Power to change certain requirements relating to the Committee

Part of Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 23rd July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 10:15 am, 23rd July 2019

Amendment 6 seeks to change the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure whenever the Lord Chancellor wants to make a change to the committee’s membership. As I have explained, we envisage that the new committee will be agile, focused and flexible—I fear that those words will be chiselled on my gravestone.

Over time, as the scope of the online procedure widens, the Lord Chancellor may wish to make changes both to the number and to the expertise of committee members. The amendment would have the effect of hampering the committee’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to new situations. If the committee needed to draft new rules in a new area, it may decide that additional expertise is required, and may need new members to help to form a considered view. The amendment would mean that a debate in both Houses of Parliament would need to take place before an additional person could become a member of that committee. That would be an inappropriate use of parliamentary time, and is counter to our aim of ensuring that the online procedure rule committee can always access the expertise it needs quickly and efficiently.

Requiring changes to membership of the online procedure rule committee by way of an affirmative procedure would also be inconsistent with provisions for amending the membership of the civil, family and tribunal procedure rule committees. I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw amendment 6 because of that.

Amendment 7 seeks to change the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure when the committee makes court or tribunal rules. In the other place, a number of concerns were raised by noble Lords about the constitutional implications of the Bill. I take this opportunity to assure hon. Members that the Bill has been drafted precisely to ensure that the existing constitutional balance is protected.

The Bill mirrors the existing rule-making powers in legislation for the civil, family and tribunal procedure rule committees, which means that the process for making rules follows the traditional and usual method, in which the committee holds regular meetings and consults appropriate persons before making rule changes. Once drafted and signed by the committee, the rules are then allowed by the Lord Chancellor. Finally, the Lord Chancellor lays a statutory instrument in Parliament subject to the negative resolution procedure. It is clear that, if rules are drafted and agreed by the committee as well as by the Lord Chancellor, we do not need to have two further debates.

If rules laid before Parliament under the powers were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, it would not only place the new committee out of step with existing procedure committees, but significantly reduce the flexibility of the committee and hamper its ability to support in a timely fashion new online services as they quickly adapt and improve. In addition, minor changes to the rules are made regularly throughout the year, so requiring a debate in both Houses of Parliament every time a change is made would be time-consuming and disproportionate. I consider that the negative procedure strikes the right balance between ensuring sufficient parliamentary scrutiny and allowing the new committee to operate effectively. I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw amendment 6 and not to press amendment 7 to a Division.