc committee of setting up its own Twitter account for the duration of the inquiry (@LordsAICom). The account rapidly gained attention, ending with 3316 followers. A presence on social media helped to encourage more written submissions, and the account was used to provide guidance on how to prepare and submit evidence to Parliament. By having its own account, the Committee was able to engage with the AI development sector, and those interested in technology, in a more direct way than would have been possible using the main corporate account. For example, the AI Committee directed the staff to adopt a light-hearted tone in its use of Twitter.

66.On 16 April 2018, the Committee published its report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?48 The report noted that the UK contains leading AI companies, a dynamic academic research culture, and a vigorous start-up ecosystem as well as a host of legal, ethical, financial and linguistic strengths. It concluded that the UK is therefore in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of artificial intelligence. The Committee also concluded that ethics must be at the centre of the development and use of AI, and the report recommended the development of a cross-sector AI Code. The Committee’s recommendations focused on realising the potential of AI for society, the UK economy, and to protect society from potential threats and risks.

67.On the day of publication, the Committee held an event at the Royal Society with policymakers, industry and academia to discuss the findings of the report, and to ensure that the AI community in the UK could take forward the Committee’s recommendations to Government and beyond. The report received widespread attention in the media, with coverage in every major domestic newspaper, the technology sector press, as well as from media abroad. The report’s hashtag, #LordsAIreport, trended on Twitter nationally for much of the morning of the report’s publication day.

68.The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in the chamber of the House of Commons that the report “was one of the best reports by a Lords Select Committee I have ever read, so we [the Government] are taking it extremely seriously.”49

Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement

69.The Committee was appointed on 29 June 2017 with the broad remit “to consider citizenship and civic engagement.”50 The Call for Evidence was distributed by the Parliament Education and Engagement Service to some 17,000 people. In reply the Committee received over 250 submissions. It heard oral evidence from 58 witnesses, 22 of them women. The Committee held an informal seminar and a session to hear the views of young people. The Committee also undertook three visits: to Clacton-on-Sea, to Sheffield and to watch a Citizenship Ceremony in Westminster City Hall.

70.An important topic was integration. In December 2016 Dame Louise Casey published a major Review into Opportunity and Integration. The Government initially promised a response in Spring 2017. It was hoped that the Committee would be able to take evidence on the Government’s proposals. However, none had been published by the time the Committee took evidence from Dame Louise a year after the publication of her report. The Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy green paper was published in March 2018 as the Committee met to consider its draft report for the third time. Two further meetings were therefore needed to draft the necessary amendments, which were incorporated into the report on 28 March 2018, just within the Committee’s reporting deadline.

71.The Committee also took the novel step of including on its website a web forum allowing interested persons to exchange views on the Committee’s work without submitting formal evidence, which resulted in considerable interest.

72.The Committee concluded that the Government needed to adopt a more holistic, cross-departmental approach to citizenship matters. The Committee regretted that the Government’s consultations on integration had been running since 2015, and concluded that the time for action had arrived. The report was published on 18 April, when the Chairman gave interviews on BBC local radio, and the report is continuing to generate interest in the national and specialist press.

Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (post-legislative scrutiny)

73.The Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 published its report on 22 March 2018. The report was the culmination of an extensive post-legislative scrutiny inquiry during which the Committee heard from 41 witnesses and received 95 submissions of written evidence. Submissions to the Committee were made by a range of non-governmental organisations, campaigning groups, interested individuals, and public sector bodies.

74.The inquiry considered the work of Natural England (which was established by the 2006 Act), the measures taken by the Government to support rural communities, and the operation of the Section 40 biodiversity duty. Two Specialist Advisers were appointed, given the wide range of themes contained within the original Act. The Committee sought to take account of a number of changes that had taken place since enactment of the legislation, including the EU referendum result, changes to the structures used to deliver support to rural communities, the development of new methods of approaching and valuing biodiversity, and the publication of the Government’s 25-year environmental plan.

75.The Committee made a total of 45 recommendations and conclusions, with the majority of these focusing upon the operation of Natural England and the Government’s approach towards rural communities. On the day of report publication the Chairman of the Committee was interviewed on the BBC Today programme; there was also extensive coverage of the report on the BBC regional radio network and on Farming Today. The Chairman was also interviewed for BBC television, with footage subsequently used on BBC Breakfast and national and regional news programmes. These pieces featured comment from organisations which had given evidence to the Committee, including the Ramblers’ Association. The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and a number of regional print publications also ran stories on the report.

