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Business of the House

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 19 October 2017

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with on Tuesday 24 October to enable a motion to approve the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2017 to be moved, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instrument has been laid before the House.

My Lords, the Motion standing in my name will allow us to dispense with Standing Order 72 next Tuesday so that we can take an SI relating to the control of a synthetic drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We need to suspend it because the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which would normally report on affirmative instruments before they are taken, is yet to be reappointed. The Senior Deputy Speaker confirmed the Members of this House who will serve on that committee on 19 July. The appointment of Commons Members is of course a matter for that House, but the Joint Committee does vital work in the scrutiny of secondary legislation and, in my view, the sooner it is up and running, the better. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am sorry to detain the House on this matter. The Motion before us looks pretty innocuous and we on this side have no objection to the Government’s proposals.

However, as the noble Baroness has explained, the need for this Motion arises from the fact that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not considered the SI. The reason for that, as we have heard, is that it has not been reconstituted since the general election. Indeed, I believe it has not met since March. The reason for that is because the Commons has not nominated its Members. I fully understand the convention that this House does not criticise the workings of the Commons, and I have no intention of doing so. The delay in this case is caused entirely by the Government’s contentious approach to party balance on all Commons committees, which rightly caused significant political controversy, debate and delay in the other place.

I have three questions for the noble Baroness, as I understand the process in the Commons is slowly cranking into gear. First, will the Government now do all they can to expedite the formation of this very important Joint Committee? Secondly, do the Government have any date in mind when they believe that this will be achieved? Thirdly, how many affirmative resolution statutory instruments are there in the pipeline that we would normally have considered and which have not been able to be brought before this House since the last meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in March?

My Lords, I concur with the comments made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. This is a really sad state of affairs. I congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing this Motion before the House today as it is the right course of action. It is exceptional and urgent, and not to do so would have grave consequences.

Having said that, this is unprecedented. I do not know whether any other noble Lords can recall this happening before; certainly I cannot. On a straw poll of other colleagues, I am not aware that it has ever happened before that the JCSI has not been set up in time for the House to consider business of this kind.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, makes an important point. The Labour names are ready and waiting to set up this committee. The only thing holding it up is that the Government have failed to do so. So it is right that we consider this today, but it is an emergency situation; it is unprecedented and can only be exceptional. In this case, I think the noble Baroness has to speak for the Government and not just for the House of Lords. She has to tell us when the committee will be set up and assure us that it will not happen again and another such Motion will not come before this House.

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their interventions. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: standing orders are very rarely suspended, and only when there is agreement to do so does it happen. She is absolutely right that this is a case when it needs to happen, and I thank the House for its appreciation of that. As I said, the nomination of Commons Members to serve on Joint Committees is a matter for the usual channels in the House of Commons and I cannot say anything further on that, but this House has made its views very clear and I hope the Commons will hear them.

Motion agreed.