In terms of volume the majority of the UK's general public law is made not through Acts of Parliament but through delegated legislation. The term covers a wide range of different legislative powers and provisions, usually made in the form of Statutory Instruments (SIs), that can be used to amend, update or enforce existing primary legislation without parliament having to pass a new act. Delegated legislation is therefore crucial to the effective operation of government and affects almost every aspect of both the public and private sphere. Yet much of it operates under the radar of parliamentary, media and public scrutiny.
There has been a significant increase in the volume of delegated legislation in recent decades, with double the number of SIs passed in 2005 as in 1985. The increased use of delegated legislation has also increased its significance, and a number of government bills have hit the headlines in recent years because of the far-reaching nature and implications of the delegated powers contained within them.
And yet the power of Parliament to scrutinise delegated legislation is weak: debates on SIs are rare, and limited when they do take place; SIs cannot be amended by parliamentarians; and often they will come into effect before there is time for any scrutiny whatsoever.
The inadequacy of parliamentary scrutiny has long been recognised, but despite some reforms in this area, the essential architecture of the scrutiny process for delegated legislation remains largely unchanged.
Despite the significant growth in the volume of delegated legislation over recent years and the degree to which it impacts on so many areas of public policy, little is currently known about how the executive makes decisions about what goes into primary and secondary legislation; what parliamentary scrutiny procedures then apply to delegated legislation and why; and what influence Parliament and the public is able to exercise in this decision-making process.
The Parliament and Government programme is therefore undertaking a study that seeks to 'lift the lid' on the delegated legislation system, exploring how and why decisions have been made by successive governments about the use of delegated legislation to enact their policy objectives and whether the current architecture of parliamentary scrutiny is fit for purpose.
To support our research we are inviting written submissions from individuals and organisations that might have an interest in or experience of the delegated legislation process. Our consultation paper sets out some of the key issues and questions for investigation.
Lifting the Lid on Delegated Legislation Consultation Paper (pdf)
Submissions and any questions should be emailed to the project researcher, Joel Blackwell, at:email@example.com or they can be posted to: Joel Blackwell, Hansard Society, 40-43 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1JA.
The closing date for submissions is: Monday 2 July 2012.
This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.