Ahead of the Health and Care Bill’s Committee stage in the House of Commons, this briefing paper focuses on five clauses in the Bill that contain delegated powers that are of particular concern and that highlight different aspects of the problems with the system of delegated powers.
While the delegated powers in the Health and Care Bill might appear to be merely technical matters, in this as in most bills they raise important questions of constitutional, legal and procedural principle that matter, regardless of party allegiance or views on the policy merits of the bill.
The scope and design of the delegation of power sought in any bill raise important questions for MPs that go to the heart of their role as legislators.
- To what extent are MPs willing to continue accepting the troubling arrogation of power by the executive (by successive governments) at the expense of Parliament?
- What scrutiny or other safeguards do Members think are desirable or necessary to constrain use of delegated powers? Given the inadequacy of scrutiny procedures that apply to delegated legislation in the House of Commons, can they really remedy a delegation of legislative power otherwise deemed unacceptable?
- If Parliament accepts controversial powers in a bill, it creates a precedent that may be used by government to justify taking similar powers in other bills in the future. However, if Parliament has reluctantly accepted a power in exceptional circumstances - for example, during the Brexit process when there was a need to legislate at speed - are MPs content for Ministers to rely on that precedent for the establishment of new powers?
- The inclusion of ‘Henry VIII powers’ enabling Ministers to amend or repeal primary legislation by Statutory Instrument challenges the constitutional principle that Parliament is sovereign; that it is the sole legislative authority with the power to create, amend or repeal any law. How content are MPs for such powers to continue to be a relatively common feature of the law?
- How much discretion do MPs think should be conferred on Ministers by the legislature? Ministers may use broadly defined and ambiguously worded powers in ways that that go beyond the original intention of the legislation. How content are MPs that such powers continue to be claimed by the executive, particularly when in many instances such powers will be available to Ministers in future governments of a different political stripe, possibly decades later, and may therefore be used by Ministers with radically different policy objectives from those who sought the powers in the first place?
- Do MPs think that government should be granted ‘reserve’ or ‘holding’ powers, the use of which is not fully explained or defined, simply because it is administratively convenient or because Ministers may desire freedom to act at a later date? Are MPs content that Ministerial claims of exigency and convenience should trump parliamentary scrutiny?
- When Ministers acknowledge that the relevant policy development process - particularly the consultation stage - is unfinished, should they nonetheless be granted powers to act in that area of policy?
If MPs are solicitous of the proper role and function of Parliament and their responsibilities as legislators, then the answers to these questions should inform the debate about the scope of, and safeguards applied to, each clause in a bill that contains a proposed delegation of power. Changes which tighten the use of powers, limit the extent of discretion, incorporate scrutiny safeguards, or resist the gravitational pull of precedent, are designed to buttress the role of Parliament in scrutinising future executive action and regulations; they need not interfere with or prevent the implementation of the intended policy.
Outline of the briefing
The briefing falls into two main parts:
- The first, after an overview of the Bill, summarises our key thematic concerns about some of the delegated powers in the Health and Care Bill.
- The second provides a detailed analysis of the clauses of concern, drawing on the Bill and the Explanatory Notes and Delegated Powers Memorandum (DPM) that accompany the legislation.
The five clauses of concern are:
- Clause 14 - People for whom Integrated Care Boards have core responsibility
- Clause 68 - Procurement regulations
- Clause 87 - Power to transfer functions between bodies
- Clause 120 - International healthcare arrangements
- Clause 125 - Advertising of less healthy food and drink
Our analysis draws heavily on ‘legislative standards’ which we have derived from reports of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC). The DPRRC is an influential committee and provides the nearest thing to a form of ‘jurisprudence’ (or ‘legisprudence’) in the area of delegated powers.
This paper was produced by Dheemanth Vangimalla with assistance from Dr Brigid Fowler, Dr Ruth Fox and Dr Tom West.
The research for this paper was funded by the Legal Education Foundation as part of the Hansard Society’s Review of Delegated Legislation.
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