Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Thirty-Seventh Report


113. During the past couple of sessions we have occasionally reported on amendments when we had been asked to do so. But this was an infrequent practice. In our first report of this session[92] we were pleased to record that our proposals in paragraphs 36 and 37 of our 29th Report of Session 1998-99, concerned with the time-scale for the tabling of Government amendments to bills, had been accepted by the Government. The attention of all Lords Ministers' Private Secretaries had been drawn to those paragraphs to help to ensure that those recommendations are implemented.[93] The Committee welcomed this prompt and positive response to our recommendation and believed that this would be for the benefit of the House.

114. However, at the start of the present session the Procedure Committee decided that we should report on all Government amendments containing important delegated legislative powers. Although we were not invited to comment on this decision before it was made, we saw it as our duty to try to comply with it, and we reported on 27 sets of Government amendments this session. This practice has, however, tested parliamentary Committee procedure to its limits. More often than not amendments are tabled shortly before they are due to be considered by the House. Even when they are tabled a full week beforehand - a helpful commitment made by the Government Chief Whip - this gives relatively little time for members to consider the papers and to convene a Committee meeting.

115. Throughout the session we have been conscious of the efforts made by the Government Chief Whip in impressing on Departments the need to produce material promptly for the Committee. But although this session the Committee has held more meetings than in any previous session, the mass of paperwork associated with amendments, and the unpredictability of the timing of its arrival has meant that the Committee has struggled to keep up with this new aspect of its work.

116. Two examples might serve to illustrate the pressures under which the Committee has been working this session in its consideration of Government amendments. The first concerns the Financial Services and Markets Bill. We considered some Government Amendments for the Committee stage of this bill at our 10th meeting, on 15 March. The previous afternoon a memorandum had been received from the Treasury on the amendments, some of them not then published, for the bill, which began its Committee stage on 16 March. At that time further amendments containing delegated powers were likely to be tabled shortly. We considered the amendments already tabled, with the benefit of a note from our Legal Adviser, but because of the lack of advance documentation this had to be circulated, with the Treasury's memorandum, at the Committee's meeting.

117. In the event we agreed that the amendments contained nothing which we wished to draw to the attention of the House at Committee stage. But we also reported that we had inevitably considered the amendments in haste, which was undesirable, and that the increasing speed with which the Committee was being asked to work inevitably put pressure both on the Committee itself and on its limited resources, and might on occasion mean that the Committee's report on amendments was published after the House had considered the amendments.[94]

118. The question also arose during the session whether when the timescale is particularly tight the Chairman alone should provide a view as to the acceptability or otherwise of the delegated powers contained in amendments. This arose, for example, on 14 March in the case of the Government Amendments for the Committee stage of the Electronic Communications Bill. On that occasion the Chairman received a letter from the Minister concerning amendments to be taken in Grand Committee that afternoon.[95] The Chairman and the Legal Adviser studied the amendments and agreed that they contained nothing which they would have wished to draw to the Committee's attention, and this was then communicated by letter to the Minister.[96]

119. The Chairman, whose view was subsequently endorsed by the Committee, was uneasy about this practice, on two grounds. First, the Committee's views have always been those of the Committee as a whole, and all members of the Committee contribute to its reports. Second, there is a danger of the Committee being required to work at an ever faster pace, and without sitting in permanent session it is impossible to guarantee that it will always be able to deliver what the House now asks of it.[97]

92   HL Paper 7. Back

93   See Annex 2 to the present report. Back

94   10th report 1999-2000, HL Paper 47. Back

95   This happened to be the day before the Committee was next due to meet. Back

96   TheGovernment'samendmentstogiveeffecttotherecommendationsintheCommittee'sreportwereallcarriedintotheBillbytheGrandCommittee. Back

97   Indeed, within the past week the Committee was informed of two sets of Government amendments - for the Third Reading of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill and Consideration of Commons Amendments to the Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill respectively - with inadequate notice for the Committee to meet to consider the Chairman's draft report on what were matters of considerable controversy. We therefore decided, because of the inadequate timescale, not to publish a report on these amendments. Back

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