Co-operating with the Commons
178. Baroness Williams gave us disturbing evidence
about the lack of active co-operation between the two Houses of
Parliament on important issues related to scrutiny of the executive.
She said " We are extremely troubled by the fact that there
have been virtually no meetings between the two House".
Sir George Young MP told us that he was "amazed at the lack
of liaison between the two Houses".
The fundamental principle here is that it makes no sense to try
to reform the House of Lords without trying to reform Parliament
as a whole. As Baroness Williams said to us, the House of Lords
understands "its role to be subordinate but complementary
to the House of Commons; we do not know how to be complementary
unless we have a chance to discuss with the House of Commons in
a formal structure".
179. We start by suggesting some of the areas of
activity on which the two Houses could co-operate more effectively,
in some cases by building on current best practice:
- Scrutiny of legislation.
The Liberal Democrat evidence suggests a new Committee of both
Houses, sitting after each Queen's Speech, to decide in which
chamber bills are introduced, their timetable, and when pre-legislative
scrutiny might be appropriate.
- Pre-legislative scrutiny.
All parties agree on the need for more bills to be published in
draft, and for more pre-legislative scrutiny to improve the quality
of legislation. But progress has been stuttering and ad hoc.
Some draft bills have been scrutinised by Select Committees; some
by ad hoc Committees; some by Committees of both Houses
sitting separately; some by Joint Committees of both Houses sitting
together (as happened with the Financial Services and Markets
Bill and the Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill).
There needs to be a more systematic approach by the two Houses
in each session as to which draft bills require pre-legislative
scrutiny, and which House should do it.
- Scrutiny of subordinate legislation.
This is currently done by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,
but on a very narrow basis, and with no power to amend. If as
some of our witnesses have proposedsecondary
legislation is to be subject to more effective scrutiny, there
are implications for the work of both Houses.
- Prerogative powers.
One example will suffice, of scrutiny of Treaties. The Royal Commission
recommended that the Lords should establish a Select Committee
to scrutinise international Treaties, to draw the attention of
both Houses to any significant implications before the Government
entered into them. The Supporting Documents to the White
Paper state that the House of Lords has decided not to proceed
with new machinery to scrutinise Treaties for the time being.
In the interim, the Government has agreed to proposals from the
House of Commons Procedure Committee
designed to enhance the ability of the Commons to undertake such
scrutiny. This is exactly the kind of issue where there needs
to be formal discussion between the two Houses about how best
to scrutinise Treaties.
- Executive Agencies and Quangos.
Individual Select Committees find it difficult adequately to scrutinise
the numerous agencies operating within their fields. There is
a thematic issue about the accountability of such bodies, and
about appointments to major public bodies, which requires discussion
between the two Houses.
180. In terms of how to take these matters forward,
there needs to be not just discussion between the 'usual channels',
but more formal discussion between the two Houses. Initially the
most appropriate forum for discussion about more effective co-operation
might be joint meetings between the Commons Modernisation Committee
and the Leader's Group on Working Methods in the Lords. The two
Liaison Committees could also find a way to liaise with each other.
In order to help break down some of the informal barriers, there
could be some interchange between the staff in both Houses, so
that each would have a better understanding of the other.
181. We recommend that a joint committee of both
Houses be established to examine proposals on improving co-operation
in scrutiny of legislation and of the executive. It should be
asked to report within a year. This need not delay, but should
complement, progress on the general reform of the second chamber.
74 HC 494-i, Q69 Back
Ibid, Q72 Back
Ibid, Q69 Back
'House of Lords Reform' Liberal Democrats 2002 Back
HC 494-i, Q69 and 'House of Lords Reform' Liberal Democrats Back
Second Special Report 1999-2000 HC 991 Back