1.Lord McFall introduced the seminar highlighting the progress of the review to date, including the emerging themes paper he put to the Liaison Committee in September. He also highlighted the submission the Liaison Committee had received from Lord Norton, as well as the oral evidence heard by the Liaison Committee from Lord Norton and Lord Cormack, as co-founders of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber.
2.Lord Norton highlighted that he was speaking on behalf of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber and would be focusing on the purpose of House of Lords committees and discussing how committees help the wider House meet its needs and purpose. He stated that he believes committees should be appointed using the same criteria that defines the purpose and function of the House of Lords as a whole, as committees enable the House to complete this function.
3.Lord Norton’s starting point was that we must look at the key aims of committees, being agile, outward looking and forward looking. He believed that true agility was currently only demonstrated in the ad hoc committees, as other sessional committees do not hold agility in their remit. The outward looking nature of committees came from engagement outside the House. Lord Norton believed this engagement must come earlier in the process of an inquiry, as currently committees tended to engage only after a report is published. One example he noted was the process of ad hoc topic selection, which is still an internal process as topics are suggested and selected by members. Lord Norton believed that improving this outward looking engagement through committees, could improve the reputation of the House as a whole. Finally, the forward-looking aim could be achieved by a greater focus on the future in individual committees, as well as through a “committee on the future”, which has been suggested by a number of people throughout the Liaison Committee review.
4.Lord Norton concluded his speech with an overview of what he believes are the key elements of the House of Lords committee structure. He believed the committee structure incorporating both ad hoc committees and sessional committees should continue but should be modified. His suggestions for improvement included allowing more flexibility, specifically in timings, as well as extending the remit of sessional committees to allow them to scrutinise more legislation. Lord Norton believed that legislative scrutiny is the main focus of the House as a whole, and therefore it is in this area that committees can be of most assistance to the House. Whilst the House of Commons is broadly focused on the ends of action and legislation, the House of Lords can focus on the “means”. As a consequence of these beliefs Lord Norton recommended that the establishment of a legislative standards committee and a standing post-legislative scrutiny committee, echoing the evidence he had previously given to the Liaison Committee.
5.The session was then opened up to comments and questions from members of the House. The following questions and comments were amongst those raised:
(a)Is there information available on the funding available to committees, so members are able to have reasonable expectations as to what is possible?
Lord McFall stated that members should not constrain their ambition by resources. Developing an idea first and then deciding on how to resource it, is the best way to get a good committee structure.
Lord Norton also emphasised that there is a cost to bad legislation and investing in a system that prevents bad legislation and bad law should be prioritised.
(b)Several members highlighted the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny, both for the final legislation, and also for the government. Despite this, there is only very limited pre- legislative scrutiny done by the House. This comment was supported by several other member comments, including those who stated that the House as a whole must apply pressure to the Government to encourage them to support more pre-legislative scrutiny or alternatively establish a legislative standards committee, as this ultimately benefit the Government and the Bills they are producing.
Lord Norton referred back to his suggestion of a legislative standards committee, which would allow more Bills to be examined in detail before passing through Parliament. This suggestion was supported by previous Constitution Committee reports which have stated that pre-legislative scrutiny should be the norm and not the exception. Lord Norton also noted that one of the biggest struggles for pre-legislative scrutiny is that these are often joint committees, which can often be difficult to form due to the pressures in the House of Commons. A Lords only committee would be the best way of tackling this problem.
Lord McFall reiterated the sentiment that the Liaison Committee had heard from several House of Commons colleagues about their desire to work more closely with the Lords in order to cover scrutiny gaps.
(c)The lack of follow-up on ad hoc committee reports was highlighted as something that must be improved.
Lord Norton agreed with this and suggested that there should be a dedicated committee responsible for following up on committee report recommendations. However, whether this is a new committee, or a greater role for the Liaison Committee was something that could be discussed further. He also noted that sessional committees should be empowered to do more follow-up on their reports, however in order to do this, greater resources would need to be available to the committees.
6.The session ended with closing remarks from Lord McFall.