House of Lords Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments


18 MAY 2004


The new House of Lords Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments sets out today how it will assist the House in scrutinising secondary legislation even more effectively.

Much of Government policy is implemented by secondary legislation (statutory instruments). Its volume and importance has increased significantly, with about 1,500 statutory instruments coming before Parliament every year.

They cover an enormously wide range of subjects - changes in social security payments, stem cell research, control of arms trading and the regulation of food importation and processing, to name but a few. In recent reports, the Committee has drawn the attention of the House to instruments relating to the implications of EU enlargement, the withdrawal of financial assistance to the Progressive Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, and the conduct of clinical trials on medicinal products for human use.

The Merits Committee looks at the policy behind statutory instruments as they pass through the Lords, and reports those to the House that it believes to be of special interest. In highlighting these instruments, the Committee aims to stimulate interest in them and to inform and focus Parliamentary debate about them.

As today's report shows, the Committee has already secured a promise from the Government to publish written explanations for all negative and affirmative statutory instruments. This is an important commitment which the Committee welcomes. It will help Members of the House, and the wider public, make sense of what these - often impenetrable - instruments are all about.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Chairman of the Committee, said

 "Secondary legislation can have a huge impact on the daily lives of people. The Committee has a vital role to play in ensuring that Parliament exercises effective scrutiny and understands the full implications of the legislation it is asked to pass."


1.  The Committee was appointed by the House of Lords on 17 December 2003. The first report of the Committee announced the inquiry into working methods (First Report, Session 2003-04, HL Paper 18).

2.  The Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords recommended that a "sifting" mechanism should be established, either by way of a joint committee or a Lords only committee, to identify those statutory instruments which were important and merited further debate or consideration (Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, A House for the Future, Cm 4534 (January 2000), Cm 4534). The Report of the Leader's Group on the Working of the House, (HL Paper 111, Session 2001-02 April 2002) took up this proposal and recommended that a committee be established to examine the merits of every statutory instrument subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The House of Lords Liaison Committee agreed tha such a committee should be established from the beginning of the 2003 session. The House agreed this on 27 February 2003 and on 16 June 2003, the House agreed the Committee's terms of reference (HL Hansard, 17 December 2003, cols 1156-57).

3.  Membership:

Lord Addington Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Chairman)
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Jopling
Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Methuen
Viscount Colville of Culross Earl of Northesk
Lord Desai Viscount Ullswater
Lord Graham of Edmonton

4.   Terms of reference:

"To consider every instrument which is laid before each House of Parliament and upon which proceedings may be or might have been taken in either House of Parliament, in pursuance of an Act of Parliament …with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds:

(a)  that it is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House;

(b)  that it is inappropriate in view of the changed circumstances since the passage of the parent Act;

(c)  that it inappropriately implements EU legislation;

(d)  that it imperfectly achieves its policy objectives."

5.  The Committee will complement the work of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments which provides a technical scrutiny of statutory instruments, considering issues such as vires and the drafting of an instrument.


Christine Salmon
Clerk to the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments
House of Lords  London  SW1A 0PW

Tel: 020 7219 3233  Fax: 020 7219 2571