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

Chapter 4: Filling the scrutiny gaps with new thematic committees

Built environment committee

41.Several members of the House highlighted the need for scrutiny of the built or lived environment and the ways in which this shapes the places and communities in which we live. These terms encompass a wide range of matters such as access to transport, land-use, open spaces, affordable and sustainable homes, the location of education and health provision, and planning policy for the built environment more generally.

42.In 2020 the following special inquiry submissions were amongst those we received on subjects related to the lived and built environment:

43.In response to the recent call for any further proposals for new committee activity we also received submissions regarding the Planning for the Future white paper (Lord Marlesford)18 and transport (Lord Haselhurst)19 which read across to this area.

44.Despite these proposals and the abundance of specialist expertise amongst members of the House of Lords, the absence of a sessional committee in these areas has meant that committee scrutiny has tended to be sporadic. In January 2020 the Economic Affairs Committee held follow-up sessions on its report on HS220 and on its 2016 report, Building more homes,21 whilst inquiries by the Science and Technology Committee have considered autonomous vehicles and, in the more distant past, energy efficiency.22 Special inquiry committees have included the 2015–16 committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, the scope of which included planning, governance issues, heritage, sustainability, health and wellbeing, capacity and training.23 The conclusions of that committee set out the cross-cutting nature of these issues:

“Policy towards the built environment… is not the sole preserve of any one Government department; this both accounts for the diverse range of elements which comprise the ‘built environment’ and reflects the diverse range of impacts which it has upon people and communities. There is an urgent need to co-ordinate and reconcile policy across numerous different areas and priorities.”24

45.The extent of the evidence received for that inquiry is an indication of the considerable interest in this area, both inside and outwith the House of Lords. The Committee received 192 written submissions and heard oral evidence from 58 witnesses during 25 evidence sessions. The combined volume of all the written and oral evidence that the Committee received amounted to 1,964 pages.25 The time limitations of a special inquiry meant that some elements of potential scrutiny, such as the role and impact of transport, could only receive limited consideration from the Committee. The Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Special Inquiry Committee (2018–19) also made several recommendations related to housing and planning in their report on Tackling intergenerational unfairness.26

46.The cross-cutting nature of the lived and built environment means that a House of Lords committee would reduce the likelihood of duplication of the work of the House of Commons departmental select committees. For example, the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has a current inquiry, launched in October 2020, to investigate Government proposals on planning reform. This inquiry builds upon the HCLG Committee’s 2018 report on land capture value,27 and will examine how well new plans will support the Government’s wider building strategy, including its target to build 300,000 new homes a year, as well as ensuring high quality construction that is fit for purpose.28 The HCLG Committee also has a current inquiry on ‘Supporting our high streets after COVID-19’,29 a matter which we consider likely to need ongoing review. Similarly, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into reforming public transport after the pandemic.30 In contrast to this sectoral approach, a House of Lords Committee could consider the broader implications of all these issues on individual and national wellbeing.

47.The need for a longer-term approach was advocated by Baroness Andrews in introducing the debate on the built environment report, when she said:

“There have been foresight studies, housing reviews and endless partial reviews of planning, which are still going on, but there has been a complete failure to think in the long term about how to improve our urban and rural environments, make them more resilient, balance the use of scarce resources and future-proof housing and planning so they serve people of all ages and get the best for the future. At the same time, unlike the majority of countries in Europe, we have no national spatial strategy, and regional planning was abandoned in recent years.”31

48.This long-term analysis is something for which our committees enjoy a deserved good reputation; a new committee on the built environment would offer the potential to deliver a long-term approach to vital issues that cut across the areas of housing, planning, transport, infrastructure, and quality of life more generally.

49.We recommend the appointment of a sessional committee on the built environment, to start work in April 2021.

Environment and climate change committee

50.Hitherto, scrutiny of the policy areas of energy and the environment have principally been undertaken by the EU sub-committee, with substantial inquiries on specific areas being conducted from time to time by the Science and Technology Committee. As the EU Committee observed in its report on Brexit: environment and climate change:

“The EU environmental acquis is a patchwork quilt of laws, some relating to the rules of the internal market, others to issues of trans-national environmental significance, such as species conservation or clean air. Some sectoral policies, such as the EU’s agricultural and fisheries policies, also have substantial environmental elements and regulate significant flows of expenditure in this field. These laws are implemented and enforced by well-developed and powerful EU institutions, both regulatory and judicial.

