Review of select committee activity and proposals for new committee activity - Liaison Committee Contents


Proposals for NEW committee activity

Appointment of new committees

27.  We remain of the view that the best way of ensuring that committees reflect the changing priorities of the House and engage the full range of its membership is to appoint them on a time-limited basis, to conduct a specific inquiry with a membership tailored to that task. Regular turnover of members gives a wider range of members the opportunity to serve, and short, sharp inquiries should also make it easier for members with significant commitments outside the House to participate.

28.  As we anticipated in our 3rd report of last Session, fixed terms also allow us to play a more active role in reviewing and adapting the select committee activity of the House in future, thereby addressing the Leader's Group's recommendation that the House's select committee activity should be kept under regular review. The resources to support new select committee activity are released at the end of each Session, giving this Committee more room to facilitate proposals for new select committees submitted by members of the House in the course of the Session. We have also been able to consider proposals for re-appointment by existing committees, or an expansion of their activity, against this backdrop.

29.  We remind members of the House that they may submit proposals for new ad hoc committees to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee at any time. We would particularly welcome proposals from members of the House towards the end of next Session, to inform our deliberations as we prepare to make recommendations to the House on the appointment of new ad hoc committees for the 2014-15 Session.

30.  In our 1st report of last Session we estimated the additional marginal cost of a new unit of committee activity as £225,000. Clearly some committees are more expensive to run than others, for example those requiring substantial legal advice or overseas travel. In our 3rd report of last Session we recommended an additional unit of committee activity for the present session, and the House Committee approved this additional expenditure in principle. This increase in ad hoc committee activity has been very well received, and the House Committee has indicated to us that if we are persuaded by the case made to us it would ensure that funds are made available to support the work of a further additional unit of committee activity in the 2013/14 session, again costed at £225,000.

31.  As is evident below, we have indeed been so persuaded of the case for a further modest expansion of committee activity, following the expansion of ad hoc committee activity in the 2012-13 Session. We accordingly recommend the appointment of a further additional unit of committee activity in the 2013-14 Session.

32.  The scope for extra committees is not however without limit. The availability of committee rooms, for example, is a constraint. In addition, there is a necessary time-lag in securing staff to support new committee work—we understand that it is likely that this additional unit of committee activity will be unable to start its work until the autumn, to allow for the recruitment and training of its staff. We have therefore tried to accommodate as many of the proposals as possible, in some cases by combining more than one proposal. Two of our recommendations are for short inquiries, with the aim of maximising the number of inquiries which can be carried out in one session.

33.  We recommend that two of the new ad hoc committees should last for only a few months each, to enable both to be accommodated within the 2013-14 Session.

Pre-legislative committees in Session 2013-14

34.  We remain committed to supporting the work of pre-legislative committees. The experience of recent Sessions has demonstrated the important role such committees can play in engaging a wider audience in the scrutiny of legislation than is possible on the floor of the House, and in assisting policy formulation. The staff resource currently provided for supporting pre-legislative committees enables the House to administer one such unit of activity at any one time. This has proved adequate in the current Session, although by its nature pre-legislative scrutiny work is very intensive and typically involves the staff concerned working long hours to support it.

35.  We expect the joint committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting Bill to start work shortly. We anticipate other draft legislation being presented for scrutiny during the course of the next Session.

Proposals for ad hoc Committees

36.  In autumn 2012 the Chairman invited proposals from members of the House for ad hoc Committees in the 2013-14 Session, setting a deadline of 18 January to allow time for their proper evaluation. Although in some cases members proposed only a Committee title (indicated by an asterisk in the list below), others sent in letters or memoranda, all of which are printed as Appendices to this report. The following proposals were received, including some proposals for sessional committees.

