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Point of Order

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 4th May 1995.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 4:02 pm, 4th May 1995

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is common ground among the parties that there is concern about the increasing use of delegated powers, statutory instruments and regulations while only enabling and paving clauses appear in the primary legislation.

The reason why I raise this rather general point is that yesterday, as you may remember, a report on the Jobseekers Bill was issued by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee in another place. It is a Bill in which I took considerable interest and on which I spoke for the Labour party. We argued consistently that the Bill was in effect a skeleton measure and that, as almost everything was left to regulations and statutory instruments, it was almost impossible to evaluate the Government's true intent and how the legislation would work.

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee concluded that the Bill was possibly a skeleton Bill and that the House should consider it in that light. It was very critical of a number of clauses, especially clause 6 which, it suggested, made it impossible to scrutinise the Bill appropriately and evaluate its true intent. The Committee said that it was impossible to subject the exercise of legislative power to an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny. As a result, the Government were forced to recommit clause 6 to the Floor of the other place.

We understand that it is likely that there will now be a definition, for which we pressed repeatedly during the Bill's passage through the House but could not get, of the key terms "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment" on which benefit entitlement rests.

My concern, which is worth raising with you, Madam Speaker, and with the House, is that there is no equivalent in this place of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. We have the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, but it can examine the statutory instruments only when they appear and long after the primary legislation has progressed through Parliament. The result of that, of course, is that the Committee is confined simply to whether statutory instruments are intra vires of the original Act and whether they have been properly drawn.

I do not make a partisan point—perhaps another Government will suffer such criticism, because the situation is convenient for Government—but there is increasing worry in the House about the way in which statutory instruments, in effect, are replacing primary legislation. Therefore, because they are subject to only very brief debate and cannot be amended, the House's scrutiny role, which is one of its absolutely essential reasons for existence, is being eroded and undermined.

I wonder whether it would be sensible for us to look at the precedent that was set in another place and consider whether we should consider this cause for anxiety when primary legislation is brought forward.