Lords condemn “fast-tracked” parliamentary standards bill

July 6, 2009 at 2:54 pm 1 comment

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New legislation that would establish outside regulation of MPs and peers has been rushed and not enough consideration has been given to how it will fundamentally change Parliament, a committee of peers has said.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill passed through all its Commons stages in just three days last week.

The government want it to be on the statute books before Parliament rises for the summer on July 21st.

It will create a system of independent regulation of MPs’ salaries, allowances and financial interests.

There will also be a new Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations, to investigate breaches of the rules on allowances and interests.

The new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will be able to sanction MPs in response to a Commissioner’s report, or recommend sanctions to the House of Commons.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee said the bill “is the product of a desire to respond to a demand to see something done, as the Government put it, rather than the outcome of a law-making process suitable for a bill with serious constitutional repercussions.”

They said it raises “unresolved questions” about the relationship between Parliament and the courts.

“It will fall to the House of Lords to consider how the bill hangs together in the light of the decisions made in the House of Commons.

“Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House of Lords, told us 24 hours before the removal of the proceedings in Parliament clause, that “The package in the bill is a coherent whole, and no part of it would work without the rest”. The bill will accordingly have to be substantially recast.

“To do so under an accelerated passage is in our view wholly unacceptable given the questions of constitutional principle and detail that it raises.”

The Lords said that self-regulation has been a central characteristic of both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament.

“The “exclusive cognisance” of each House to regulate its own affairs, free from intervention by the courts, has been a key feature of our constitutional framework. The bill breaks with that convention.

“This is a profound change which has the potential to give rise to conflict between Parliament and the courts, the implications of which require very careful examination.”

The bill as introduced in the House of Lords is in two vital respects different from the one originally introduced in the House of Commons. First, the Government agreed to remove a clause seeking to place a statutory duty on the House of Commons to have a code of conduct.

Second, the Government was defeated on a controversial clause (“the proceedings in Parliament clause”) that sought to carve out an exception from Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689, which protects freedom of speech and proceedings in Parliament from being questioned in court.

The Government indicated that they will respect the view of the House of Commons and not seek to reintroduce the proceedings in Parliament clause.

Both of these clauses “threatened to undermine freedoms which are essential for Parliament to operate properly and risked opening the door to conflict between Parliament and the courts.”

The Lords committee said:

“We are particularly concerned by the hasty manner in which policy-making has taken place, with negligible public consultation, and the subsequent ‘fast-tracking’ through Parliament of a bill which will have major constitutional implications.”

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Entry filed under: Commons, Lords, Procedure. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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