Lords recommend improvements to law-making processes
The UK government’s practice of making substantial changes to bills late in the legislative process, which inhibits proper scrutiny, should be brought to an end, a House of Lords committee has recommended.
The Lords Constitution Committee makes the recommendation in its Passage of Bills Through Parliament report, the latest in its series on the legislative process.
The inquiry explored the passage of bills through Parliament, the time available for scrutiny, the explanatory materials accompanying bills, and the opportunities for the public and stakeholders to engage with the legislative process.
The report makes several recommendations to improve the passage of legislation through Parliament.
The introduction of an evidence-taking stage for bills that start in the House of Commons has strengthened Parliament’s scrutiny of bills, while also enabling greater public engagement with the legislative process.
It is unsatisfactory, the report states, that no such process exists for bills starting in the House of Lords. The committee recommends that the House of Lords should take evidence on bills that start there.
It also raises concerns about the government practice of adding substantial new material to a bill late in its passage, which inhibits appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. The committee recommends that when this happens the bill, or at least the new clauses, should return to committee stage to ensure that there is sufficient detailed scrutiny.
The Parliamentary Business and Legislation (PBL) Cabinet Committee has not always rigorously ensured that bills are fit for purpose for introduction to Parliament.
The Constitution Committee recommends the establishment of a Legislative Standards Committee in Parliament, which would examine explanatory materials accompanying bills and assess their quality and consistency.
If they were found inadequate, defective or absent, the Legislative Standards Committee could press the government for improvements. A Legislative Standards Committee could also express a view about the amount of time needed for scrutiny of a bill, on the basis of its assessment of the bill and having listened to the views of backbench MPs and Peers.
Chair of the committee Baroness Taylor of Bolton said: “Scrutiny of legislation is Parliament’s most important function. We identify areas where improvements could be made to the legislative process, to enhance the quality of scrutiny, to make it more accessible, and to increase the opportunities for public and stakeholder input into the process.
“We urge the government and both Houses to work together to make these changes and improve the quality of the laws Parliament passes.”