HL Deb 28 June 1995 vol 565 cc750-1

2.55 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked the Leader of the House:

On how many occasions since 1979 this House has rejected regulations made by Her Majesty's Government; and on what subjects these regulations made provision.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, divisions on delegated legislation are infrequent because of the convention that, although noble Lords have every right to do so, they do not vote directly on delegated legislation.

Since 1979 this House has rejected delegated legislation on only one occasion. In 1988 two special procedure orders relating to the harbour authorities of Harwich and Newport were annulled on Motions moved by the Government and agreed to without Division, because they were found to he technically defective.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will he confirm that his reply makes it clear that this House has the right, if it so wishes, to reject a regulation, even though that regulation was passed in another place?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend was aware of and attended the debate initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in October last year, when the House agreed to a Motion in almost the same terms as his supplementary question.

Lord Richard

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House confirm the position as I understand it—and I believe it is the understanding of the noble Lord who asked the Question—that this House has the right to reject a regulation, hut in fact it never does?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord will he aware that both he and I see the force and good sense in maintaining the convention, with the exceptions to which I alluded in the Answer to my noble friend's Question. Exceptions were made for reasons of good sense; namely, the orders were technically defective. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for signifying his agreement to both those matters. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, who replied to the debate, made it very clear that there were good commonsense reasons, to which I know the noble Lord's party agreed at the time.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Viscount realise that if the Government insist on producing more and more legislation which is merely skeleton legislation, and under which so many important decisions are being made by regulation, a great many Members of this House will use the right to oppose that exists?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am well aware that the noble Baroness and her party have warned frequently of that danger. I hope that she will be aware that my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon can be relied upon to be a Cerberus in these matters, and has already acted with his committee in that capacity at least once during the course of the current Session.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is it still the Government's view, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, during the passage of the social security Bills of 1989 and 1990, that delegated legislation should be confined to minor matters?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I always agree with the views of my noble friends on the Government Front Bench. If noble Lords will allow me, I should like to try to give a serious answer to the noble Lord's Question. There is a very good case for making a rational judgment about the proper place of secondary legislation, the proper place of primary legislation, and the relationship between the two. There has certainly been a less ordered approach than has sometimes been necessary in the past. I have made that view clear during debates in this House on this important subject. This House has an extremely important role to play, particularly in relation to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, to try to make sure that a proper watch is kept on the relationship between primary and secondary legislation.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it true that more than 3,000 regulations have been passed during the last year; and that of those 3,000, some went into hundreds of pages? How can we possibly look with any ability whatever at legislation that appears in such vast quantities? Surely, Britain is a very over-governed country, and that must he brought to a halt.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I do not wish in any way to appear to my noble friend as unduly self-regarding. Perhaps I may refer him to some of the remarks that I made during the course of recent debates on the quality of legislation. I have no doubt at all that my noble friend will in no way disagree with my remarks.