Constitution Committee sets out fast-track legislation proposals

07 July 2009

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published a report on the use of fast-track legislation and set out some principles the Government should follow when attempting to fast-track the normal legislative process

The Committee argue that the fast-tracking of legislation should only be used in exceptional circumstances and assert that the normal Parliamentary scrutiny process is important and should be adhered to where possible. The Committee consider how the fast-track process was used in relation to, amongst others, various pieces of anti-terrorism legislation, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 and the Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 (all in Chapter 3 of the report).

Having considered these examples the Committee make a range of recommendations for formalising the fast-track legislative process to ensure it is only used where necessary, and when used still allows Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed legislation.

The Committee recommend that where the government is proposing to fast track a bill the Minister responsible should be required to make an oral statement to the House of Lords outlining their case for fast-tracking. This statement should then be debated by the House and should include details of:

  • Why fast tracking is necessary?
  • What efforts have been made to allow the maximum possible Parliamentary time for scrutiny?
  • To what extent stakeholders have been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
  • Does the Bill include a sunset clause? And if not why not?
  • Are mechanisms for post-legislative review in place?
  • Has there been an assessment of whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the issue in question?
  • Have the relevant Parliamentary Committees been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

The Committee also make a range of other recommendations for formalising the fast-track legislation process. Including:

  • Government should make provision for pre-legislative scrutiny of fast-tracked legislation including consulting relevant Parliamentary Committees and stakeholders ahead of second reading in the House in which the bill was introduced.
  • There should be a presumption that any piece of fast-tracked legislation should include a sunset clause the details of this should be set out by the Minister in the Oral Statement the Committee have recommended.
  • There should be a presumption that fast-tracked legislation should be subject to prompt post legislative review. This should ideally take place within one year and at most within two years of implementation.

The Committee go on to remind Members of the House of Lords that any Member who is not content with the Government’s justification for fast tracking can seek the opinion of the House when the motion to suspend Standing Order 47 – which prevents more than one stage of a bill from being taken in one day – is moved.

The Committee say that if they judge that any of the principles they have identified have not been met they will recommend that the House does not support the motion to suspend Standing Order 47.

Commenting Lord Goodlad, Chairman of the Lords Constitution Committee, said:

"We have been looking in detail at the process of fast-tracked legislation and are publishing our report at a time when the Government are using the process to push through the Parliamentary Standard Bill. We have looked at that Bill separately in another report but here we are setting out some general principles which will improve the fast track process.

"We feel strongly that if the Government is seeking to use fast-track legislation the onus is on it to make the case for why that is necessary. It must be a standard procedure that where the fast-track process is used the relevant Minister makes a statement to the House clarifying why this extreme measure is being used.

"Fast track legislation must also be subject as far as possible to Parliamentary scrutiny. This means some pre-legislative consultation, the involvement of relevant Parliamentary Committees and prompt post-legislative review to ensure the bill has achieved what was intended.

"We also suggest that all fast tracked legislation should include a sun-set clause and only in exceptional circumstances, where the logic of the decision is clearly explained, should this requirement be ignored."

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, Lords news, Parliamentary business, Bill news, Committee news, Legislative process

Share this page