Parliamentary Scrutiny, Evidence and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the pandemic and beyond

19 Jan 2022

What information and evidence does Parliament need to enable it to oversee government law-making? Is Parliament currently provided with sufficient information and, if not, how can this be improved?

On 19 January 2022, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and the Hansard Society co-hosted this webinar on ‘Parliamentary Scrutiny, Evidence and the Rule of Law’, which explored the role of evidence, impact assessments, explanatory memorandums and other related material in facilitating parliamentary scrutiny of government law-making by delegated legislation. The event followed the publication of a Bingham Centre Report analysing the first 18 months of coronavirus legislation from a Rule of Law perspective, and forms part of the Hansard Society’s Delegated Legislation Review, which is developing proposals to reform the processes by which delegated legislation is made and scrutinised.

  • Justin Madders MP, Shadow Minister for Employment Rights, previously Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care

  • Selvin Brown, Director (Net Zero Buildings), BEIS and Policy Profession Board Member

  • Stephen Gibson, Chair of the Regulatory Policy Committee

  • Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, member of the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

  • Professor Jeff King, UCL Laws (Chair)

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in the processes used to enact legislation. Laws have often been made at breakneck speed, resulting in a reduction in the quality and quantity of impact assessments and other documents explaining and justifying government policy positions. This is problematic from the perspective of both the Rule of Law and effective Parliamentary scrutiny. The Rule of Law requires the law-making powers of the government to be prescribed and controlled by Parliament, but Parliament cannot properly scrutinise the policies and rationale underpinning proposed legislation without timely and digestible information justifying the proposed legal changes.

The need for good quality supporting documentation is paramount where the government introduces new laws via delegated legislation; a form of government law-making where Parliament’s scrutiny role is already limited. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a general trend towards the increased use of delegated legislation to enact significant policy changes. However, there are long-standing criticisms of the procedure by which delegated legislation is made and approved. This includes frequent criticism by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of the quality of Explanatory Memorandums, which are meant to provide a free-standing explanation of what each piece of delegated legislation does and why it is being introduced.