COMMITTEE ORGANISATION

  • General Affairs Committee, to conduct topical inquiries at short notice, co-opting members as required (Lord Grenfell)*
  • More Joint Committees (Lord Ramsbotham)

DOMESTIC AFFAIRS

  • Church and state (Lord Harries of Pentregarth)
  • Discrimination and intolerance in Britain (Baroness Young of Hornsey)
  • Online issues (communications) (Baroness Kidron)*
  • Oversight of policy and legislation implementation (Lord Mawhinney)
  • Preventing religiously-based gender discrimination in arbitration and mediation services (Baroness Cox, with letters of support from Lord Eden of Winton and Lord Elton)
  • The consequences of the use of personal service companies for tax collection (Lord Myners)*
  • The response of voluntary organisations to a changing environment in order to better serve the communities they support (Baroness Andrews)
  • Welfare and protection of children—the place and treatment of children within society (Lord Foulkes of Cumnock)*
  • Social mobility (Baroness Tyler of Enfield)
  • Inquiries (Lord Shutt of Greetland)

FOREIGN AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

  • General foreign affairs committee (Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Lord Howell of Guildford, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Earl of Sandwich, Lord Luce*, Baroness Manningham-Buller*)
  • Reviewing the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne )
  • Select Committee on the Commonwealth (Lord Foulkes of Cumnock)*
  • The Arab Spring: consequences and prospects (Lord Davies of Stamford)*
  • The future of UK in Europe and the consequences of detachment (Lord Christopher)*
  • The support and promotion of the need for modern foreign language skills in the UK's economy, education and international relations (Baroness Coussins)
  • Britain's influence abroad (Baroness O'Cathain)

GROWTH

  • Financing of infrastructure (including energy, transport, flood defence and housing) (Lord Whitty)*
  • Future land use (including planning, agriculture, forestry, housing and development) (Lord Whitty)*
  • Joint Committee on growth and competitiveness (Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield)
  • Overseas trade (Lord Ezra, Lord Stoddart of Swindon*)

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

  • Review of the long term financial and clinical sustainability of the present configuration of health and social care systems (Lord Warner)
  • The implementation of parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the NHS (Lord Layard, Baroness Hollins, Baroness Meacher, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Lord Bragg, Lord Patel of Bradford and Lord Tunnicliffe)

OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC LEGACY

  • Legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (Baroness Billingham, Baroness Doocey, Lord Moynihan)
  • Legacy of the United Nations Resolution declaring the 2012 Olympic truce (Lord Bates)

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

  • Better regulation of risk based on robust scientific evidence (short inquiry) (Earl of Lindsay, Lord McKenzie of Luton and Lord Curry of Kirkharle)
  • Disposal and potential re-use of nuclear waste, and the co-ordination of the UK's nuclear industry in both respects (Viscount Hanworth)*

37.  We were delighted by this response to our request, which demonstrates the enthusiasm of members of the House for ad hoc Committee activity. We considered the proposals received against the criteria set out in the Leader's Group's Report, quoted in paragraph 7 above.

38.  We also took into account our helpful meeting with the Chairmen of the three ad hoc Committees appointed by the House in the present session. Our discussion with Baroness Butler-Sloss, Chairman of the Select Committee on Adoption Legislation, Lord Cope of Berkeley, Chairman of the Select Committee on Small and Medium sized Enterprises and Exports, and Lord Filkin, Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change, led us to conclude that it is important to ensure that the work of ad hoc Committees can be confined to a single session.

An ad hoc Committee with an international dimension

39.  Several members proposed a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, with others proposing subjects for an ad hoc committee with an international dimension. Taking into account recent Parliamentary activity, we considered that several of these ideas, including a proposal by Baroness O'Cathain on Britain's interests abroad, could be developed to examine the coordination between Government departments in the use of 'soft power' in promoting the UK's interests abroad.[6] This inquiry would, we believe, be sufficiently focused to enable the Committee to conclude its work within a single session.

40.  There has been increasing emphasis on the value of soft power in recent years. Lord Carter of Coles conducted a review of 'public diplomacy' in 2005, which led to the creation of a Public Diplomacy Board.[7] This was replaced in 2009 by a Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Forum, but this has now been stood down. The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the National Security Strategy stressed the value of soft power in response to the challenges facing defence funding. The SDSR refers to a need for a "whole of government" approach to foreign and defence policy, and the value of British culture and language, and participation in international institutions, to Britain's role in the world.

41.  The Foreign Secretary argued for the importance of soft power as a "vital component" of the UK's international influence in a 2010 speech.[8] To that end, the 2010 FCO Business Plan contained a commitment to "develop a long-term programme to enhance UK 'soft power', coordinated by the National Security Council". A motion on the importance of soft power was debated in the House on 28 April 2011.[9]

42.  An ad hoc select committee could examine the coordination between Government departments in the use of 'soft power' in promoting the UK's interests abroad, and future priorities in this regard.

