HL Deb 08 September 2004 vol 664 cc557-8

2.49 p.m.

Lord Lucas

asked the Leader of the House:

Why the draft Animal Welfare Bill is not being considered by a Joint Committee.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, this is uncharted territory, with few precedents and no rules. Decisions about which Bills receive pre-legislative scrutiny and the method of scrutiny are made on a case-by-case basis. This Session, we have published 11 Bills in draft—more than ever before—and four of them have gone to Joint Committees. The Animal Welfare Bill is being scrutinised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. We think the balance this year is about right.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, when it comes to matters that so touch on the essential function of this House and on matters where we have granted such great use of our powers in terms of carry-over and procedures, does not the Leader of the House think it appropriate that decisions on which draft Bills this House should participate in discussing should come before the House for approval, as do so many more minor matters? This seems to me to be so important.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will be aware that these matters are normally discussed through the usual channels, but, as I said in my initial Answer, this is somewhat uncharted territory. The usual channels in both Houses considered a set of proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny at the beginning of the Session. However, this draft Bill was not on that list and, as the result of an oversight, the usual channels were not consulted. I have apologised for that. Noble Lords will be aware that the decision has been taken that the Bill will now be considered by the departmental committee in another place. There is much for us to learn here, and I shall take that learning away.

Lord Roper

My Lords, does the Lord President accept that the arrangements which are made at the beginning of the Session are relatively successful, although this House would prefer more pre-legislative scrutiny to be carried out by Joint Committees rather than by those of one House? Will it be possible to look again at the procedures for Bills which are not on the initial list but which come up during the Session in order that we do not have another incident like this one?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am well aware that the House would like more pre-legislative scrutiny by Joint Committees. However, there is an overall issue of resources. There are more House of Lords Committees than ever before. In its first report in May this year, the House of Lords Liaison Committee stated: While not wishing to exclude the possibility of establishing additional select committees where a compelling case can be made, we are unlikely in the foreseeable future to agree to an increase in overall committee activity". There is a real issue of resources, but I take on board the point that, where appropriate, it would be helpful to have Joint Committees and to use the considerable expertise that exists in this House. I bear in mind the point made by the noble Lord that, although we have a meeting at the beginning of the Session, we should be aware that Bills do crop up during a Session and that the usual channels should be consulted.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, can the Leader of the House confirm that whatever decisions are made about pre-legislative scrutiny—I agree that it is desirable that there should be Joint Committees on pre-legislative scrutiny—nothing that happens in pre-legislative scrutiny should affect the ability of this House to give full scrutiny to legislation when it comes forward in due time?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, that is absolutely right. Even where a decision has been taken by the usual channels, a formal decision has to be taken by both Houses in regard to taking forward the nature of pre-legislative scrutiny.

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