Review of investigative and scrutiny committees: strengthening the thematic structure through the appointment of new committees Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Background and changes since October 2019

1.In July 2019 we published the report on our 18-month review of House of Lords committee activity, the most comprehensive review of the committee structure that had ever been undertaken.1 The 2017–2019 review 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 (332 pages). All of this was published on the Committee’s website,2 and some of the evidence thus published provoked further discussion and the submission of further written evidence. 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.

2.This report included a large number of recommendations, which were agreed to by the House when the report was debated in October 2019. The report proposed the start of a significant change in the positioning of our committees to begin to put in place a thematic approach designed to ensure more effective scrutiny of all the major areas of public policy.

3.This thematic approach has several benefits. It broadens the choice of subjects for committees, thereby minimising the potential for scrutiny gaps. It avoids the chance of duplicating the select committee work of the Commons, which is essentially departmental. It thereby encourages the potential for complementarity between the two Houses, which we warmly support.

4.Our 2017–2019 review concluded 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.3

5.One of the key principles guiding our recommendations was that the committee structure should be cross-cutting and comprehensive. House of Lords committees had developed piecemeal over the previous five decades, and the lack of a guiding logic for the overall committee structure, along with the fact that many major policy areas fell substantially within EU competence, had resulted in significant scrutiny gaps. The principal domestic policy areas that had suffered from a lack of detailed scrutiny were social affairs and public services, including health and education. Our review therefore recommended a number of measures to fill these gaps, chief among them being the appointment of a new sessional committee on public services, with a remit covering areas including health and education. The Public Services Committee was duly appointed by the House in February 2020.4 To address scrutiny gaps further, we recommended a small number of changes to the existing titles and remits of some sessional committees. These came into effect on 22 and 29 October 2019.5

6.The recommendations in the review of committees report were designed to bring more flexibility and responsiveness to changing circumstances for committees, allowing them to engage with the emerging policy issues of the day, without losing any of the quality and depth of research for which Lords’ committees are well-known. In response to the present pandemic the Liaison Committee recommended the appointment of a new cross-cutting COVID-19 committee,6 which first met in June 2020. Another illustration of the greater flexibility was the appointment, also recommended by the Liaison Committee, of a Common Frameworks committee.7

7.As noted above areas of public policy - including energy and the environment, and home affairs - have hitherto engaged EU competence, and are currently addressed principally through our European Union Committee and its sub-committees. Our 2019 report ‘ring-fenced’ the EU Committee and its sub-committees, leaving them unchanged, but acknowledged that further work in this respect would be required by the Liaison Committee in the months ahead. The first phase of this restructuring, following a report by the Procedure Committee8 which was agreed to by the House, took place at Easter 2020, and resulted in the reduction of the number of EU sub-committees from six to four, and the establishment of a new sub-committee on International Agreements.

European Union Committee

8.Since 1974 the European Union Committee9 and its sub-committees have been a fundamental element of our committee structure. The success of the EU Committee led to the establishment of a wide range of investigative and scrutiny committees, which today are seen as one of the great strengths of the House of Lords. The breadth of European Union influence upon and interaction with UK law and public policy has meant that the EU Committee family has offered potential scrutiny coverage of a wide expanse of policy areas. Some of these would notionally lie within the remits of our existing sessional committees, while others would not.

9.Areas of EU Committee coverage that are not explicitly covered by other Lords committee remits include:

10.The loss of the coverage provided by the EU Committee to these policy areas could therefore result in gaps in our overall approach to committee scrutiny.

The current review

11.The purpose of the current review was to identify the emerging scrutiny gaps and make recommendations to the House as to how they might be addressed from 2021 onwards. The Committee adopted the following key principles for this part of the committee restructuring exercise:

“The overall structure of House of Lords committees must be consistent with and build on the Liaison Committee review, which said that committees should be ‘cross-cutting, comprehensive, flexible, open and outward-looking, and effective’.

The process should seek to identify the main scrutiny gaps, avoiding duplication of existing sessional committee remits, whilst building on existing strengths, knowledge and experience, avoiding unnecessary disruption and ensuring the remits of any new committees are sufficiently wide to adapt to changing circumstances. This exercise is driven in part by the need to adjust our committee structure to reflect the new relationship with the EU. In developing our proposals, we will be required to take account of the wider needs and interests of the House and ensure that we are equipped to meet new and emerging strategic challenges.”

12.The comprehensive approach of the 2017–19 review provided an abundance of material which we have drawn on in the present review. In order to ensure the participation of members of the House in the present review, all members were invited to provide their further comments on two occasions in autumn 2020. We are grateful to all those members who responded to these invitations. In order to ensure the broader participation of members of the House in this process, and to explain some of our emerging conclusions, the Senior Deputy Speaker held a seminar for members of the House on 3 December.10 This was attended by nearly 60 members and received very positive feedback.