43.  We recommend the appointment of an ad hoc committee on the use of soft power in promoting the UK's interests abroad, to report by the end of the 2013-14 Session.

A short ad hoc Committee on the strategic issues for regeneration and sporting legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games

44.  Several members, including Lord Moynihan, former Chairman of the British Olympic Association, proposed inquiries relating to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Both the current and the previous Government are committed to achieving a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Games, in the successful delivery of which several members of the House played a leading role.

45.  There is a large range of issues which could be covered by such an inquiry. We consider that at this stage it would be preferable for an inquiry to be focused on the regeneration legacy and the sports legacy—the two issues highlighted by Lord Moynihan. A short inquiry focused on these strategic issues would be particularly timely in the run up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July and August 2014.

46.  We recommend the appointment of an ad hoc committee on the strategic issues for regeneration and sporting legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to report by autumn 2013.

A short ad hoc Committee on the consequences of the use of personal service companies for tax collection

47.  This proposal was put forward by Lord Myners. Personal service companies (PSCs) are owned, run by and employ one person. They are widely used by contractors and freelancers who often draw their income by way of a dividend from the PSC's profits. Many employers insist on contractors/freelancers having personal service companies to avoid the hassles and costs of employment rights when hiring an employee for a short-term job. For contractors and freelancers PSCs reduce their tax bills. For genuine one-person businesses, where there are running costs incurred, these tax benefits are generally seen as acceptable. But the system encourages abuse where long-term employees are paid through a personal service company solely to pay less tax than they would have if their income had been subject to income tax like a regular employee. Numerous attempts have been made to tackle this abuse. In 2000 the Government introduced legislation to prevent the use of PSCs purely to convert employee income into dividend income to lessen their tax bill. These rules are still in place and go by the name IR35.

48.  In 2012 PSCs hit the headlines when a Treasury review found 2,400 'off-payroll' engagements with staff earning more than £58,200 a year in central government departments and their arms length bodies. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee held a brief inquiry and reported on this issue in September 2012.[10] The Commons inquiry focused on the public sector and administration of the existing system.

49.  A short House of Lords ad hoc inquiry could be carried out within 6-8 oral evidence sessions, and include examination of the use of PSCs both in the public and private sectors.

50.  We recommend the appointment of an ad hoc committee on the consequences of the use of personal service companies for tax collection, to begin its work following the completion of the work of the committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to report by the end of the 2013-14 Session.

Post-Legislative scrutiny

51.  The Leader's Group on Working Practices recommended that the House "appoint a Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, to manage the process of reviewing up to four selected Acts of Parliament each year."[11] The Government have committed to publish post-legislative assessments of almost all Acts passed since 2005 within 3-5 years of their passing. While a considerable number of post-legislative memoranda have been published, some are already being considered by House of Commons committees and others are not suitable for a significant post-legislative scrutiny inquiry.

52.  In our 3rd report of last Session we supported a variant proposal from the Leader of the House, that it would make better use of the expertise of members to establish an ad hoc committee on a particular Act or Acts. We recommended the adoption of a post-legislative scrutiny Committee to examine the Children and Adoption Act 2006 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002. We agree with Baroness Butler-Sloss, the Chairman of the Adoption Legislation Committee, that the work of that Committee has been successful and is helping to inform current debates on Children and Families policy.[12]

A post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005

52.  The Ministry of Justice published the post-legislative scrutiny memorandum for the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in October 2010.[13] Following publication of the post-legislative memorandum the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice held an evidence session with the Public Guardian and the Director of the Royal Courts of Justice Group, and the House of Commons Health Select Committee has similarly heard a limited amount of evidence.

53.  The Act provides a legal framework for making decisions on behalf of adults whose mental capacity is impaired. It was substantially amended by the Mental Health Act 2007. The Mental Capacity Bill was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. A post-legislative review of the Act would not only provide an important opportunity to consider the issues above but it could look at how the pre-legislative scrutiny process influenced the passage of the Bill, whether issues that were raised in pre-legislative scrutiny were ignored and whether any such issues have led to problems since the Act came into force.

