Procedure Committee

Press Notice No. 6 Session 2005-06 17 March2006


Speaking on the publication of the Procedure Committee's report on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, the Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Greg Knight MP said€”

We support the Government' s objective of making it easier to remove or simplify unnecessary and burdensome legislation. But this Bill, as currently drafted, tips the balance between the Executive and Parliament too far in the Government's favour. It gives Ministers powers to bypass the normal procedures required to pass an Act of Parliament without sufficient restrictions on the misuse of those powers. And it fails to provide the proportionate and robust parliamentary procedures needed to scrutinise and police those powers.

Our report contains a set of recommendations which will strengthen the parliamentary procedures and go some way towards putting right the present imbalance. We urge the Government to accept them and to bring forward at the Bill's next stage the necessary amendments to implement them.

Summary of the Report

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has been presented by the Government as a successor to the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. Building on experience gained from operating that Act, the Government say that Part 1 of the Bill would allow them 'to deliver non-controversial proposals for simplification [of the law]' without being constrained by 'a number of hurdles which inhibited the production of [Regulatory Reform Orders].'

To achieve this the Government has produced a bill which gives Ministers extensive powers to introduce orders to amend primary legislation 'in any way that an Act might'. The tests in the previous legislation have been removed and in their place there are only a number of 'preconditions' which a Minister must consider to have been satisfied and a requirement to undertake public consultation.

Furthermore it is for Ministers to propose what form of parliamentary scrutiny any such order should be subject to.

The procedural implications of the Bill are directly influenced by its scope. The House will expect significantly greater and more elaborate procedural safeguards over the use of a new power whose scope represents a fundamental change in the way Parliament deals with legislation than over the use of a power which is no more than an incremental development of an existing and well-established procedure.

We agree with the Regulatory Reform Committee that, as drafted, the Bill is of major constitutional significance. It is a long-standing, and widely supported, convention that such Bills are taken in Committee of the Whole House and we regret that the Government did not follow that precedent in this case.

The Bill sets out the parliamentary procedures for the consideration of draft orders in some detail. We are not persuaded that this is the correct approach. We have recommended instead that as far as possible the parliamentary procedures should be contained in Standing Orders.

The Bill provides that Parliament (through the relevant committee in each House) is required to decide within 21 days for each proposed order whether the Minister has recommended the correct level of parliamentary scrutiny. This is an unnecessarily demanding timetable and we recommend that it should be extended.

Although the Government has given an undertaking that it would not proceed with an order if the relevant committees determined that it was an inappropriate use of the power (if for example the policy content was highly controversial), there is no provision in the bill allowing the House to veto further proceedings on a draft order. We recommend that there should be.