Review of House of Lords Investigative and Scrutiny Committees: towards a new thematic committee structure Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Purpose of committees and underlying principles

1.We conclude that scrutiny of Government, influencing policy, informing debate in the House and beyond, engaging with the public and detailed investigation are key purposes to House of Lords committees. (Paragraph 28)

2.We believe that House of Lords committees should be:

3.We recommend that House of Lords committees should continue to be cross-cutting in nature, working across a number of Government departments and with the ability to consider major policy issues with the requisite degree of breadth and depth. This is a strength of the current arrangements and should be maintained going forward. This approach helps to ensure that our committees complement, rather than duplicate, the departmental approach of the House of Commons. (Paragraph 34)

4.We consider that the structure of our committee work should be comprehensive in order to minimise the potential for scrutiny gaps and assist the House in its function as a revising Chamber. The incremental development of our committee structure to date has resulted in some scrutiny gaps. Our recommendations in this report seek to address this situation. (Paragraph 37)

5.We believe that House of Lords committees should develop greater flexibility to enable their work to respond to the changing external environment, whilst simultaneously addressing new challenges. Our approach to committee work should be responsive and agile enough to allow committees to horizon scan, deal with emerging themes and respond to constant societal and technological changes. (Paragraph 41)

Delivering a new committee structure

6.We recommend that the House move towards an expanded thematic structure for its committees along the following broad subject areas:

Current committees

Proposed committees

Communications

Communications and Digital

Constitution

Constitution

Economic Affairs

Economic Affairs

International Relations

International Relations and Defence

Public Services

Science and Technology

Science and Technology

Alongside a Continuing European Union Committee (see paragraph 51 below). (Paragraph 50)

7.We propose, however, that committee Chairs should be able to make an annual request to the Liaison Committee for the power and resources to appoint a sub-committee, prior to the re-appointment of the relevant committee in the next session. We suggest that any such request should usually be received by the end of February. The Liaison Committee would then assess whether or not to support such a request, based upon the case presented and the resources available at that time. If necessary, following Liaison Committee consideration, such requests would be referred to the Finance Committee and House of Lords Commission for consideration of any resource implications. (Paragraph 55)

8.Whilst we recommend moving to a system of thematic committees, it is not envisaged that this new system will broadly change the way in which committees currently work nor the way they are appointed. We believe this new structure will allow committees to maintain and use the strengths of in depth, detailed inquiries that House of Lords committees currently carry out. (Paragraph 56)

9.We recommend the appointment of a Public Services Committee in the next session, with terms of reference which require it to consider public services, including health and education. (Paragraph 59)

10.We recommend that, in future, the member of the House who has proposed a shortlisted special inquiry topic be invited to appear before the Liaison Committee to present their case in person. The Committee will then consider their representations before deciding which inquiry topics to propose for the agreement of the House. We hope that this new process will reassure Members that their case has been heard, loud and clear. (Paragraph 65)

11.We recommend that at an appropriate period of time after the publication of the special inquiry committee’s report, receipt of the Government’s response and a debate in the House, the Chair of the former Committee may write to the Chair of the Liaison Committee and make the case for the Liaison Committee to hold a small number of evidence sessions to follow up the special inquiry committee’s recommendations. If the Liaison Committee accepts the case for follow up, then it will co-opt the Chair and three members of the former committee (ensuring one member from each group, including the Chair) onto the Liaison Committee with a view to holding two or three evidence sessions, as necessary, ideally in one meeting. This would be followed by a very short Liaison Committee report, to which the Government must respond in the usual fashion. (Paragraph 68)

12.We recommend that the work of the following joint committees (in addition to occasional draft bill joint committees) should continue largely unchanged:

Legislative scrutiny

13.We strongly endorse the work of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC) and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC), and note that the reports of the DPRRC and SLSC are frequently referred to in debates in both Houses of Parliament. (Paragraph 88)

14.We strongly endorse the importance of scrutiny of draft bills. While accepting that it is inevitable that there will be peaks and troughs in the availability of draft bills, we consider that the Government should attempt to provide greater certainty as to the timetabling of pre-legislative scrutiny committees. We recommend that committees should, where appropriate, consider undertaking the scrutiny of a draft bill within their terms of reference. (Paragraph 93)

15.Noting the success of the House of Lords post-legislative scrutiny committees, and the fact that Commons committees have limited capacity to conduct in-depth reviews, we recommend that the Lords should in future play a more systematic role in post-legislative scrutiny, working in partnership with Commons committees. (Paragraph 103)

