Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I have put my name down to speak this afternoon with a background as a former business manager and a former instigator of procedural changes in another place. Quite frankly, it is time that we faced up to the problem of statutory instruments. We have argued about it for years. It is not a new issue. We have had references this afternoon to Lord Simon of Glaisdale and to the reports by my noble friends Lord Wakeham and Lord Goodlad. We need to get on with it. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has just spoken, made exactly the same point.
I shall begin by making one or two general points. In my experience, some Ministers are sometimes tempted to cut corners in getting their policies agreed by Parliament. It has nothing to do with the matter before us, but I remember cases where Ministers produced huge draft Bills to the Cabinet committee on legislation and the Cabinet committee said, “Oh no you don’t. You cut that down”, and made them take a third of it out, and that seemed all right. Then, to the fury of the business managers, one found that they put all the things they had taken out back as Schedules to the Bill at Committee stage. One has to put up with the enormous appetite of some Ministers to legislate. That was an abuse.
It is also an abuse to cut corners and try to enact policies through statutory instruments rather than through primary legislation. I deplore that trend. I have never been able to convince myself that the tax credit issue should not have been done through primary legislation. I commend the last few words of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s executive summary, where he says that,
“it would be appropriate for the Government to take steps to ensure that Bills contain an appropriate level of detail and that too much is not left for implementation by statutory instrument”.
I believe very strongly in that. I also cannot get my mind around why the tax credit issue came here at all, because it seemed to me that it was a financial issue that we should never have been asked to discuss.
In his report, my noble friend gives us three options. I am very strongly opposed to the first option of taking the consideration of statutory instruments away from this House. That would be a travesty of the bicameral basis of our parliamentary procedures. For the first three or four years, I was a member of the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments where, as my noble friend Lord Trefgarne pointed out, we looked at more than 1,000 statutory instruments a year. That consideration of legislation in the form of statutory instruments is hugely important and thorough and is far better than what is carried out down the corridor in another place. Indeed, I was one of the instigators in that committee of the recommendation to reject the draft Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Casino Premises Licences) Order 2007, which this House, quite rightly, kicked out.
I also do not like option 2 because it does not take us much further than the current contentious situation. It seems to be a recipe for continued argument.
I see much more merit in option 3. It preserves the right of the Commons to ride over us. I cannot see the logic of this House being able to delay primary legislation whereas on the other hand it can veto statutory instruments; that seems to me to be the wrong way round, and the two ought to be comparable together. My old friend, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who I think is no longer here, said that we must preserve the right to say no. Option 3 maintains that right. It is an extension of the Wakeham all-party proposals as well as the similar Goodlad all-party ideas. I suggest that the Government should listen to our views, have this report debated in another place and bring legislation that develops the option 3 proposal. The Leader of the Opposition said in her opening speech that the tax credit event gave the Government the opportunity to think again. So does option 3, and I believe that that is the way we should go