1.Since 2012 the House of Lords has usually appointed four special inquiry committees each session. At least one of these has usually been a post-legislative scrutiny committee, such scrutiny being an innovation in the 2010–15 Parliament. In the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020–21 we agreed to pause post-legislative scrutiny in order to facilitate the appointment of a dedicated committee scrutinising the Government response to COVID-19, and to understanding the wider and longer-term impacts for the economy, society, technology and international relations.
2.The COVID-19 committee and the three current special inquiry committees, on a national plan for sport and recreation, risk assessment and risk planning and youth unemployment respectively, were all ordered to report by the end of November 2021 and are expected to do so. The Liaison Committee therefore had the challenging task of assessing all the bids for new committee activity to start in January 2022.
3.In July 2020 we recommended the appointment of an additional new committee, the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee “for the duration of the present session”. Although not a special inquiry committee, the need to establish this further committee at short notice stretched committee resources. Following our report setting out the case for the new committee, it was appointed by the House on 17 September 2020. In making our initial recommendation we “considered that it would be important that the Liaison Committee should keep the work of the [Common Frameworks] Committee under regular review”. Our first such review took place in March 2021, when we concluded that:
“The Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee is not a sessional select committee and will therefore cease to exist as and when Parliament is prorogued at the end of the session, unless a decision is taken to reappoint it. We believe it is performing a vital role, and one which, owing to the delays in the common frameworks programme, is likely to be needed until the end of 2021.”
4.Following this recommendation, the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee (CFSC) was reappointed at the start of the 2021–22 session. At our meeting in October 2021 we took note of a letter from Baroness Andrews, Chair of the CFSC, requesting a further extension in the light of the delays in common frameworks being produced. We noted the importance of the work of the CFSC and agreed to recommend the extension of its appointment until the end of July 2022, with the proviso that if it proved possible to complete its work at an earlier date it should do so.
5.Following one of the many recommendations of our wide-reaching review of committees, this year as well as considering proposals for new special inquiry committees we also needed to consider requests from Chairs of sessional committees that their committee should have the power to appoint a sub-committee, with the associated staff and other resources. We received a letter from Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, requesting the power to appoint a financial services sub-committee. We considered this carefully, alongside the requests for new special inquiry committees, and concluded that since the Industry and Regulators Committee was first appointed in 2021 it was preferable for it to complete its initial inquiries before considering any further expansion which would divert committee resources from other activity.
6.At our meeting on 15 November we also considered a letter from Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee and member of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill. That letter outlined proposals for a new joint committee to scrutinise the work of regulators and the digital regulation landscape. Whilst noting that the timing for appointment of any such new committee was still unclear, Lord Gilbert suggested that there would be “merit in the Committee being in place during the final parliamentary stages of the Online Safety Bill so that it can hit the ground running when these new and extensive powers are handed to Ofcom”. We are grateful to Lord Gilbert for this early indication of this proposal for a new committee to be appointed during the course of 2022, when we would need to consider it further, taking into account the timetable for the work of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.
7.The proposals for new special inquiry committees which we received in autumn 2021 were all published online on 28 October 2021. They are available at . The titles of the proposals are listed in Appendix 2.
8.We considered all the proposals for new committee activity in accordance with our published criteria for selection, as follows:
9.In addition, and as announced in our invitation to members of the House to submit proposals for new committee activity in 2021, we also took into account wider factors such as the balance of topics across the special inquiry committees (including in previous years), the work being undertaken by other Committees and within Government, and the possibility of early legislation on the subject matter.
10.Once again we had difficult choices to make, and are grateful to those members and committee Chairs who put forward their proposals, clearly putting a considerable amount of effort into doing so. The number of proposals we received underlines the high regard in which our committees are held across the House and beyond.
11.We are conscious that many of the subject areas proposed by members of the House, including those which we recommend in this report, are as wide-ranging as they are topical and important. We recommend that when agreeing their detailed calls for evidence all committees should be mindful of what can feasibly be achieved in the timeframe available.
12.In view of the pressures on committee rooms in the House of Lords, particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, earlier this year we agreed in principle that newly appointed committees should be invited to meet on other days of the week, for example Thursdays or Mondays. We reiterate this recommendation.
13.This report sets out our other recommendations to the House.
1 Liaison Committee, (4th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 115), para 18
2 Liaison Committee, (4th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 115).
3 Ibid., para 17
4 Liaison Committee, (9th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 241)
5 Liaison Committee, (6th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 398)
6 Letter to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, 9 September 2021
7 Letter to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, 10 November 2021
8 Letter to the Senior Deputy Speaker from Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, 10 November 2021