The House of Lords gets relatively little media attention. That applies not only to the chamber but also to committees. The House used to be a chamber-oriented institution, making little use of investigative committees. That has changed in recent years and the House has become a much more specialised body. It has created more select committees as well as making more extensive use of Grand Committees for the committee stage of Bills.
The range of committee work is perhaps best illustrated by looking at the inquiries presently being undertaken by select committees in the Lords. The following is not exhaustive as it does not include committees or sub-committees that have just completed an inquiry and not announced the next topic and put out a call for evidence.
Select Committee on the Barnett Formula – an ad hoc (i.e. temporary) committee set up to examine the Barnett formula on the allocation of funding to the devolved administrations
Communications Committee – Government communications system and the extent to which it is open, impartial, efficient and relevant to the public
Constitution Committee – surveillance and data collection
Economic Affairs Committee – banking supervision and regulation
EU Committee Sub-Committee A – EU financial regulation
EU Committee Sub-Committee C – recast of the First Railway Package
EU Committee Sub-Committee D – Less Favoured Area Scheme
EU Committee Sub-Committee F – civil protection and crisis management; money laundering and the financing of terrorism
EU Committee Sub-Committee G – Directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare
Science and Technology Committee – Sub-Committee I: Nanotechnologies and food
Science and Technology Committee – Sub-Committee II: Genomic medicine
Some of the domestic committees also undertake substantive inquiries. As you will know from an earlier post, during the debate on communication between Parliament and the public last month, the chairman of the Information Committee, Lord Renton, said he would be inviting the committee to examine the subject.
There is, in short, a great deal of work being undertaken away from the chamber. It places a strain on resources, both in terms of support staff and in terms of space – we have a limited number of committee rooms. Some of us would like to see an expansion of resources in order to see greater use made of committees. They engage in extremely productive work, attracting usually little attention from the mass media but substantially more from those bodies that operate within their area of concern.
Further details of select committees in the Lords can be found here.