The JCHR today publishes its Ninth Report, Legislative Scrutiny Update, setting out its progress with the examination of Government Bills this Session.
The Committee has this Session reported on the Crown and Courts Bill, the Defamation Bill and the Justice and Security Bill (twice); and it continues to examine the Children and Families Bill, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and the Energy Bill, all of which are carried over into the next Session. The Committee decided that it was not able to consider further the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.
The Committee welcomes the Succession to the Crown Bill in principle as a human rights enhancing measure. However, it is also concerned about the unnecessary use of fast-track legislation in connection with this Bill as it concerns significant constitutional matters, which require full debate in Parliament and therefore regrets the limited opportunity provided by the Government for detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill.
The Committee is also disappointed that it did not have time to consider and report upon the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill, the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill and the Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill on account of their being fast-tracked as emergency legislation.
It welcomes the Government’s acceptance of the recommendation of the House of Lords Constitution Committee that, when it introduces fast-track legislation, it should provide Parliament with information about the efforts that have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised.
However, it also recommends that the Government go further and bring forward practical proposals which would ensure that parliamentary committees with a legislative scrutiny function have a proper opportunity to scrutinise fast-track legislation early enough to allow committees’ recommendations fully to inform members of both Houses.
This also applies to the timetabling of other Bills, such as the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill which was fast-tracked through the House of Commons.
The Committee is also concerned at the late introduction of Government amendments with significant human rights implications, such as happened, for example, in connection with the Crime and Courts Bill. It recommends that such Government amendments be accompanied by a human rights memorandum, with due notice so that the Committee has sufficient time to scrutinise and if necessary report on the amendments before the next stage of the Bill’s passage.
It further recommends that the Government ensure that it is given early sight of, or are notified about, Government amendments to Bills that relate directly either to recommendations it has previously made or to concerns it has expressed in correspondence with ministers.
The Committee recommends that all Government departments adopt the best practice of publishing on introduction of a Bill a detailed human rights memorandum based upon the ECHR memorandum prepared for the Cabinet’s Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee. This would enable the Committee’s legislative scrutiny to be more focused, and in some cases might lead to a Bill being cleared from scrutiny earlier than would otherwise be the case.
The Committee intends to explore through the relevant channels in both Parliament and Government how best to give effect to these recommendations; and it will continue to give thought to how it can best assist departments to understand and meet its expectations as a Committee which conducts systematic legislative scrutiny of Government Bills.
The Committee also reports that it has cleared from scrutiny the EU (Approvals) Bill; the EU (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill; the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill; the HGV Road User Levy Bill; and the Partnerships (Prosecution) Scotland Bill.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said:
“We welcome the Government’s engagement with the Committee on many Bills, but we are aware that there are still patches of bad practice within Government that without good reason make our job of scrutiny harder than it ought to be.
"We are also concerned at the capacity of Government to rush Bills through both Houses or to table significant numbers of amendments late in the day, both of which practices seriously impede the scrutiny that Parliament expects this Committee to carry out.”