Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments Forty-Ninth Report


The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee considers every SI laid before the House and draws to its special attention those of policy, political or procedural interest or defect. Not only does this bring each week's significant SIs conveniently to the attention of members but, we hope, it reassures the House that no secondary legislation escapes the net of parliamentary scrutiny. This session, we considered 1,731 SIs and reported 41 (22%) of the affirmative and 139 (9%) of the negative instruments.

We rely on members of the House to pursue any instrument which we report: 37 (27%) of the negative SIs which we reported were later engaged with in the House. But we do correspond with the Government on particular SIs, at both ministerial and official levels. This might be to solicit further information or to comment on what we consider to be good or bad practice. This engagement directly with Government is improving secondary legislative practice. We tend to publish such correspondence during the session, to inform the House's debates, but that which remains unpublished is to be found at Appendix 2.

This session, we conducted a major inquiry into the management of secondary legislation[1] and we use this Report to publish the Government's response (Appendix 3). We hope to secure a debate on our Report early in the new session. We note however that the Government response leaves much to the initiative of individual departments: we will next session monitor how departments respond to our Report through a series of oral evidence sessions.

That Report remains the most comprehensive statement of our concerns, but we here make some further observations about the statutory instruments (SIs) that we have seen this session:

  poor planning affects the House's ability to give proper scrutiny to secondary legislation: the 225 SIs laid in the immediate run-up to the end of the financial year (i.e. in March) were at least twice as many as laid in any other month (Appendix 1);

  the Explanatory Memoranda (EMs) which departments provide are generally of a high standard. Frequent shortcomings include the use of technical terms without explanation and inadequate accounts of the consultation exercise. Where SIs transpose Community obligations, especially when they create criminal offences, we consider that they should be clear from the face of the instrument itself. We also look for evidence of what guidance is provided to stakeholders to explain the new obligation to ensure that it is fulfilled. We welcome departmental websites which provide informal consolidated texts of secondary legislation for free public access;

  although lower than before, corrections remained high 3.58% (Appendix 4). Breaches of the 21-day rule also remained high: DEFRA reached 10%.

We have also taken steps to raise awareness of our work:

  we have provided Guidance for departments on the content of EMs as a clear statement of our priorities and we hold departments to account against this standard;

  we have encouraged comment on individual SIs from interest groups: such contributions add to our understanding of the issues and we have published them where they have added value to the House's consideration of the instrument. Our website[2] has information on how to make useful submissions to the Committee;

  our weekly email summary to interested members gives the headline paragraph for each instrument reported, with the pdf file of the complete Report. Those who wish to receive this email can contact

1   29th Report (2005 - 06) HL Paper 149 Back

2 Back

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