216.In this final chapter we consider current House of Lords practice in monitoring committee effectiveness, and after examining best practice in the House of Commons and other legislatures, recommend ways of improving evaluation in future.
217.Government responses are one of the key means of evaluating the effectiveness of committee reports. The Government have undertaken to respond in writing to the reports of select committees, if possible, within two months of publication. The timely provision of responses is clearly important, and this has not always happened. To address this situation the Procedure Committee decided in March 2018 that overdue Government responses to select committee reports should be noted in a new section in House of Lords Business. This new practice has led to a significant decrease in the number of Government responses which are not received within two months of publication of the relevant report, and for many weeks no list of overdue responses has needed to be published.
218.The House of Lords Constitution Committee produces a short (around 11 pages) sessional report at the beginning of each session looking back on the inquiries conducted in the previous session. Unlike most legacy reports (which we consider below), it does not contain any recommendations for government or indications of future areas of work and is released every session rather than every parliament.
219.The House of Lords European Union Committee also produces a report at the beginning of each session looking at their activity in the previous session. This report is more substantial than the Constitution Committee’s sessional report, and not only reviews the Committee’s scrutiny and inquiry work but also looks at the success of their public engagement and provides an overview of possible areas of future work.
220.During the 2010–15 Parliament the House of Lords Liaison Committee started publishing reviews of Investigative Select Committee Activity at the end of each session. The Liaison Committee’s review of activity for the whole of the 2010–15 Parliament—the first time this had been attempted—resembles a very high level legacy report. In a similar way to other legacy reports it provides a summary of committee activity. However, it is much shorter than most such reports and contains much less detail, with around 60 pages covering all committee activity, in contrast to legacy reports produced by other legislatures, which are typically approximately 30 pages per committee.
221.The Liaison Committee’s reviews are intended to be ‘highlight reports’, highlighting particularly important achievements, including where possible the adoption of key recommendations, thereby providing an element of evaluation of committee activity. Media successes are also included. In recent sessions the report has included a table of Government responses, as the Liaison Committee has committed to publishing this at the end of each session.
222.One of the tools for committee ‘follow-up’ activity which many legislatures have adopted in recent years is so-called ‘legacy reports’. Committees in each of the devolved legislatures and some overseas legislatures, particularly those in Australia, usually produce a legacy report at the end of a parliament. Although these reports differ between legislatures and committees the differences are mainly stylistic and overall they share two main characteristics. They summarise committee activity and recommend future action by a successor committee.
223.All the legacy reports present an overview of the activity of the relevant committee over the length of the parliament. This includes detailing inquiries they have held, summarising recommendations they have given, and reflecting on how the relevant government has responded to the recommendations. They also give details of the visits they have conducted and any public engagement activity they have undertaken.
224.The other common feature of legacy reports is that they recommend future activity for successor committees. Many legacy reports from committees in devolved legislatures include a wide-ranging look at areas that fall within the committee’s remit. They also often conclude that each area that the committee has previously examined could also be of interest to a successor committee. This can lead to a large number of recommendations for future committee activity. For example, a legacy paper from the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament contained almost 30 recommendations for areas that their successor committee should consider.
225.Legacy reports are also established practice in the National Assembly for Wales. The National Assembly produced a series of legacy reports on the Fourth Assembly (2011–2016), including a legacy report by the National Assembly Commission, which contained 13 recommendations to its successor Commission. Those recommendations were wide-ranging and included proposals for improving CPD for Members, the role of the Commission as a high performing governing board, the need to continue to exploit information technology to deliver excellent services to Assembly Members and the people of Wales and the need to ensure that resources are available to deliver the necessary support to Assembly Members in a changing constitutional world. It was for the new Commission to decide which, if any of these recommendations were taken forward.
226.A more succinct example, summarising key recommendations for successor committees, is that of the Legislative Council (Upper House) Standing Committee on Law and Justice in New South Wales. That report suggested three specific recommendations for concerning detailed areas in need of follow up rather than suggesting many different possible areas of interest.
227.At the end of the 2010–15 Parliament all House of Commons committees were encouraged to produce legacy reports. The format of these reports varied from committee to committee, with the advantage of encouraging innovation (including in one case a video report) and the drawback of making comparisons between committees more difficult.
228.The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s legacy report is substantially different from other legacy reports and provides an alternative model. Their legacy report was the result of a legacy inquiry which received both oral and written evidence. The report included a review of past inquiries as well as recommendations for Government action. This contrasts with other legacy reports which for the most part only make recommendations for future committee activity. The Commons Science and Technology Committee report included an annex listing, by Government department, issues from the Committee’s inquiries over the course of the 2010–2015 parliament which remained outstanding as well as suggestions as to actions which the departments might take in light of recent developments on identified subjects.
229.We have already recommended that at the outset of each major inquiry committees should set themselves clear objectives, including in relation to likely outcomes and media audiences. More generally we consider that House of Lords committees could and should place greater emphasis on monitoring and evaluating outcomes of their activity, measuring those against these objectives. Ideally every committee should set itself objectives and later gather evidence to assess whether these were being met.
230.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.
231.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.
174 Liaison Committee, (1st Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 5)
175 The Scottish Parliament, Finance Committee Legacy Paper (March 2016): [accessed 23 April 2019
176 Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Legacy report 55th Parliament (November 2014): [accessed 10 April 2017]
177 Science and Technology Committee, (Ninth Report, Session 2014–15, HC 758)