Each session, the House of Lords not only re-appoints its investigative sessional select committees (communications, constitution, economic affairs, European Union, international relations, and science and technology), it also appoints ad hoc committees to examine particular topics during the course of the session. It used to appoint one a session, but it moved in the 2010-15 Parliament to appointing four, including one to engage in post-legislative scrutiny of a particular Act (such as the Mental Health Act) or legislation in a particular field (such as adoption). This has enabled the House to cover a range of important issues that merit investigation and appoint committees that utilise the strengths of the House in terms of members’ experience and expertise.
Topics for investigation are put forward by members to the Liaison Committee, which then makes recommendations to the House and it is for the House to agree those recommendations. The process is thus member-driven. For the current 2017-18 session, the Liaison Committee recommended the creation of committees on:
Citizenship and Civic Engagement. The committee is likely to examine the meaning of British citizenship and the rights and responsibilities attached to citizenship. The Liaison Committee envisaged that it would also address such questions as how civic engagement is manifested in different parts of society and the barriers to citizenship affecting particular parts of society, including marginalised communities.
Political Polling and Digital Media. As the Liaison Committee noted, ‘While both political polling and social/digital media undoubtedly have an effect on political discourse, relatively little work has been carried out to assess the combined effects of both. An ad hoc committee might therefore wish to consider how the two factors interrelate, as well as how each issue affects politics on its own.’ The committee, chaired by Lord Lipsey, has also already issued a call for evidence.
Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. This is designed to examine whether the Act, ten years on, has achieved what it was designed to achieve and, as the Liaison Committee observed, is in a position to address issues likely to be of interest to the public, such as conserving biodiversity, the promotion of open spaces and open-air recreation, and rural needs. It too has also issued a call for evidence.
These committees complement the sessional committees and reflect the greater specialisation of the House, working through committees rather than being purely a chamber-oriented institution. They complement the work of the House of Commons, covering subjects not covered by the departmental and other investigative select committees. The use of ad hoc committees enables the House to move to address important issues of current concern and to do so on a flexible basis. The sessional limit gives a committee time to produce substantial, evidence-based reports (some issue interim reports before the final one) and for government to respond. The result is examination of a range of important subjects, making efficient use of resources. The committees enable engagement with those outside the House who wish to contribute. Those established for this session cover subjects of importance to the health of our political system. Those with an interest in their work are encouraged to contribute as well as follow their proceedings.