Embargo: 00:01 Monday 27th March 2006

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


A House of Lords Committee has today published a report criticising the Government for the poor quality of some secondary legislation. The Committee observed that many of the 1200 or so statutory instruments which become law every year affect large numbers of people, often more directly than the Acts of Parliament under which they are made. They called for better planning of Government regulations, clearer explanation of what new regulations mean and better consultation with those likely to be affected by them.

During the last two years, the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee has scrutinised over 2,000 items of secondary legislation presented to the House of Lords. It has identified a number of persistent deficiencies in the way new regulations are prepared and presented.

The Committee's report makes twenty recommendations for action that would improve the management, quality and scrutiny of secondary legislation. These include the need for Government departments to:

  • Plan their regulation programmes more rigorously and publish their plans annually.

  • Help Parliament to conduct proper scrutiny by ensuring a more even flow of regulations and by observing more strictly the rule that regulations should be laid at least 21 days before coming into force.

  • Identify clearly the impact of regulations which derive from EU legislation and consult with those affected before agreeing to such obligations

  • Ensure that consultation with those affected by new regulations, including where appropriate the general public, is timely and more thorough.

  • Make regulations and their explanatory memoranda simpler and easier to understand.

  • Review all regulations after a period of time to see whether they are working as intended.

  • Engage their top management more closely in overseeing the process.

The report acknowledges the Government's commitment to improving the quality of regulation and the machinery which has been put in place to carry this initiative forward. But it points out that statutory instruments, which are a major form of Government regulation, do not receive specific focus in the Cabinet Office's better regulation machinery and that departments are left to themselves to plan and manage their secondary legislation programmes

Commenting on the report's findings, Lord Filkin, Chairman of the Merits Committee said:

"Secondary legislation affects us all. And, unlike Acts of Parliament, it cannot be amended by Parliament - only approved or rejected - so it is important that it should have received full quality assurance before it is submitted for consideration by Parliament.

"Although the majority of the new regulations which come before us are well-crafted and fit for purpose, there are too many instruments which fail to meet standards of good practice.

" Secondary legislation should not be given second class treatment. It can have a major impact on individuals, as well as business and the voluntary sector, and needs to be drafted carefully and thoughtfully.

"Our inquiry has already prompted several Government departments to re-examine their procedures. It is now necessary for Government to take this forward and ensure that all departments do the same so that the secondary legislation that reaches Parliament is necessary, of good quality and not left to the last minute."


Note for Editors

1. The House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee was established in 2003 and began work in April 2004. Its task is to examine each statutory instrument presented to the House and to draw to attention any which deal with matters of significant public policy or show defects in certain areas - e.g. that they do not appear to meet their declared policy objectives or seek to implement EU legislation in an inappropriate manner. In the 22 months of its operation the committee has examined over 2,000 instruments, of which it has drawn about 1 in 12 to the attention of the House.

2. The members of the Committee which conducted this enquiry are:

Lord Filkin (Chairman)

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

Lord Boston of Faversham

Viscount Colville of Culross

Viscount Eccles

Lord Jopling

Baroness Maddock

Lord Methuen

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin

Earl of Northesk

Lord Tunnicliffe

3. The Committee has been concerned for some time about the uneven flow of instruments, with peaks at the ends of the calendar and financial years, and over the failure of many (about 1 in 10 last year) to meet the rule that they should be laid before Parliament at least 21 days before coming into force. Both these phenomena can make effective parliamentary scrutiny difficult. They have also been concerned with a lack of consultation on many Statutory Instruments. For these reasons the Committee carried out this inquiry, between November 2005 and February 2006, into the process by which Government departments prepare new instruments and lay them before Parliament.

4. The Committee took oral evidence from three departments and from the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, Jim Murphy MP, and from a number of organisations, including the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations.

5. The report is published as HL Paper 149, obtainable from The Stationery Office, Price £12 or available online at the committee's website on

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Filkin please contact Owen Williams, House of Lords Press and Information Officer on 020 7219 8659.