At the end of last year, I gave a paper at a conference on committees in comparative perspective, held in Brussels. My paper addressed post-legislative scrutiny in the House of Lords. It was a productive gathering and as a result of the deliberations I was able to revise and substantially strengthen the piece. The conference papers are now to be published in a special issue of The Journal of Legislative Studies this autumn. My article has already been published online. (You can read it here.) Here is the abstract:
‘Legislatures appoint committees for different purposes. Both Houses of the UK Parliament separate legislative committees from non-legislative, or select, committees. Each is unusual in that it utilises select committees to engage in post-legislative scrutiny. We examine why each engages in this type of scrutiny, given competing demands for limited resources. Distributive and informational theories are utilised to explain the difference between the two chambers, identifying why the form of asymmetrical bicameralism to be found in the United Kingdom facilitates scrutiny that would otherwise not be undertaken. The genesis and impact of post-legislative scrutiny committees are considered, with a focus on the House of Lords and why the use of such committees plays to the strengths of the House.’
The focus is explaining the difference in approach between the two Houses. Departmental select committees in the Commons are used by MPs as part of their profile raising (‘look at me’) activities. It is in their political interests to be seen. This influences their choice of select committee when seeking election to a committee and the committee’s choice of topic for inquiry. In the Lords, select committees serve the House rather than the members. Whereas MPs through being elected to the Commons can take legitimacy as given (input legitimacy), members of the Lords cannot and so focus on ensuring the House fulfils the tasks expected of it (output legitimacy). Failing to do so may prove an existentialist threat to the House, so members commit themselves to the work of whatever committee to which they are appointed by the House.
These differences are beneficial in that the approach to post-legislative scrutiny ensures a greater range of scrutiny than would otherwise be possible. With departmental select committees, it is not consistent, but tends to go for the more high-profile and salient issues, whereas the Lords appoints a committee each year to review a specified Act or legislation in a particular field, doing so in a way that differs from that of the Commons.
To explore this further, just read the article….