Scrutiny by committee

Lord Norton

43998The 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 CommitteeSub-Committee I: Nanotechnologies and food

Science and Technology CommitteeSub-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.

2 comments for “Scrutiny by committee

  1. Frank Wynerth Summers III
    19/01/2009 at 6:15 pm

    CSPAN (Cable Services Public Access Network) in the United States airs all question times in Commons as well as a handful of other events in the Commons. To the best of my knoweledge only the State Opening of Parliament and asoociated interviews and reportage are aired from Lords. Cetainly there has been a consensus in most American media in recent decades that democracy is a rule of the majority and equals freedom, goodness, and justice. None of the big names have been willing to exhibit any understanding of mixed governement and federalist institutions and customs as a check on democracy in our own system. I would not wish to tell Lords what it should or can afford to do but I think global sanity might be served by publicizing its work internationaly if it can be done without too much attendant controversy. Devolution in the UK is in a purely thoretical sense federalist, although I know Brits feel the need to apply for an exorcism if such a word is mentioned in reference to their constitution. There could be a positive exchange between the UK and the US at this time.

    I do not believe that nations and great powers exist to join in campfire songs together but as a person who sees themselves as a crypto Greek I cannot help feeling that a real constitutional dialogue is one of the flowerings of a mature civilization. Competitors, allies, friends and even enemies can learn from one another and the old world will still manage to roll on its selfish way. Realpolitik can always be taught just by allowing the governing to watch two starving predators near a fresh kill.

  2. ladytizzy
    21/01/2009 at 6:43 pm

    Nanotechnologies and Food: I do hope they forgot to put a comma in after Nanotechnologies though I see Prof. Krebs is still going strong.

    In all honesty, I have little idea about most of the stuff on your lists but, with a bit of effort, I would aim to get the gist within a reasonable amount of time. The EU issues are something else again.

    You have expressed disappointment in the lack of media attention a few times and I suggest this is due to the sackings of quality journalists across the board over the past few years who were capable of reading a) your posts and b) the minutes of committees.

    Bloggers and contributors don’t generally get paid and the pertinent question should be why do you, and I, and all the others bother posting? Maybe because you, I, and others actually give a damn, and we don’t want to be spoon-fed Cocoa Pops.

    Of course, the internet could be abused to force a UK government to backtrack on past statements and a three-line whip on (the lack of) transparency for MPs http://www.mysociety.org/2009/01/21/blimey-it-looks-like-the-internets-won/ whilst insisting on more transparency for local government.

    If you and I are doing the gvt’s work, can we claim expenses?

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