Government’s new sifting committee for delegated legislation would be “built on rotten foundations”

Press release by Unlock Democracy- originally published here. 

The government has announced it will be accepting the Procedure Committee amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, proposed by the Committee’s Chair, Charles Walker (Conservative).

The Procedure Committee’s recommendations are outlined in their report, to which Unlock Democracy contributed, where they called the government’s proposals for scrutiny “inadequate”.

However, the committee’s own recommendations were not as robust as they could have been, for example, proposing only a temporary committee to be established. The committee also failed to propose a new system to deal with statutory instruments arising from the Withdrawal Bill in an appropriate time frame.

The alternative proposition, tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve in Amendment 3 has received cross-party support. This amendment would have implemented a far more robust scrutiny system for delegated legislation based on a model devised by the Hansard Society.

Currently, Statutory Instruments receive no meaningful scrutiny from MPs. They are virtually unamendable by MPs, and are exceptionally challenging to reject. Since 1950 a mere 11 instruments have been rejected by the House of Commons and only 7 by the House of Lords, which is just 0.01% of all instruments considered in that time period.

The breadth of delegated legislation in the bill has led to concerns from MPs and civil society alike that the powers could be used to make policy changes with little to no parliamentary oversight. 

These concerns are well founded given the abuse of delegated legislation to make policy changes by ministers. For example, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently used secondary legislation to implement a controversial new system in the NHS, which has led figures including Professor Stephen Hawking to suggest that the NHS could be "Americanised" and move closer to being privatised.

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, commented

“We welcome the government’s efforts to work with backbenchers to address the very real problem of poor scrutiny of delegated legislation. Campaigners have been calling for reforms to the near non-existent scrutiny of delegated legislation for years.

“The problem remains that these amendments seek to build a welcome new sifting committee on rotten foundations. If the sifting committee recommends additional scrutiny it will be done by a committee controlled by party whips who use it as a way of punishing MPs. We know this will not result in better scrutiny, as this is very similar to how the system currently works; instead of treating scrutiny seriously, MPs are instructed to reply to letters from the constituents or sign Christmas cards, depending on the time of year.

“In accepting this amendment the government has improved its attitude to the scrutiny of delegated legislation but it still has a significant way to go before it can be said to be giving Parliament back control.” 

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Notes to editors:

About Unlock Democracy

Unlock Democracy is the UK’s leading campaign for democratic and constitutional reform. Owned and run by its members, Unlock Democracy is creating an inclusive movement to make politics work for everyone. In July 2017 Unlock Democracy published its report, ‘A Democratic Brexit: Avoiding Constitutional Crisis in Brexit Britain’ which looked at the implications of Brexit for parliamentary sovereignty, the devolution settlements, and the power of the people.

Unlock Democracy is coordinating an Alliance of over 80 organisations from across civil society that are seeking to amend the Withdrawal Bill to guarantee open and accountable lawmaking, and maintain a high standards UK. More information here: https://repealbill.org/

To organise an interview or extended quote contact press[@]unlockdemocracy.org.uk

Malene Bratlie