Skip to main content

House of Lords: Post-legislative Scrutiny

Volume 719: debated on Monday 14 June 2010


Asked By

To ask the Leader of the House whether he will support discussions between all sides of the House of Lords in establishing a formal structure for post-legislative scrutiny by the House.

My Lords, I am happy to participate in discussions on post-legislative scrutiny in this House. It is of course open to committees in both Houses to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of Acts of Parliament, either as part of a broader inquiry or on the basis of a specific post-legislative memorandum published by the Government. Noble Lords will no doubt have views on how this process has been working.

My Lords, I am grateful for that positive Answer. Does the Leader of the House agree that pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are part of the same exercise, in that each informs the other in moving forward to improve legislation? Does he also agree that it is work to which this House could make a very particular and good contribution?

My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. I have always been a supporter of post-legislative scrutiny, but I have discovered in recent days that there is a gap between desiring the idea and making it a reality. There are substantial issues involved in the practicalities of making post-legislative scrutiny work. I am delighted that there is a system of post-legislative memoranda being published by the Government, as a result of decisions taken by our predecessors some years ago. It remains to be seen how that works over the next few months.

Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be beneficial if this House at least initiated discussions with another place about whether a joint committee was beneficial, but that if it decided, for whatever reason, not to proceed with a joint committee we ourselves should start action on this, as we have been talking about it for 20 years now?

My Lords, there is no reason why any noble Lord should not make the case for post-legislative scrutiny on an Act of Parliament and put that forward to the Liaison Committee for discussion of whether an ad hoc committee should be set up.

My Lords, would it not be better following this discussion to make it imperative that every bit of legislation that we pass is subject to post-legislative scrutiny? That would mean that people could not slide out from under but would be held to account. One of the awful allegations levelled against us is that we are not held to account, but this is one way in which we could be. Indeed, we could show the other place how to do it.

My Lords, that is the nub of a decision that was taken in March 2008 by the Leader of the House of Commons, committing the then Government to enable post-legislative scrutiny for all Acts of Parliament passed during and after the calendar year of 2005. Since then, six or seven of these memoranda have been published, although many are left in the pipeline. We wait to see what attitude the Select Committees in another place or, indeed, in your Lordships’ House will take to these memoranda.

My Lords, is it not particularly important that there should be post-legislative scrutiny in Parliament following this Session, for which the Government have promised—or threatened—a prodigious quantity of legislation, most of which, in the nature of the situation, will be pretty hastily cooked up in Whitehall and which Parliament will have only cursory opportunity to examine properly because of the scale of demands?

That is really rich coming from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. He supported a Government who, over the past 13 years, gave rise to an outpouring of legislation quite unlike anything that we have ever seen in our history. Constitutional changes were dreamt up on the back of an envelope and introduced to Parliament with minimal thought and discussion and with no pre-announcement.

My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for polluting his bit of the Bench. [Laughter.]

Is the Leader of the House aware of what I think is a military tradition, whereby the top brass who devise strategy are supposed to live with its consequences in practice? Would it not be a good idea if we learnt something from the military and stopped the mad ministerial merry-go-round, whereby Ministers, who are progenitors of legislation in this place, rarely if ever have to face the music?

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues in saying that we are very much in favour of stopping the ministerial merry-go-round in this House.

My Lords, pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny were two of the issues that were raised in the excellent debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in February of this year. At the end of that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that early in the next Parliament a Leader’s Group should be established to look at various procedural issues. Will he tell us when such a group might be established?

My Lords, it is certainly my intention to have discussions with the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and with the Convenor of the Cross Benches as to how we should progress this and whether, before doing so, we should perhaps have a more general debate on the working practices of the House.

My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to consider introducing sunset clauses to all legislation as a means of reducing the volume of legislation from recent levels? If not, what about introducing the repeal of legislation to reduce some of the legislation that we have had?

My Lords, it is certainly our intention shortly to bring before Parliament a Bill that will repeal some of the highly authoritarian legislation that was passed under the previous Government. As far as sunset clauses are concerned, in many instances they are extremely desirable.