54.  The Government's post-legislative memorandum suggested that the legislation was working well other than in a few "small and technical" areas. This view was broadly upheld in 2010 by the Public Guardian's evidence to the Justice Committee. Since that date concerns have been expressed that the procedural safeguards in the Act may be inadequate to satisfy the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Mental Capacity Act was amended in the light of the Bournewood judgment which found the UK in breach of Article 5 of the ECHR. The recent findings about the treatment of residents at the Winterbourne View care home, together with a recent Mencap report highlighting deficiencies in the care of mentally disordered patients, suggest that the legislative regime for mentally incapacitated adults would merit scrutiny by a House of Lords post-legislative scrutiny committee. Such scrutiny could include consideration of external oversight of the decisions made on behalf of incapacitated individuals by medical professionals and guidelines on "best interests" decisions, where social workers and others have taken over decision-making in areas such as personal welfare, type of care or financial affairs on someone else's behalf.

55.  We recommend the appointment of an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Mental Capacity Act 2005, to report before the end of the 2013-14 Session.

A post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Inquiries Act 2005

56.  The Inquiries Act 2005 replaced a number of older statutes with a single, unified scheme for the holding of public inquiries. According to the Ministry of Justice, the Act aimed: "to make inquiries swifter, more effective at finding facts and making practical recommendations, and less costly whilst still meeting the need to satisfy the public expectation for a thorough and wide ranging investigation. [It] also aimed to restore public confidence in the inquiry process particularly given the concerns and controversies generated by the conduct of inquiries such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and other earlier pre-2005 Act inquiries."[14] The Ministry of Justice published a post-legislative assessment of the Act in 2010.[15] The House of Commons Justice Select Committee has not undertaken post-legislative scrutiny of the Act.

57.  The Act granted ministers a significant range of powers in relation to inquiries, including powers:

  • To set up an inquiry;
  • To set the terms of reference;
  • To appoint the chairman and panel members;
  • To suspend an inquiry;
  • To terminate an inquiry;
  • To restrict public attendance at an inquiry or part of an inquiry;
  • To restrict publication of inquiry documents;
  • To vary or revoke restrictions on public access to the inquiry or its documents.

58.  The Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed concerns that inquiries held under the Act might be insufficiently independent to satisfy the requirements of article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to life). Concerns have also been raised around the confidentiality of information provided to inquiries after the inquiry has concluded. Under the Act, once the inquiry record has been lawfully passed to, and held by, a public authority (such as a government department), the record ceases to be exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

59.  A post-legislative committee could consider issues including the function of inquiries and the principles that should underlie their use, and the extent to which the Inquiries Act 2005 reflects those principles; the respective roles of Parliament, the Government, the courts and inquiry panels themselves in making decisions about inquiries; the success of the 2005 Act in securing public confidence in inquiries; and the extent to which the 2005 Act has enabled inquiries to be cheaper and quicker than those before 2005.

60.  We recommend the appointment of an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Inquiries Act 2005, to report before the end of the 2013-14 Session.


6   'Soft power' can be defined as the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion. The American political scientist and Harvard scholar Joseph S Nye is considered to have pioneered this concept, alongside that of 'smart power'.  Back

7   Lord Carter of Coles, Public Diplomacy Review, December 2005 Back

8   William Hague, speech on 'Britain's values in a networked world' Lincoln's Inn (15 September 2010) Back

9   Baroness Taylor of Bolton to call attention to the level of co-ordination between Government departments on the use of soft power in the interests of the United Kingdom, HL Deb, 28 April 2011, Col. 278 Back

10   House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, Off-payroll arrangements in the public sector, September 2012 available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpubacc/532/532.pdf  Back

11   Paragraphs 134-141. Back

12   The Committee's two reports are published as HL Paper 94, 1st report of Session 2012-13, Adoption: Pre-Legislative Scrutiny and HL Paper 127, 2nd report of Session 2012-13, Adoption: Post-Legislative Scrutiny. Back

13   http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/moj/2010/Memorandum-Justice-Select-Committee.pdf Back

14   Memorandum to the Justice Select Committee: Post-Legislative Assessment of the Inquiries Act 2005, paragraph 6: https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/moj/2010/Post-Legislative-Assessment-Inquiries-Act.pdf Back

15   http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/moj/2010/Post-Legislative-Assessment-Inquiries-Act.pdf Back


 
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