§ Motion made, and Question proposed.
§ That a Select Committee be appointed to join with a Committee to be appointed by the Lords to consider:—
§ (1) Every instrument which is laid before each House of Parliament and upon which proceedings may be or might have been taken in either House of Parliament, in pursuance of an Act of Parliament; being
- (a) a statutory instrument, or a draft of a statutory instrument;
- (b) a scheme, or an amendment of a scheme, or draft thereof, requiring approval by statutory instrument;
- (c) any other instrument (whether or not in draft) where the proceedings in pursuance of an Act of Parliament are proceedings by way of an affirmative resolution; or
- (d) an order subject to special parliamentary procedure.
(2) Every general statutory instrument not within the foregoing classes, and not required to be laid before or to be subject to proceedings in this House only, but not including Measures under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 and instruments made under such Measures,
with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds—
§ That Mr. Ronald Bell, Mr. Albert Booth, Mr. Edward Gardner, Mr. Arthur Latham, Mr. Ernle Money, Mr. Ronald King Murray, and Mr. David Waddington be members of the Committee.
§ That Two be the Quorum of the Committee.
§ That the Committee have power to appoint one or more Sub-Committees severally to join with any Sub-Committee or Sub-Committees appointed by the Committee to be appointed by the Lords; and to refer to such Sub-Committee or Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee.
§ That the Committee and any Sub-Committee appointed by them shall have the assistance of the Counsel to Mr. Speaker and, if their Lordships think fit, of the Counsel to the Lord Chairman of Committees.
§ That the Committee have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House and to report from time to time, and that any Sub-Committee appointed by them have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House.
§ That the Committee and any Sub-Committee appointed by them have power to require any Government department concerned to submit a memorandum explaining any instrument which may be under their consideration or to depute a representative to appear before them as a Witness for the purpose of explaining any such instrument.
§ That the Committee and any Sub-Committee appointed by them have power to take evidence, written or oral, from Her Majesty's Stationery Office, relating to the printing and publication of any instrument.
§ That the Committee have power to report to the House from time to time any Memorandum submitted to them or other evidence taken before them or any Sub-Committee appointed by them from any Government department in explanation of any instrument.
§ That it be an Instruction to the Committee that before reporting that the special attention of the House be drawn to any instrument the Committee do afford to any Government department concerned therewith an opportunity of furnishing orally or in writing to them or to any Sub-Committee appointed by them such explanations as the department think fit.1219
§ That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do consider any instrument which is directed by Act of Parliament to be laid before and to be subject to proceedings in this House only, being—
- (a) a statutory instrument, or draft of a statutory instrument;
- (b) a scheme, or an amendment of a scheme, or a draft thereof, requiring approval by statutory instrument; or
- (c) any other instrument (whether or not in draft), where the proceedings in pursuance of an Act of Parliament are proceedings by way of an affirmative resolution;
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I wish to ask a brief question. I wrote a letter to the Table Office some time ago to ask about what appeared to me an unusual use of powers under a statutory instrument. I was told that this Committee did not exist at the time but that it was to be revived. I understand that we are reviving it in this way. What has happened to delegated instruments in the interim, for there has been a gap? This committee does extremely valuable work. It has to look at statutory instruments and to consider whether an unusual use has been made of powers. Statutory instruments are very significant. They are not major legislation, but they can affect quite important matters. It is important to know what has been happening to statutory instruments which have been passed in the interim period.
I am one of, I believe, a small number of hon. Members who get the full list of statutory instruments every day. Normally we get about eight. Sometimes they deal with small matters, such as the amalgamation of police authorities and on other occasions they deal with the marketing of eggs, but I think we can all recall occasions when statutory instruments have been used for very important matters. I think I can recall that a statutory instrument was used to suspend the constitution of British Guyana. This shows the wide range and importance of statutory instruments. Everyone in the House concerned with the preservation of democracy wishes to make sure that statutory instruments shall not go beyond the 1220 powers which are actually delegated. We should not have a situation in which a statutory instrument makes an unusual use of powers.
If I recall the situation correctly, the committee has three broad bands of interest to consider. The important one is whether a statutory instrument makes an unusual use of delegated powers. I ask two questions on this. First, how long has been the period during which this committee has not been in existence? That is a very important question. Secondly, who on behalf of the House of Commons, or who on behalf of the Government, has been reviewing these statutory instruments in the interim? In other words, what has been happening in the meantime? I think all conscientious hon. Members look at statutory instruments every day to see whether something stands out a mile as unusual. Therefore I should like to have an answer to these rather important points.
I think the Leader of the House may recall that I sent a note to him on this important issue of the Statutory Instruments Committee. He was very courteous, as always, in his reply. I said, "Here is a statutory instrument which I believe makes an unusual use of delegated powers." He sent me a very courteous letter saying that he hoped that the Joint Committee would be set up soon. For how long have we not had a committee? Secondly, what has happened to statutory instruments which have been laid before the House in the interim? Who has been considering them, and who has been making sure that they do not make an unusual use of delegated powers? I should be grateful to have a reply to these questions.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) for not being present in the House at the start of this debate. I was not expecting that it would come on so early and I did not think that tonight we should need to discuss it. I can tell my hon. Friend that we had a very long discussion on this Joint Committee just before Christmas on a day which we gave up to procedural motions. The motion we are now considering arises 1221 out of that debate and discussion and also out of the Brooke Committee's Report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart asked two specific questions. We have not had a Statutory Instruments Committee for the whole of this Session, since November. We have been waiting to set up this committee which we hope in time will be followed by the sister committee, the merits Committee, which will enable many more statutory instruments to be discussed in committee, not necessarily to avoid debating them on the Floor of the House but to give an additional opportunity for hon. Members to take part in those discussions.
Statutory instruments which have been laid before the House in the period between the beginning of this Session and now have not been considered by any Committee of the House. Therefore, up to a point we have had to take the risk whether they were ultra vires or whether anything else was wrong with them.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House take a great interest in these matters. I believe that had they thought that a statutory instrument was not in conformity with the rules of the House, they would have quickly pointed it out. I hope that this Committee will start its work quickly.
In the next few days I hope to put on the Order Paper the terms for a merits Committee. This will obviously need about a fortnight before we discuss it, and I should expect there to be a discussion on it. I hope that we shall also have a merits Committee.
The purpose of a merits Committee is not to deny opportunities for the House as a whole to debate important statutory instruments; it is to give an additional opportunity for the many statutory instruments, whether they be subject to affirmative or negative resolutions, to go to a small committee for examination. I think that in the long run this will meet the convenience of the House. I am sorry that this committee has not been set up before, but it has taken some time to arrange a debate on procedure and to get this under way. I hope that the House will agree to allow the committee to be set up.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Message to the Lords to acquaint them with such of the said orders as are necessary to be communicated to their Lordships.