Saint Lucia Senators Examine Parliamentary Committees with UK House of Lords

Published 18 July 2023

Participating Senators, Members and officials from the Parliament of Saint Lucia

Participating Senators, Members and officials from the Parliament of Saint Lucia

Saint Lucian Senators, Members of the House of Assembly and officials met with Peers and clerks in the UK House of Lords to discuss committees and their impact within a parliamentary democracy. This programme was held virtually for half a day in June 2023 and covered the purpose and operation of committees, cross-party working, inquiries, and the role of the Chair.

The size of the upper houses in the parliaments of the UK and Saint Lucia are very different. The Saint Lucia Senate has a membership of eleven, whilst the current active membership of the House of Lords stands at 777. However, despite the significant difference in scale, there are many commonalities in the respective committee systems. In this programme, participants on both sides of the Atlantic were keen to learn from each other’s experiences.

“I see the committee being the heart and soul of parliament, in terms of performing functions effectively.” Senator, Parliament of Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia's Standing Orders set out the Senate's four sessional committees. These are the Standing Order Committee, the House Committee, the Committee of Privileges, and the Regulations Committee. These are similar to several House of Lords domestic committees, such as the House of Lords Commission and the Procedure and Privileges Committee. Both the Senate and the Lords have the power to create committees to consider an issue, and they can form joint committees with their respective lower houses, the House of Assembly and the House of Commons.

Programme participants in the Chamber of the Parliament of Saint Lucia

Programme participants in the Chamber of the Parliament of Saint Lucia

In the Lords, the remit of a committee is initially quite broad. The committee then narrows the focus and agrees on the subject of an inquiry. Inquiries can be topical and play to the interests and expertise of committee members. They should not duplicate committee work taking place in the Commons. Committees may examine neglected areas of policy, or they may look at recent or upcoming legislation. The main output is a report containing a committee’s recommendations, and the Government should respond within two months. The hope is that these reports will "change policy for the better" and that government policymakers, political parties, and academics will consider the committees' work.

“The hope is that reports change policy for the better.” Committee official, UK House of Lords

During the programme Members of the House of Lords shared tips on running inquiries. When questioning a witness, for example, it can be helpful for two committee members to work together as ‘good cop, bad cop.’ This strategy balances building a rapport with a witness and asking the necessary searching questions. When asking a question, they advised, committee members should not get caught up in saying their planned question in an impactful way that they neglect to listen to the answer and consider supplementary questions.

Committees need a level of cross-party cooperation to operate. In the House of Lords, political parties agree on the focus of new committees in advance, so it would be very unusual for a Peer to vote against the creation of a committee. In the Lords, the approach to running committees is highly collegiate. Whilst in a public evidence session, the Chair may be very directive, while in private the Chair works in partnership with Members. Rather than following written rules, these ways of operating are often guided by convention. A UK Peer summed up these established expectations: “We all know how a Chair is expected to behave.”

CPA UK has an active partnership with the Parliament of Saint Lucia. In 2021 CPA UK facilitated a Post-Election Seminar in Saint Lucia, with a focus on committees, and we look forward to future collaboration.