Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report

Co-operating with the Commons

178. Baroness Williams gave us disturbing evidence about the lack of active co-operation between the two Houses of Parliament on important issues related to scrutiny of the executive. She said " We are extremely troubled by the fact that there have been virtually no meetings between the two House".[74] Sir George Young MP told us that he was "amazed at the lack of liaison between the two Houses".[75] The fundamental principle here is that it makes no sense to try to reform the House of Lords without trying to reform Parliament as a whole. As Baroness Williams said to us, the House of Lords understands "its role to be subordinate but complementary to the House of Commons; we do not know how to be complementary unless we have a chance to discuss with the House of Commons in a formal structure".[76]

179. We start by suggesting some of the areas of activity on which the two Houses could co-operate more effectively, in some cases by building on current best practice:

  • Scrutiny of legislation. The Liberal Democrat evidence suggests a new Committee of both Houses, sitting after each Queen's Speech, to decide in which chamber bills are introduced, their timetable, and when pre-legislative scrutiny might be appropriate.[77]

  • Pre-legislative scrutiny. All parties agree on the need for more bills to be published in draft, and for more pre-legislative scrutiny to improve the quality of legislation. But progress has been stuttering and ad hoc. Some draft bills have been scrutinised by Select Committees; some by ad hoc Committees; some by Committees of both Houses sitting separately; some by Joint Committees of both Houses sitting together (as happened with the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill). There needs to be a more systematic approach by the two Houses in each session as to which draft bills require pre-legislative scrutiny, and which House should do it.

  • Scrutiny of subordinate legislation. This is currently done by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, but on a very narrow basis, and with no power to amend. If as some of our witnesses have proposed[78]secondary legislation is to be subject to more effective scrutiny, there are implications for the work of both Houses.

  • Prerogative powers. One example will suffice, of scrutiny of Treaties. The Royal Commission recommended that the Lords should establish a Select Committee to scrutinise international Treaties, to draw the attention of both Houses to any significant implications before the Government entered into them. The Supporting Documents to the White Paper state that the House of Lords has decided not to proceed with new machinery to scrutinise Treaties for the time being. In the interim, the Government has agreed to proposals from the House of Commons Procedure Committee[79] designed to enhance the ability of the Commons to undertake such scrutiny. This is exactly the kind of issue where there needs to be formal discussion between the two Houses about how best to scrutinise Treaties.

  • Executive Agencies and Quangos. Individual Select Committees find it difficult adequately to scrutinise the numerous agencies operating within their fields. There is a thematic issue about the accountability of such bodies, and about appointments to major public bodies, which requires discussion between the two Houses.

180. In terms of how to take these matters forward, there needs to be not just discussion between the 'usual channels', but more formal discussion between the two Houses. Initially the most appropriate forum for discussion about more effective co-operation might be joint meetings between the Commons Modernisation Committee and the Leader's Group on Working Methods in the Lords. The two Liaison Committees could also find a way to liaise with each other. In order to help break down some of the informal barriers, there could be some interchange between the staff in both Houses, so that each would have a better understanding of the other.

181. We recommend that a joint committee of both Houses be established to examine proposals on improving co-operation in scrutiny of legislation and of the executive. It should be asked to report within a year. This need not delay, but should complement, progress on the general reform of the second chamber.

74   HC 494-i, Q69 Back

75   Ibid, Q72 Back

76   Ibid, Q69 Back

77   'House of Lords Reform' Liberal Democrats 2002 Back

78   HC 494-i, Q69 and 'House of Lords Reform' Liberal Democrats Back

79   Second Special Report 1999-2000 HC 991 Back

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