16.We consider that post-legislative scrutiny inquiries are better suited to retaining a dedicated post-legislative scrutiny committee under the existing system. This committee should continue to operate on the same basis as our current post-legislative scrutiny activity, with committee Chairs and members appointed on an annual basis and the topic decided by the Liaison Committee. (Paragraph 104)

17.We consider that Government Memoranda on Acts should be presented to the House of Lords as well as to Commons committees, and recommend that this practice should start as soon as practicable, with the Memoranda being presented to the Lords Liaison Committee. (Paragraph 106)

18.We also recommend the establishment of a central database of post-implementation memoranda, together with a list of post-legislative scrutiny reviews conducted by Parliament, with the relevant Government response. (Paragraph 107)

Communications and public engagement

19.We recommend that a weekly report should be circulated to all members of the House summarising committee work. This report could include newsworthy developments, summaries of evidence sessions, upcoming events and report summaries. This report should be separate to current documents provided for the information of members such as Red Benches. (Paragraph 113)

20.In order to improve the timeliness of debates on committee reports, we recommend that reports should usually be debated within three sitting months of publication, to ensure relevance when the debate is held. If a Government response is delayed beyond the usual two month period without the written agreement of the committee, that should not be considered a valid reason for delaying the debate on the report. We note that the House of Lords Companion to the Standing Orders states that the convention that debate takes place after the government have responded is subject to the proviso “unless the committee wishes otherwise”. (Paragraph 115)

21.We recommend that the Procedure Committee consider the order of speakers in debates on committee reports, in particular, consideration of whether the relevant Minister should speak at the beginning of a committee report debate, after its introduction, rather than the end, as at present. (Paragraph 116)

22.In order to assist in internal promotion of committee reports, we recommend that the Procedure Committee should examine ways in which opportunities could be made available to highlight important committee work on the floor of the House. (Paragraph 118)

23.We recommend that there should be formal communications strategies agreed at the outset of all major committee inquires. The outline plan for communications should promote member engagement throughout the inquiry and after report publication. (Paragraph 122)

24.We recommend that stakeholder mapping should be part of the standard process carried out at the beginning of each inquiry. The mapping should involve committee members and aim to identify individuals and organisations to be directly involved in the inquiry for formal evidence, as well as individuals and organisations in wider civic society who might find the inquiry and report of interest. (Paragraph 124)

25.There should be an effort to understand how successful press coverage is achieved. Whilst appearing on national TV and radio is positive for report publications, there should also be targeting to technical and regional press outlets where individuals are affected by the topics at hand. Similarly, a greater understanding is needed of how successful social and digital engagement is being achieved and how it can be improved. (Paragraph 126)

26.There should be an increase in the use of active social media and digital platforms across committees. (Paragraph 129)

27.We recommend that there should be an increase in the number of events and seminars that are held during the course of major inquiries and report publication, in an effort for committees to broaden their audience and impact. This might involve:

(a)initial roundtables of stakeholders at the beginning of the process prior to formal evidence sessions

(b)visits to include open meetings with academics, businesses and other stakeholders—some of which should involve local/regional/specialist media

(c)use of focus groups or equivalent representation of general public from across the country

(d)presentation of the final report to a range of stakeholders, including but not limited to business, university or professional bodies with media presence. (Paragraph 130)

28.It was also suggested that one way to increase the public or semi-public activity would be to include the Lord Speaker or the Senior Deputy Speaker in some of these events, and for a number of events in relation to report publication or later relevance to be run by the Lord Speaker or Senior Deputy Speaker and supported by the relevant committee. (Paragraph 131)

29.We consider that the key benefit of House of Lords committees using social media is the opportunity this provides for witnesses and other stakeholders to comment interactively. (Paragraph 135)

30.We conclude that the need for, and benefits of engagement that witnesses presented, alongside the solutions recommended, significantly outweigh the possible risks that accompany increased engagement. (Paragraph 136)

31.As one of the principal means for the public to engage with Parliament, committee websites should remain a priority. The work that is taking place to develop new committee websites will be of vital importance in ensuring that our committees are properly equipped to engage with stakeholders and the wider public. (Paragraph 143)

32.Parliament must meet its legal and ethical duties to ensure that its new website is accessible to as many people as possible. (Paragraph 144)

33.As much committee information as possible should be made available using ‘open data’ principles. (Paragraph 145)

34.Whilst it is acknowledged that there is a place for the current style and substance of House of Lords committee reports, there needs to be active work towards producing committee reports in a variety of formats that are more accessible to a wider audience. This could include condensed reports, summaries through infographics, and interactive presentations. A full assessment of the possibilities should be carried out in order to establish the most useful and engaging style which would be appropriate to the subject matter of, and likely target audience for, the report. (Paragraph 146)

