Friday, 13 November 2009

Fast Track Legislation

Most bills take time to pass through each of the stages in the British legislative process. However, occasionally it is necessary to push a bill through quickly. In a report by The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution instances of "fast track" bills were analysed; some concerns expressed - and a few recommendations made.

The report can be accessed here.

Key recommendations include -

1 that the Minister responsible for the bill should be required to make an oral statement to the House of Lords outlining the case for fast-tracking. This should take place when the bill is introduced to the House in order to allow a debate, as early as possible on the justification for fast-tracking the bill, which does not detract from the Second Reading debate. The details contained in the oral statement should also be set out in a written memorandum included in the Explanatory Notes. The parliamentary time allocated for the statement should not in any way impinge upon the time available for consideration of the bill.

In the light of the evidence we have received about the potential problems and issues pertaining to the use of fast-track legislation, we recommend that the Ministerial Statement should be required to address the following principles:
(a) Why is fast-tracking necessary?
(b) What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?
(c) What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?
(d) To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
(e) Does the bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
(f) Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
(g) Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?
(h) Have relevant parliamentary committees been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

We recommend that in its consideration of whether to allow a bill to be fast-tracked through its legislative stages, the House should bear in mind whether the Government’s Ministerial Statement justifying fast-tracking has adequately addressed these principles. We will do this in the course of our scrutiny of any bill that it is proposed should be fast-tracked.

2 there should instead be a presumption in favour of the use of a sunset clause. By this process, a piece of legislation would expire after a certain date, unless Parliament chooses either to renew it or to replace it with a further piece of legislation subject to the normal legislative process.

3 any legislation subject to a fast-track parliamentary passage should be subject to post-legislative review, ideally within one year, and at most within two years.
Appendix 5 lists the bills subject to fast-track passage since 1975.