Skip to main content

Legislation: Post-legislative Scrutiny

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recommendations of the Law Commission regarding post-legislative scrutiny.

My Lords, the Government are grateful to the Law Commission for its work on post-legislative scrutiny. We are consulting within government before we respond formally to the Law Commission’s proposals.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Is she aware that, according to the chairman of the Law Commission, only 60 per cent of regulatory impact assessments fully comply with the Cabinet Office requirement that new policies are properly monitored and evaluated? Are the Government satisfied with that?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that a continuous review process takes place in government both in departments and, once legislation has gone through, in departmental review of the process of that legislation. We are committed to looking at whether the other proposals made by the Law Commission with respect to post-legislative scrutiny should be taken forward, but, as I have said, we are consulting on that and a response will be made in due course.

My Lords, given the numerous occasions on which ministerial statutory interpretation has been rejected by courts in expensive litigation, and given also the occasions on which legislation itself has been rejected as being contrary to international obligations, do the Government not think, especially taking into account the success of pre-legislative scrutiny, that it is time for Parliament to take responsibility for its own failures through detailed post-legislative scrutiny? May we be reassured that the Government will reach a conclusion on this matter soon?

My Lords, I personally am attracted to the notion of post-legislative scrutiny, as I said at the launch of the Law Commission’s report, but I can go no further than that at this stage as we are consulting on this within government and will respond formally to the Law Commission’s proposals.

My Lords, does my noble friend believe, as I do, that it is better to get legislation right by pre-legislative scrutiny rather than post-legislative scrutiny? If she has not already done so, will she look at the experiments that have taken place in the Scottish Parliament in relation to pre-legislative scrutiny and see how they might be adopted in Westminster for the benefit of our legislation as well?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny, but I think there is also room for post-legislative scrutiny as set out in the Law Commission’s proposals. On the example of the Scottish Parliament, that is mentioned in the Law Commission report. I understand that in the Scottish Parliament committees act as both standing committees dealing with legislation and select committees conducting inquiries. In conducting post-legislative scrutiny, no distinction is made between reviewing an area of policy and reviewing the operation of a specific piece of legislation. The system is different from what we have here. If Parliament wants to look at that system, it is of course open to Parliament to do so.

My Lords, the Government will recognise that pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny go together. I was struck in the House of Lords annual report by the comment that pre-legislative scrutiny has been used very little in the past year. Can the Government give us some indication of how much they intend to expand pre-legislative scrutiny of this and next year’s legislative programme?

My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that in numerical terms, pre-legislative scrutiny has gone down in the past couple of years. We announced at the beginning of this Session four Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny, but I should say to the House that in many cases there is a real-world deadline which means that there is insufficient time to include a draft stage for a Bill. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons and I have to encourage our colleagues to ensure that Bills are ready on time to enable us to have more pre-legislative scrutiny.

My Lords, since there are still too many Law Commission reports gathering dust, have the Government any procedural proposals for giving Parliament an early opportunity to debate them?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend will know that this issue was raised in the context of the discussion on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. My noble friend Lady Ashton told the House that we would come forward with proposals on this after consultation. We are still committed to coming forward with proposals, and that consultation will continue.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give us some indication of how many Acts of Parliament introduced by this Government have survived without being substantially amended?

My Lords, is that a question about the Committee and other stages of Bills? I do not understand the question. Most Bills are amended as they go through Parliament.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked me a question. Of the Bills that have been passed, how many have been amended by subsequent Acts of Parliament?

My Lords, I do not have an answer to that. I shall try to get an answer and put it in the Library of the House.

My Lords, if it is not too self-serving this early in the year, does my noble friend agree that if we get a response from the Government shortly, this House should make a very strong case for its playing a prominent role in any process of post-legislative scrutiny?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Bearing in mind the role that we play in legislation at the moment, this House would have a very important role to play in post-legislative scrutiny.

My Lords, what is the Government’s verdict on the quality of post-legislative scrutiny in the European Union?

My Lords, I am not aware of the detail of post-legislative scrutiny in the European Union. I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord about that.