HL Deb 29 January 2003 vol 643 cc1122-4

2.45 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale asked the Leader of the House:

What progress is being made on the establishment of a Select Committee of the House to report on the policy considerations of statutory instruments.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the Liaison Committee is responsible for considering proposals for new committees and for making recommendations to the House. When approving the fifth report of the Procedure Committee the House invited the Liaison Committee to give the idea of a new committee "early and sympathetic consideration". I understand that the Liaison Committee is due to meet on the 17th February to consider that proposal.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Is he aware that this excellent proposal, which first surfaced at the end of the last century, has been going through the processes of Parliament with the speed that would make a snail look somewhat like a racing car? Furthermore, given that this House is complementary to another place, but also autonomous, and given that we had radio broadcasting and television broadcasting of our proceedings before another place and that we have set up our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which has no equivalent in another place, can the Minister explain why we should not act on our own?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am happy to accept responsibility for most things, but not for the past 100 years, although sometimes it feels like it! This has nothing to do with the House of Commons. I have notified another place as a matter of courtesy. The President of the Council, my right honourable friend Mr Cook, said that he is looking, with interest, to see the experience that we are able to offer in our own committee. It would be a Lords committee, not a Joint Committee. I repeat, I hope without impoliteness, that the matter has nothing to do with the House of Commons.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that the case for policy consideration appears to be serious? I illustrate that by saying that when the Joint Committee considered an order requiring taxi cabs to display notices saying that guide dogs were permitted, Parliament was in fact requiring that the dogs should read the notice. However. I was out of order in making the point.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that we have agreed that the committee will draw attention to those instruments that merit further debate or consideration. That appears to be an ample rubric.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord realise that he does not need to accept responsibility for what happened more than 100 years ago because the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said "at the end of the last century", which was only a couple of years ago?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am so sorry. I misunderstood what the noble Lord said. Time goes very quickly when one is having fun.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the reason for setting up such a committee, which I believe is desirable, is that over the past few years we have seen a massive increase in the amount of delegated legislation going through both Houses and increasingly an unwillingness of Ministers to put down details of legislation on the face of primary legislation. What is the noble and learned Lord doing, in his position in the Cabinet, to use all of his powers of persuasion, which are legion, in order to discourage the practice of increased secondary legislation coming through Parliament?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we need to approach this problem in at least two ways. First, we need to look at pre-legislative scrutiny, which your Lordships have warmly applauded and on which we are now starting to deliver. Secondly, we need a committee of experience and expertise to draw attention to instruments that merit further debate. I look forward to the experience that we can derive from the work of the committee which can perhaps be offered to the Commons.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the proposed committee and believe that it would be an effective instrument to deal with people's concern about regulation and secondary legislation being used in place of primary legislation. We hope that another place will listen to the experience of this House on the matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful for that generous observation. During the next year or two, we may consider whether we can improve our procedures. If so, I am sure that lessons will be learnt.

Lord Carter

My Lords, if the Select Committee is to consider those instruments that require particular attention, does that not imply that a large number of instruments are not contentious arid could be dealt with separately—perhaps off the Floor of the House, in a Grand Committee of some form?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am sure that that is right. For example, I think that we all remember the shellfish orders with consuming passion. My noble friend, named as Peer of the Year—which was extremely well deserved—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, what my noble friend said echoed what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested the other day, which was that we might take some orders off the Floor or the House—the noble Lord suggested the Moses Dom. That appears to me to be a useful step for the Liaison Committee to consider.

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