76.Responses to the report were positive. The Rural Services Network stated:“We welcome such a thoughtful, detailed and hard-hitting report – and we agree that closure of the Commission for Rural Communities was to the detriment of rural communities.”51

77.Action with Communities in Rural England also welcomed the report, as follows: “ACRE welcomes the publication of a new report released today by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The report provides an important opportunity to discuss the issues most pertinent to those living and working in rural England and to consider the most effective way to support rural communities through times of change.”52

78.Reflecting upon the natural environment aspects of the report, the President of the Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management stated:

“I read with great pleasure their Lordships’ recommendations. It is clear that they have listened to, and acted upon, the evidence of CIEEM and other environmental bodies. We particularly welcome their recommendations regarding the need for a new and powerful environmental watchdog, restoring both the independence and funding of Natural England, devoting appropriate funding to the Nature Recovery Network, delivering biodiversity net gain, and strengthening the ‘biodiversity duty’ on public bodies.”53

Select Committee on Political Polling and Digital Media

79.The Committee was appointed on 29 June 2017 “to consider the effects of political polling and digital media on politics.”54 The Committee took oral evidence from 40 witnesses over 23 evidence sessions, including polling companies, the British Polling Council, the BBC and Sky News, the Electoral Commission, Impress and IPSO, and a number of academic experts. The Committee also received 31 submissions of written evidence and held a number of informal briefings in order to delve in detail into some of the topics raised.

80.During the inquiry, the Committee examined the challenges facing polling companies and highlighted some of the issues which currently make polling hard to do, including the difficulty of persuading a representative range of members of the public to take part in polls, shifting demographic predictors of the vote, and an increasingly volatile electorate. The Committee also considered how polls were reported on by the media and others, and the ways in which such reporting could affect the political narrative surrounding elections and referendums.

81.One of the major themes identified by the Committee was the lack of oversight of the polling industry. The Committee concluded that the role of the British Polling Council should be widened to take on a more substantial oversight function, and that in future it should work more closely with the Electoral Commission, the Market Research Society and media regulators such as IPSO and IMPRESS to ensure that the best methodologies are used, that sources of poll funding are declared, that polls are better reported and that polling performance is openly reviewed after each general election.

82.As for digital media, when recommending the establishment of the Political Polling and Digital Media (PPDM) Committee, the Liaison Committee suggested that the inquiry might include consideration of the influence of social and digital media on political debate. As the inquiry progressed, however, it soon became clear to the PPDM Committee that this was simply too large and complex a topic to cover as part of its inquiry. The Chairman of the PPDM Committee, Lord Lipsey, therefore wrote to the Liaison Committee to suggest that another ad hoc committee should be established in the future to consider this matter in more depth. The Liaison Committee did not recommend the establishment of such a committee in 2018, and in its report the PPDM Committee strongly urged the Liaison Committee to consider the establishment of such a committee in the future, and suggested that it should be considered as part of the ongoing review into the House’s select committee structure.

83.The PPDM Committee’s report was published on 17 April and was welcomed by the British Polling Council. Professor Sir John Curtice, President of the British Polling Council, said:

“Today’s report is a welcome contribution to a considered, informed discussion of the conduct and reporting of opinion polls in Britain. The Council welcomes the fact that the Committee recognised the weight of evidence put before it that a ban on the publication of polls would neither be desirable nor effective. At the same time, the Council accepts that the polling industry has a duty to promote high standards in the conduct and reporting of polls and will now consider how it, in collaboration with other bodies, can enhance the considerable efforts that it already makes to achieve that objective.”55

84.On the day of publication, the Chairman and another Member of the Committee spoke at a UCL Constitution Unit seminar held in Parliament. The event enabled Members of the Committee to discuss the report with others in the sector and the general public, and provided a useful opportunity to build momentum for change within the industry.


47 HL Deb, 29 June 2017, col 562

48 Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? (Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 100)

49 HC Deb, 10 May 2018, col 882

50 HL Deb, 29 June 2017, col 562

51 Rural Services Network, Rural Services Network responds to the House of Lords (22nd March 2018): http://rsnonline.org.uk/rural-services-network-responds-to-house-of-lords-countryside-at-a- crossroads-report [accessed 30 May 2018]

52 Action with Communities in Rural England, ‘ACRE welcomes the publication of a new report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006’ (22nd March 2018): http://www.acre.org.uk/news/2018-03-22-acre-welcomes-the-publication-of-a-new-report-by-the-house-of-lords-select-committee-on-the-natural-environment-and-rural-communities-act-2006 [accessed 20 May 2018]

53 The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), ‘CIEEM welcomes Select Committee report on NERC Act’, (22nd March 2018): https://www.cieem.net/news/470/cieem- welcomes-select-committee-report-on-nerc-act [accessed 30 May 2018]

54 HL Deb, 29 June 2017, col 563

55 British Polling Council Press Release, ‘British Polling Council Welcomes Lords Committee Report on Polling’, (17 April 2018): http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/category/press-releases/ [accessed 5 June 2018]




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