35.In future we think it likely that more people will wish to engage with House of Lords committees through Mass Online Forums, and we accordingly recommend that the new parliamentary website should be developed with that in mind. (Paragraph 147)

36.It should be ensured that no procedural or technical restrictions impair the ability of committees to accept evidence in alternative formats. (Paragraph 148)

Working with the House of Commons and devolved legislatures

37.We welcome the suggestion from House of Commons colleagues that the two Liaison Committees should meet together from time to time, and hope that this can be piloted on an informal basis in the next Parliamentary session. This would provide a valuable mechanism for closer joint working between the two Houses, and could deliver a more comprehensive approach to Parliamentary scrutiny. (Paragraph 156)

38.We recommend that House of Lords committees should continue to pursue ways of meeting on an informal basis with House of Commons committees. The Liaison Committee will continue to support and seek to enable such work. (Paragraph 160)

39.We consider that House of Lords committees should seek to take into account relevant work by the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. (Paragraph 165)

40.Dialogue between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly is very important. Our evidence demonstrates the positive experience of informal joint working structures such as the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit. We recommend that this format should be encouraged further to facilitate other discussions of cross-party concerns of the devolved legislatures and the UK Parliament. (Paragraph 166)

41.Informal joint working still requires resource, mostly by way of staff support but with a small amount of expenditure needed for travel to other legislatures in the United Kingdom when it is their turn to host the informal meetings. Hitherto this activity has been organised by the House of Lords Committee Office. If this important work develops further, as we hope it will, then consideration should be given to providing dedicated resources for inter-parliamentary dialogue within the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 167)

Committee Chairs and Members

42.There is a difficult balance to be struck between facilitating continuity of membership and expertise whilst also providing new members with the opportunity to serve on committees. In particular, there could be a case for providing a degree of flexibility in the three-year rotation rule when its rigid application would result in a large number of members of a committee being “rotated off” simultaneously, or in the event of a very short parliamentary session being held. We recommend that the Procedure Committee gives further consideration to the operation of the rotation rule in due course. (Paragraph 173)

43.On balance, we do not recommend the election of Chairs of House of Lords committees. (Paragraph 179)

44.We support the recommendation of the Gender-Sensitive Parliament Audit that CPD must be publicised and expanded. We further recommend that CPD should be regarded as an integral part of the role of committee Chairs and members, focused upon specific areas of requirement, such as press and media training. (Paragraph 189)

45.We recommend that the Committee Office should produce a general guide to House of Lords committees for members of the House, including guidance as to where to go for further information about membership and the work of current committees. (Paragraph 194)

46.We have already changed the term “ad hoc” committee to special inquiry committee, and consider that other small changes, in particular replacing the term Chairman with Chair, would be appropriate. We intend to review the language and terminology used in committee proceedings more systematically, and to recommend further changes later this year. (Paragraph 195)

Committee witnesses and evidence

47.Expanding the variety of voices that a committee hears from is important to ensure that committees are undertaking their role most effectively. Diversity comes in many forms, and hearing a range of different perspectives means that committees are better informed and can more effectively scrutinise public policy and legislation. (Paragraph 200)

48.We endorse the work of the witness diversity working group, and encourage the implementation and continued reflection of the success of these recommendations and the impact they have on committee output. (Paragraph 201)

49.We encourage the introduction of a formal monitoring system for committee witness diversity as soon as possible in order to better understand the current witness base, as well as to track and monitor the progress we make in hearing the views of a greater variety of voices. (Paragraph 203)

50.We endorse the various techniques that have been used by the 2018–19 special inquiry committees to gather evidence. We support the ongoing use of innovative ways to collect evidence and expand the variety of voices that committees hear from. Committees should continue to develop new techniques to gather evidence, ensuring that such techniques are tailored to the individual aims of the committee and inquiry, as and when they are used. (Paragraph 210)

Committee rooms and restoration and renewal

51.The Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster provides an important opportunity to address this situation. As there is a separate consultation exercise under way we thought it necessary only to note 9 key questions for further consideration:

Evaluation

52.We expect that in future all House of Lords committees will increase their focus on setting clear objectives and evaluating their effectiveness, and may consider producing legacy reports at the end of each session or Parliament. This will help to demonstrate how committees deliver detailed scrutiny and value for money on behalf of the House as a whole. (Paragraph 230)

53.We expect to continue our present practice of publishing a “highlights” report of overall House of Lords committee activity at the end of each session. We will also continue to keep the effectiveness of House of Lords committees under regular and ongoing review. (Paragraph 231)





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