“The repatriation of environmental policy as a result of Brexit presents opportunities and risks, which we explore in the remainder of this report. But what must not be underestimated is the scale and complexity of the task of repatriating environmental policy, and its profound implications for domestic governance as well as for domestic law.”32

51.It is thus unsurprising that several submissions to the 2017–19 review of committees advocated the establishment of a sessional committee on the environment.

52.In June 2019 Parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. The agreement of this net zero 2050 emissions target has been accompanied by increasing public concern about global biodiversity loss and ecological crisis. Baroness Hayman, supported by 13 colleagues and other members of the Peers for the Planet Group, made a detailed submission for a permanent Lords committee on climate change,33 citing the following reasons in support of this:

Accountability: Parliament and the public need to be satisfied on the adequacy and resilience of the Government’s response to these crises and its ability to deliver the action required. They need to be assured that decisions are based on firm evidence; that associated (and dynamic) risks are considered; that solutions are adequately funded (including, where necessary, over a period of years), and that the costs will be fairly distributed. There is also a need to examine UK planning and preparedness for climate change, including emergencies like flooding and drought.

Leadership: The House of Lords has an unprecedented opportunity to play—and be seen to play—a critical leadership role on these defining issues of our time. Historically the UK has led global efforts in this field and a permanent committee would build on this. Its work would benefit the UK but could also attract significant global stakeholders and offer blueprints for other countries to emulate in their own net zero/nature policies and roadmaps prior to, and in the years following, COP 26 (and other key international moments such as the CBD,34 G20, G7 etc).

Policy coherence and the scrutiny gap: Achieving net zero and biodiversity targets requires consideration of systems-level issues, policy synergies and trade-offs. Yet there is incoherence in how these issues are being prioritised within departments, by public bodies, regionally and between UK nations. Policy discussion is siloed within ‘traditional climate fields’ (i.e. energy and environment) and/or sector-specific fields (e.g. finance, transport, housing) and the Parliamentary system reflects this problem: While ad hoc topic inquiries are possible in the Lords, there is no committee able to take the systems architecture view required. In the Commons, committees are, by definition, focused on specific Departmental responsibilities. A cross-departmental climate/ecology focus would complement rather than compete with the House of Commons. The Institute of Government recently concluded that “Parliamentary scrutiny of government performance on climate change is weak” and recommended a dedicated net zero committee to hold government to account.

House strengths; expertise and continuity: Peers have extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in areas where a climate/ecology lens is essential to prevent climate and ecological crises, including physical/behavioural science, technology, business, innovation, health, education, finance, defence and security, diplomacy, public service and politics itself. Members’ diversity, longevity and convening power are valuable for these urgent, cross-cutting, long-term, challenges, that range from local to global in nature. A permanent committee would provide continuity and expertise across the next critical decade and could focus at different times on particular aspects of what is, as we know, a very broad set of issues.

Reputation: A climate change and biodiversity committee would resonate strongly beyond the Westminster bubble and demonstrate the value and relevance of the House to citizens. The subject matter needs to invite diverse opinions, including from all parts of the UK, from underrepresented groups and younger generations. Conversely, a perceived failure to address these issues could attract public criticism given their importance to voters.

Political, cross-party cooperation: The UK has, to date, avoided the worst of partisan division characteristic of climate policy in other countries, but this cannot be taken for granted: As the challenge to meet net zero becomes harder, Parliamentarians need to ensure there are cross-party, collaborative scrutiny mechanisms/fora in place. Where changes to policy are difficult but necessary, political support and external validation for government will be valuable.

Engaging a wide group of Peers: Engagement on the floor of the House in recent months shows that this is a topic which many Peers care deeply about and wish to participate in.”35

53.We agree with Baroness Hayman and others that the case for the establishment of a sessional committee to scrutinise these matters is compelling. In keeping with the broad remits of thematic House of Lords committees, and conscious that the current remit of the EU Environment Sub-Committee is not limited to climate change, we consider that this committee should undertake scrutiny of the environment and climate change. This remit includes biodiversity.

54.We recommend the appointment of a sessional committee on the environment and climate change, to start work in April 2021.

Industry and regulators committee

55.Another major consequence of the UK leaving the EU is the change in the regulatory framework. The question of parliamentary accountability over the “regulatory state”, including the number and scope of regulatory bodies, has been repeatedly raised in the House of Lords, including by the Constitution Committee in its report, The Regulatory State: Ensuring its Accountability.36 The Constitution Committee highlighted several issues including: scrutiny of statutory powers conferred on new regulators; potential duplication or overlap; promotion of good practice; and conformity with OECD guidelines and Nolan principles.