Member proposals for new committee activity

13.During the 2017–2019 review of committees over 50 proposals for new committee activity were received. These are presented thematically in the list below. Further proposals were received in autumn 2020.

Parliamentary issues

(1)Ad hoc committee follow-up (various suggestions),

(2)Inter-Parliamentary Relations in the EU, Review of differences between rules governing House of Commons procedure and House of Lords procedure, Petitions Committee.

Data issues

(3)Big data and Digital Environment

Constitutional issues

(4)Constitution and local government, Civic engagement/citizenship, Devolution, Human Rights, Children’s rights

Climate Change

(5)Climate change

Future thinking

(6)Committee of the Future/Future Forum (e.g. policy/horizon-scanning)/Future Trends

(7)Committee and Committee for Future Generations (considering impact of Bills on future generations)

Defence issues

(8)Defence, intelligence and security (including cyber security)


(9)Demographic trends




(12)Economy, Industrial strategy/Industry Committee, Financial issues and Taxation, the ‘levelling up’ agenda.


(13)Education/Education and Training


(14)Effects of legislation (possibly as a joint committee), Legislative Standards Committee,

(15)Policy and Legislative review committee, Pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, including a Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, (Enhanced) Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Technical policy changes to financial delegated legislation



EU issues

(17)EU Committee (using the same model as current International Relations Committee)

Foreign affairs

(18)Foreign, Commonwealth and Soft Power Committee, Foreign Affairs (including Brexit and post-Brexit issues), Multilateral and international institutions, Diplomacy function/EU-UK relations post-Brexit, Treaties, Trade agreements, Relationships with bodies such as the WTO post-Brexit, Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions and to Central Asia UK-Atlantic-USA Committee, UK-Middle East-Africa relations, Institutions and their overseas parliaments whose membership include UK delegations of Peers and MPs

Regulatory issues

(19)Regulators and regulation, Global internet companies (e.g. Google, Facebook and Amazon)–regulation

Health issues

(20)Health, Health and Welfare, Health, Welfare and Wellbeing, Mental health

Home affairs

(21)Home Affairs, ID cards, drug policy


(22)Housing, the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper


Public services

(23)Public services and public expenditure, Children in Care


(24)Science and Technology

Social affairs

(25)Social Affairs



14.Many of these proposals and thematic areas enjoy good coverage within our existing (non-EU) sessional committee structure. Furthermore, the changes we made during our earlier work have increased our capacity for scrutiny on defence, digital, health and education matters. There are, however, other major elements of public policy which have no dedicated place within our current sessional approach. Many of them are of fundamental importance to the everyday lives of people and communities. The current absence of a House of Lords committee on the environment and climate change is a striking example of a current scrutiny gap. The path to net zero, the use and deployment of technologies, the roles of public and private stakeholders in mitigation and behaviour change, international co-operation and developments are amongst the issues calling for detailed investigation.

Strengthening the thematic committee structure

15.There are currently five units of EU committee activity (the EU committee itself and its four sub-committees), together with the sub-committee on International Agreements appointed in 2020. Whilst not proposing an increase in the total number of committees, this report makes recommendations to strengthen further the thematic structure of House of Lords committees by recommending the appointment of new thematic committees when the current EU Committee and its sub-committees cease to exist at the end of March 2021. Our recommendations are intended to ensure that the new committees complement the work of House of Commons departmental select committees. Chapter 2 of this report considers the ongoing need for scrutiny of matters relating to European Affairs from 2021 onwards. Chapter 3 reviews the work to date of the International Agreements Sub-Committee, and makes recommendations for future scrutiny. Chapter 4 considers the emerging scrutiny gaps and makes recommendations for four new committees to be established in early 2021.

16.This report concludes the review of committees which we started in January 2018. It establishes a flexible and organic system allowing the committee structure of the House to adjust to future needs and demands. The new committees will have broad, cross-cutting remits, which will enable them to adjust flexibly and swiftly to the many challenges which the country will face in the years ahead, whilst complementing the work of House of Commons departmental select committees. We will consider any future adjustments to our committee structure as and when the need arises, particularly during our annual reviews. In this way we trust that the comprehensive review will provide committees with a firm foundation for many years to come.

2 See the Liaison Committee, Review of investigative and scrutiny committees inquiry

3 Liaison Committee, Review of House of Lords Investigative and Scrutiny Committees: towards a new thematic committee structure (6th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 398) para 28

4 HL Deb, 13 February 2020, cols 2348–2349

5 HL Deb, 22 October 2019, cols 492–495 and HL Deb, 29 October 2019, cols 872–883

6 Liaison Committee, A Covid-19 Committee (1st Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 56)

7 Liaison Committee, A Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee (4th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 115)

8 Procedure Committee, First Report (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 29)

9 First established as the European Communities Committee.

10 See appendix 3 for a note on the seminar.

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