A House of Lords committee has criticised the government for introducing legislation heavily reliant on delegated powers, questioning a bill which would enable ministers to create new criminal offences ‘by regulation’ instead of being subject to ‘full and proper’ parliamentary scrutiny.
The constitution committee, which assesses the impact of a public bill, also investigates wider constitutional issues, publishing reports with recommendations principally aimed at the government.
In its report on the Children and Social Work Bill, which has its second reading today, the committee says the bill’s provisions appear to continue a ‘trend’ of introducing legislation ’that leaves much to the subsequent discretion of ministers’.
The report states: ’We regret that, despite the concerns expressed in the past by this and other committees, the government continues to introduce legislation that depends so heavily on an array of broad delegated powers’.
The bill would give the government power to appoint a regulator or create a new regulatory body for social workers in England. The committee says it would expect the creation of a ’significant’ statutory body ’to be enacted by primary legislative provision to enable proper parliamentary scrutiny’.
The government would also be able to, through regulations, create new criminal offences. Again, the committee says the creation of criminal offences, ’whether or not punishable by imprisonment’, should be subject to ‘proper and full’ parliamentary scrutiny.
The committee also asks the government to clarify whether a new child safeguarding practice review panel will be able to ‘compel’ the submission of material subject to legal or medical privilege.
Committee chair Lord Lang of Monkton said the bill ’continues a worrying trend’ in which parliament is asked to agree legislation ’that is lacking in crucial details’ that allow government proposals to be properly scrutinised.
He said: ’Our political system relies on parliament having the ability to scrutinise legislation through the full multi-stage process in both houses. The government’s reliance on legislating by regulation undermines that and risks poorly constructed proposals becoming law.’
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, Psychoactive Substance Bill, Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill and Childcare Bill are cited by the committee as examples of ’vaguely worded legislation that left much to the discretion of ministers’.
Lang said changes giving the secretary of state ‘significant’ powers to establish a social work regulator and create new, ’currently undefined’ criminal offences should be set out in primary legislation so that they can be ‘debated, scrutinised and improved’.
’Instead, by giving the minister the power to make these changes by regulation, there is a risk parliament will again be denied its proper role in holding the government to account,’ he added.