56.The House of Lords Select Committee on Regulators was appointed on 23 November 2006 with a broad remit to “consider the regulatory process”. Confined to a single parliamentary session, that committee was able to look only at the economic regulatory work of the major UK economic regulators. One of its recommendations was that there was “a crucial need for greater parliamentary oversight over regulatory bodies”,37 and the recommendation that if it proved impossible to set up a Joint Committee to scrutinise these, “we recommend that a sessional Select Committee be established in the House of Lords.”38

57.In the light of the changed circumstances of Brexit, the case for committee scrutiny of regulators is now even stronger. Such scrutiny would not overlap with the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House nor any departmental committee of the Commons. Several witnesses to our 2017–19 review highlighted the need for enhanced scrutiny of regulators. Lord Rooker sent us a detailed note advocating a select committee on regulators, arguing that whilst “the conduct and delivery of policy issues is rightly for the Commons … the scrutiny of the regulator is ideal for the Lords.” He added: “When I was appointed to Chair the Food Standards Agency I enquired about select committee scrutiny and discovered there had been none.”39 The Earl of Kinnoull wrote that scrutiny of UK regulators has “been rather haphazard to date but with the departure from the EU some of the regulators have become very powerful and are quite vital. Examples would be the FCA and the PRA,40 but there are many.”41

58.As well as scrutinising the regulators, however, it is important to scrutinise the areas which they are regulating. This links to a proposal Lord Hollick made in April 2018 to the 2017–19 review of committees for a sessional industrial strategy committee. He argued that a committee

“… which monitors progress across a broad range of sectors through the lens of skills, investment, infrastructure, innovation and productivity will provide Parliament with an informed analysis of the progress of implementation and the continuing merits of policies being pursued…”42

59.An Industry Committee would play to the acknowledged strengths of the House of Lords which can muster Peers from government, academia and business with deep experience of industry and the formulation and implementation of industrial policy. Many of the Peers who spoke in the debate43 are enthusiastic in their support for an Industry Committee which will place the House of Lords at the forefront of one of the most crucial questions facing the country as we look to improve our industrial performance, growth and productivity.

60.Members responding to the recent invitation to make proposals for new sessional committees also supported the appointment of a committee in this area. Lord Aberdare advocated a committee “to look at the wide range of issues relating to skills, productivity and competitiveness, which are so vital to ‘Building Team UK’ for the post-Brexit, post-COVID future.”44 He suggested that this was “an area which gets less attention than it deserves in the House, despite its fundamental importance to the wellbeing of the UK and its individual citizens.”45 He wrote:

“These issues are essential for our future success, but have traditionally enjoyed less focus than they deserve and need in government and parliament. They relate to policies on education (at all levels), careers guidance, training, workforce development, lifelong learning, digital skills, industrial strategy, business resilience, and social mobility; and are critical to realising UK opportunities in sectors such as environmental services, cybersecurity and other digital technologies, the creative industries, pharmaceuticals, financial services and others. They are thus relevant to the work of several government departments, as well as to regional and local bodies, including the devolved administrations and local government.”46

61.Lord Mountevans made a similar proposal:

“I would like to suggest the formation of a Committee to look at Business, with a particular emphasis on driving growth in the post Brexit and hopefully post Covid era. Growth will be critical if we are to service and at some point pay down debt, to address unemployment and wider our societal problems, to address the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change, to educate and train our young, to defend our nation and play our part in NATO and the world, and no doubt more. A key goal in addressing the above will be to make Britain a great place to base and to transact business.”47

62.Other members, including Lord Sharkey, emphasised the need to scrutinise the regulation of the financial services sector as well as industry.48 We consider that the case for committee scrutiny of the new regulatory framework and regulators is well made, and that ongoing scrutiny of the UK’s industrial strategy and growth potential is also needed. These areas are closely linked, and would fit in well with the broad remits of thematic House of Lords committees.

63.We recommend the appointment of a sessional committee on industry and regulators, to start work in April 2021.

Justice and home affairs committee

64.Following the appointments in recent years of the sessional committees on International Affairs and Defence and on Public Services, the gap in House of Lords committee coverage in the area of justice and home affairs has become more noticeable. During the 2017–2019 review of committees several members highlighted the case for a sessional committee in this area as part of the thematic structure, including Baroness Kidron,49 Baroness Tyler of Enfield50 and Lord Stern of Brentford and Alun Evans.51

65.Apart from the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee, which is discussed below, the only sessional committee that addresses some part of this wide field of policy is the Constitution Committee. The Constitution Committee has a clear and long-standing interest in the constitutional aspects of justice policy, in particular the operation of the courts and judicial appointments, and it is expected that these areas would be ‘ring-fenced’ to the Constitution Committee in the event of the appointment of a sessional committee on justice and home affairs. The Constitution Committee has not, though, published major reports on issues such as sentencing, prisons, or probation.

