Secondary Legislation

Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 13 November 2008.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:30, 13 November 2008

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the House's procedures for scrutinising secondary legislation; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister would, wouldn't he—as someone else famously said. While we all recognise the value of secondary legislation, particularly for Bills that introduce fines that have to be updated annually, or quotas and so on, there appears to be an ever-increasing use of Government amendments to Bills on Report or statutory instruments being used more and more to include information that could have been included in the primary legislation or in the Bill. As a result, in Committee, we often end up writing out a blank cheque, because so much is missing: statutory instrument content is not known, and we do not know what amendments the Government will table on Report to their own Bill. Yes, the Minister is right: on the whole SIs work well, but will he at least monitor their performance to ensure that they are not used as a blank cheque?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, broadly speaking, the system works well, and that it is right and proper that, for instance, the Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, whereby the processes for sacking a judge are determined, should be subject to the negative resolution procedure, which is less onerous for the House, whereas the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2008, which changes the classification of cannabis, should be subject to the affirmative procedure, as the House would want to have a proper debate on that and make an informed decision. Of course, we will keep this under regular review, but the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, admirably chaired by David Maclean, does a good job in making sure that no statutory instrument is ultra vires or introduces inappropriate legislation.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

We do not have any intention of doing so at the moment. The truth of the matter is that if we were going to make something amendable in any of the different categories of secondary legislation, it would make more sense for us to introduce primary legislation, so that it would be fully amendable and would go through all the separate processes in the House and, equally importantly, in the other place as well.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Following the reply by the Deputy Leader of the House to the previous question, and given that the volume of secondary legislation is so vast—some 12,000 pages in 2006—is it not time to undertake a proper review to allow greater scrutiny at the secondary legislation stage? I know that there are arguments for keeping the existing system, but they were made when the volume of secondary legislation was much less, so it is time for a review.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman knows that secondary legislation can come forward only if it is dependent on the original primary legislation, and we on the Government Benches are very keen to ensure that there is a process of post-legislative scrutiny. If the scrutiny were to suggest that, in a particular area, further, secondary legislation should not come forward from an individual Act, we would want to review the matter. If the hon. Gentleman would like to make specific recommendations, however, my room is room 102, around the corner, and he should feel very free to come round to talk to me sometime.