Parliamentary Standards Bill - Constitution Committee Contents


163.  We continue to affirm our strong support for pre-legislative scrutiny and our desire to see it used more routinely. We acknowledge that the opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny of fast-track legislation will inevitably be constrained by the timescale. Nonetheless, we do not believe that such constraints make pre-legislative scrutiny impossible—the opportunity given to some interested parties to consider the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill being a case in point. Yet any such scrutiny has thus far tended to occur on an ad hoc basis. We therefore urge the Government to put mechanisms in place to ensure that relevant parliamentary committees and stakeholders are consulted about and given the opportunity to respond to proposed fast-track legislation ahead of Second Reading in the House in which the bill is introduced. This should be possible in all but the most extreme circumstances.

184.  We are not in favour of a certification requirement along the lines of section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, nor any formal role for the Speakers of the two Houses. However we agree with the Leader of the House of Lords that it would be valuable for the Government to provide more information as to why a piece of legislation should be fast-tracked. The process by which the Government makes the case for fast-tracking is at present rather ad hoc. This process needs to be formalised and strengthened.

185.  As such, we recommend that the Minister responsible for the bill should be required to make an oral statement to the House of Lords outlining the case for fast-tracking. This should take place when the bill is introduced to the House in order to allow a debate, as early as possible on the justification for fast-tracking the bill, which does not detract from the Second Reading debate. The details contained in the oral statement should also be set out in a written memorandum included in the Explanatory Notes. The parliamentary time allocated for the statement should not in any way impinge upon the time available for consideration of the bill.

186.  In the light of the evidence we have received about the potential problems and issues pertaining to the use of fast-track legislation, we recommend that the Ministerial Statement should be required to address the following principles:

a) Why is fast-tracking necessary?

b) What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?

c) What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?

d) To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?

e) Does the bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate? (see para 198)

f) Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate? (see paras 208-9)

g) Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?

h) Have relevant parliamentary committees been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

187.  We recommend that in its consideration of whether to allow a bill to be fast-tracked through its legislative stages, the House should bear in mind whether the Government's Ministerial Statement justifying fast-tracking has adequately addressed these principles. We will do this in the course of our scrutiny of any bill that it is proposed should be fast-tracked.

189.  We remind the House that it is open to any member who is not content with the Government's justification for the fast-tracking of a bill to seek the opinion of the House when the motion to suspend Standing Order 47 is moved. If in our own scrutiny we judge that any of the principles have not been met, we will recommend that the House does not support the motion to suspend Standing Order 47.

198.  Whilst we acknowledge that there may be cases when the use of sunset clauses or renewal procedures is inappropriate, we do not believe that the Government's position of judging each case on its merits provides a sufficient safeguard. Where fast-track bills are used, there needs to be an additional safeguard. We therefore recommend that, in such cases, there should instead be a presumption in favour of the use of a sunset clause. By this process, a piece of legislation would expire after a certain date, unless Parliament chooses either to renew it or to replace it with a further piece of legislation subject to the normal legislative process. The Government should set out the proposed terms of the sunset clause in the Ministerial Statement. In cases where the Government judge that the use of sunset clauses or renewal procedures is inappropriate, it should be incumbent upon them to make the case for their exclusion in the Ministerial Statement.

208.  We believe that post-legislative scrutiny has an important role to play in relation to all legislation, and take note of the Government's 2008 proposals for post-legislative scrutiny. In relation to fast-track legislation, post-legislative review is vital, and we believe that additional safeguards need to be introduced. We therefore recommend that, in co-ordination with parliamentary committees, the Government should make the prompt review of fast-track legislation a priority.

209.  Whilst we acknowledge that it may not always be appropriate to review a piece of legislation quickly, we believe that there should be a presumption in favour of the early review of fast-track legislation. We therefore recommend that any legislation subject to a fast-track parliamentary passage should be subject to post-legislative review, ideally within one year, and at most within two years. The Government should set out the arrangements for review and the case for either a one- or two-year review period in the Ministerial Statement. In cases where the Government judge that such an early review would be inappropriate, it should be incumbent upon the Government to make their case in the Ministerial Statement.

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