Amendment to the Motion

Part of Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee - Membership Motion – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 31st January 2023.

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Photo of Viscount Hanworth Viscount Hanworth Labour 3:45 pm, 31st January 2023

My Lords, I will interpolate a few comments in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. This amendment is not, as some are still supposing, a plea to prolong the tenure of some of the existing members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Rather, it is an attempt to draw attention to the dysfunctional aspects of the existing arrangements affecting Standing Committees, and a plea for some reforms.

I intend to make some brief comments under two headings. The first concerns the logistics affecting the scrutiny of secondary legislation, and the second concerns the nature of the legislation and the kind of scrutiny it requires. It is clear to all who have had experience of these matters that a committee of 11 members that meets once a week is incapable of dealing adequately with the plethora of secondary legislation that comes its way. Its recourse is to pay attention only to the most outstanding issues. The secretariat of the committee sifts the material and, given that in the process every instrument must be studied, this is an extraordinary labour, undertaken by only a handful of people. In short, the secretariat is understaffed.

In 2018, in order to cope with the demands of the secondary legislation arising from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee was split into two and its membership doubled. The existing members were divided between the two sub-committees. I believe that the same is bound to happen again in consequence of the phenomenal number of statutory instruments arising from the intended abolition of retained European Union legislation. In that case, the four surviving members of the committee will be divided between the two sub-committees that will contain 18 newly appointed members, of whom few will have had previous experience of these matters. This will be far from ideal.

The other matter on which I wish to comment is the nature of the scrutiny and the recommendations the committee is empowered to make. The committee labours under the injunction that it cannot call into question matters of policy that supposedly would have been established in primary legislation. In fact, much of what transpires in secondary legislation is the exercise of new policy initiatives. The committee cannot propose amendments to the legislation, and it is even doubtful whether it is empowered to ask the Government to think again. The effect is that we are now suffering from government by diktat.