The next parliamentary session will see the House of Lords undertake a one year inquiry on strengthening the charity sector. This post explores how that committee will work and how charities can feed in.
Since the Lords voted to approve the House of Lords Liaison Committee’s proposal to set up four ad hoc committees in March, we’ve known that a new committee on charity sector governance will be appointed. As I tried to research how these committees work, it became clear to me that unusually for a parliamentary process no one seems to have written the basic guide – so now that it is on the agenda and many charities may want to think about how to contribute, I hope this post may be helpful.
Over the next few months there will be much discussion over what the committee should focus on, and how it can work with charities to strengthen the sector, but I want to focus on the mechanics of how they work and how charities can influence them.
What are ad hoc committees?
Like the Commons, the Lords has a number of permanent subject-based committees, but each year they also set up four year-long committees to look at more specific subjects in detail.
Committees are formally set up at the start of the parliamentary year, following on from the Queen’s speech. They then have up to a year to investigate the subject that has been decided, and I would expect the committee on strengthening the charity sector to report in early 2017.
How are they set up?
During each parliamentary session, the House of Lords Liaison Committee invites submissions from peers on what issues should be covered in the year ahead. This year, new peer Lord Shinkwin who has an extensive background working in the charity sector, put forward a proposal for a committee to look at how the charity sector can be strengthened in the face of reduced public trust.
Several ideas are shortlisted and then examined in more detail by the Liaison Committee which then selects four to be taken forward in a report which is then voted on by Lords (in practice routinely passed). Lord Shinkwin’s proposal was taken forward along with inquiries on the long-term sustainability of the NHS, financial inclusion and post-legislative scrutiny of the Licensing Act 2003.
What happens next?
Now that we know there is going to be a committee, thoughts turn to who will be on it and how it will operate. Ad hoc committee membership is made up of four Conservative peers, four Labour peers, two Liberal Democrats and two Crossbenchers. Like other aspects of Lords business there is no government majority on the committee, meaning that their approach tends to be more pragmatic and consensual.
When, like this year, there is a May Queen’s speech, committee membership is normally announced in June, and the newly formed committees are likely to meet by July, often kicking things off with general evidence sessions that will allow them to develop a clearer idea of what they are hoping to cover.
Even at an early stage, these committees will be well worth influencing. Although the committee will have to follow the broad direction that has been set out, the result of the inquiry could be impacted significantly by how they choose to address the subject and the specific questions they ask.
Because of the way they are set up, Lords ad hoc committees are especially keen to hear outside expertise, and can be a golden opportunity for charities and other organisations to further their agenda. The forthcoming committee on strengthening the charity sector looks set to be significant for many of the debates we are currently wrestling with, and I have no doubt the vast expertise in our charities will be called upon.
If you want to know more, we’ve put together a new course looking at how to influence parliament’s varying committees, which will use a mix of theoretical and practical learning to ensure that you understand how to engage with committees, how to maximise the impact of written submissions and how to prepare if your organisation is invited to give oral evidence.