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

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

Chapter 1: Background to the review


1.Committee activity is a vital part of the work of the House of Lords, which is well placed to draw on the extensive and wide-ranging expertise of members and adds significant value to the work of Parliament as a whole. House of Lords committees also contribute to society more widely through their influence on government policy and societal change. Committees provide an increasingly important opportunity for people from all walks of society and all parts of the United Kingdom to interact with the House of Lords.

2.We could and should, however do more to increase the effectiveness of House of Lords committees to ensure they are at the forefront of engaging members of the wider House and the public in their work. House of Lords committee inquiries should inspire conversation and debate about the important issues they address. House of Lords committees could also make far greater use of digital tools, as well as more traditional meetings and visits, to extend their reach.

3.In January 2018 the House of Lords Liaison Committee launched its review1 of House of Lords investigative and scrutiny committees. This was planned as a wide-ranging examination, not least because it was the first over-arching review of House of Lords committees since the Committee chaired by Lord Jellicoe reported in 1992. During that time there has been significant change in society, in the constitution, in communications, and in the House itself. The result of the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the EU could also have an impact on the work of our committees, given the current focus on scrutiny derived from our membership of the EU. Some, but not all, of these developments have been reflected in piecemeal changes to House of Lords committees. The incremental changes have had a significant impact on the overall structure of Lords committees. As this structure is a key theme of our review, we highlight these historic changes briefly in Appendix 4.

Our inquiry

4.During the last 25 years, House of Lords committees have developed significantly. We have added new sessional committees, including the Constitution Committee and more recently the International Relations Committee. In the present decade the Lords has expanded greatly its use of ad hoc (special inquiry) committees, and typically now appoints four each year, including one devoted to post-legislative scrutiny. Committees are valued and regarded highly in the House for the expertise, experience and wisdom that they bring to their work. Much of this work merits a wider audience. Of course not all inquiries attract media interest, and sometimes that is right. The role of some of our committees is to do the forensic scrutiny of areas, including secondary legislation, which is on occasion difficult for members of the House of Commons, with their constituency responsibilities, to find the time for. Some of this detailed scrutiny work may not always be newsworthy, but it is in all our interests as citizens to ensure secondary legislation is appropriate and effective.

5.This review was announced as long ago as October 2015, when the Liaison Committee, and then the House as a whole, agreed to the establishment of the International Relations Committee at the start of the 2016–17 session. This was subject to “a full review of the Committee work of the House, to take place during the 2017–18 session, with a view to rationalising Committee activity.”2 The aim of the review was to ensure House of Lords committees continue to work as well as they can and to consider how they should adapt for the future. We invited submissions from any interested parties, posing five key questions, with other more detailed questions in the call for evidence (please see Appendix 3).

6.This has been the most comprehensive review of House of Lords select committees ever undertaken, and has followed two distinct, but overlapping, phases. Firstly, between April and November 2018, the Committee held 23 oral evidence sessions with 52 witnesses. The Committee also received 79 pieces of written evidence. All of this has been published on the Committee’s website, and some of the evidence thus published provoked further discussion and the submission of further written evidence. The Committee was keen to learn lessons from the House of Commons as well as from other parliaments and assemblies, and following receipt of a number of written submissions, also benefited from exploring some of the themes in oral evidence. As well as seeking the views of a wide range of individuals and organisations outside the House, engagement with members of both Houses of Parliament has been a key theme of the inquiry. The Chair held around 90 meetings with individual Peers and meetings with individuals and staff teams across the Committee Office on a number of occasions. The Chair also attended meetings of each party group and the Crossbench Peers to discuss the review, and held regular drop-in sessions for members.

7.Secondly, between November 2018 and April 2019 we arranged a series of seminars to explore the developing key themes of the review, including the purpose of committees and post-legislative scrutiny; structure of committees; technology and public engagement, working with the House of Commons and Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Members of the House were invited to attend all of these seminars and a note of each was taken. These seminars were as follows:

8.As the review progressed some measures were either piloted or put in place as a result of the evidence and consultation. These included piloting a range of innovative methods of public engagement, changing the name of ad hoc committees to special inquiry committees, and increased transparency measures in relation to the process of selecting topics for scrutiny by special inquiry committees.

9.In addition, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chair of the Communications Committee, chaired a working group looking at committee communications, and the report from that group is published in Appendix 10 to this report. Committee Office staff reported the findings of the work of their witness diversity group. The Chair of the Liaison Committee also held 15 meetings with the Chairs of investigative committees in order to consider emerging proposals.

10.In January 2019 the House of Commons Liaison Committee launched its review into the effectiveness and influence of the select committee system, which concluded in June 2019, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the creation of the departmental select committee system. There is some overlap between this review and our own review, and the Chair was pleased to have been invited by the Commons Committee to participate in their round table held at the Institute for Government (IfG) on 6 March 2019.

Our report

11.The next two chapters of this report set out the present structure of House of Lords committees and discuss the purpose of committees and underlying principles to guide their future activity. Chapter 4 outlines changes to the committee structure that should be delivered to address current gaps in scrutiny. The next part of the report considers some key aspects of House of Lords committee activity: legislative scrutiny (Chapter 5), internal and external communications and public engagement (Chapter 6), and working with the House of Commons and devolved legislatures (Chapter 7). We move on to consider issues connected with committee Chairs and members (Chapter 8), committee witnesses and evidence (Chapter 9) and committee rooms and the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster (Chapter 10). We conclude by considering the important part which evaluation plays in monitoring and improving committee effectiveness (Chapter 11).

1 House of Lords Liaison Committee, Review of investigative and scrutiny committees inquiry (January 2018): [accessed 23 April 2019]

2 Liaison Committee, An International Relations Committee (2nd Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 47, paras 7 and 13)

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