66.The gap in committee coverage is still more apparent in the field of home affairs. The House’s sessional committees do not, other than through legislative scrutiny, address issues such as policing, border controls, migration and asylum policy.

67.Hitherto the bulk of committee coverage of these issues has been provided through an EU-focused lens, by the EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee, which was established in April 2020, bringing together elements of the remits of the former EU Justice Sub-Committee and the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee.

68.The Security and Justice Sub-Committee’s remit covers the following issues, in which the EU has hitherto had either exclusive or shared competence with the UK Government:

69.Even when limited to EU-related scrutiny, this is a very broad remit. Inquiries over recent years have led to detailed reports on issues such as migrant smuggling, the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children, the legality of the EU sanctions regime, data-sharing by EU police and security forces, mobility of persons, extradition and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

70.Some elements of the Sub-Committee’s remit will fall to existing committees. In particular, the foreign policy, international development, sanctions and defence elements will, once the UK is no longer bound by EU rules, fall naturally to the International Relations and Defence Committee. A number of committees (including the Science and Technology and Economic Affairs Committees, as well as the new International Agreements Committee) would be able to consider intellectual property. Space might be considered by the Science and Technology Committee. That still leaves a substantial range of issues without any significant Lords coverage.

71.There are of course relevant departmental committees in the Commons, notably the Home Affairs and Justice Committees. The predominantly domestic and departmental focus of the House of Commons committees could, however, leave significant space for a more cross-cutting Lords committee, particularly if it sought to retain an international focus. It is therefore suggested that a ‘Justice and Home Affairs Committee’ would focus on the following issues:

72.We recommend the appointment of a sessional committee on justice and home affairs, to start work in April 2021.

17 Liaison Committee, ‘Special Inquiry Committee proposals 2021’ (November 2020):

18 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Lord Marlesford, 17 November 2020

19 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Lord Haselhurst, 18 November 2020

21 Economic Affairs Committee, ‘Building more homes - follow-up’ inquiry:

22 Science and Technology Committee, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?; (2nd Report 2016–17, HL Paper 115), Science and Technology Committee, Energy Efficiency (2nd Report, Session 2005–06, HL Paper 21)

23 Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, Building better places (Report of Session 2015–16, HL Paper 100)

24 Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, Building better places (Report of Session 2015–16, HL Paper 100).

25 Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, Building better places (Report of Session 2015–16, HL Paper 100).

26 Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, Tackling intergenerational unfairness (Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 329)

27 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Land Value Capture (Tenth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 766)

28 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, ‘The future of the planning system in England’ inquiry:

29 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, ‘Supporting our high streets after COVID-19’ inquiry:

30 Transport Committee, ‘Reforming public transport after the pandemic’ inquiry:

31 HL Deb, 24 January 2017, cols 97GC–102GC

32 European Union Committee, Brexit: environment and climate change (12th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 109)

33 Letter to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Baroness Hayman supported by 13 colleagues and other members of the Peers for the Planet Group, 28 October 2020:

34 The Convention on Biological Diversity.

35 Ibid.

36 Constitution Committee, The Regulatory State: Ensuring its Accountability (6th Report, Session 2003–2004, HL Paper 68-I)

37 Select Committee on Regulators, UK economic regulators (Report of Session 2006–07, HL Paper 189-I)

38 Select Committee on Regulators, UK economic regulators (Report of Session 2006–07, HL Paper 189-I)

39 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Lord Rooker (RIS0010)

40 The Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

41 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from the Earl of Kinnoull (R1S0029)

42 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Lord Hollick (RIS0049)

43 HL Deb, 8 January 2020, cols 12–31

44 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker, 25 November 2020

45 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker, 25 November 2020

46 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker, 25 November 2020

47 Email to the Senior Deputy Speaker, 26 November 2020

48 See appendix 3.

49 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Baroness Kidron (RIS0040)

50 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Baroness Tyler of Enfield (RIS0044) and written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Baroness Tyler of Enfield (RIS0077)

51 Written evidence to the Liaison Committee inquiry ‘Review of investigative and scrutiny committees’ (Session 2017–19) from Lord Stern of Brentford and Alun Evans (RIS0039)

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