This note reviews the outcome of House of Lords Constitution Committee’s inquiry into fast-track legislation. It reports how information has been provided to Parliament on bills that have been fast-tracked.

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The Constitution Committee of the House of Lords undertook an inquiry into fast-track legislation in the 2008-09 Session. The Committee described it as an inquiry into “constitutional issues that may arise when there is resort to emergency legislation”, and in particular, “situations where bills receive an expedited passage through Parliament”. In its inquiry, it used the following definition of fast-track legislation: “bills … which the Government of the day represents to Parliament must be enacted swiftly … and then uses its power of legislative initiative and control of Parliamentary time to secure their passage”.

It identified eleven problems and issues that arose as a result of fast-tracking legislation; and considered some of them in more detail through case studies of particular pieces of legislation. It also reviewed the reasons why Northern Ireland legislation was fast-tracked; and briefly considered the subject of delegated legislation.

The Committee recommended that an oral ministerial statement should be made and its details set out in the explanatory notes of a bill to justify the fast-tracking of any primary legislation. The Committee also recommended that there should be a presumption in favour of sunset clauses appearing in fast-tracked legislation to ensure that it is subject to parliamentary review; and that there should be a presumption in favour of early post-legislative review of fast-tracked legislation.

In its response to the Committee, the Government simply said that “Ministers remain prepared to justify the need for any expedition to the House”. It argued that the use of sunset clauses should be approached on a case-by-case basis. On post-legislative scrutiny it re-affirmed its commitment to review within three to five years.

The House of Lords debated the report on 10 November 2009.

On 15 December 2009, when the Video Recordings Bill 2009-10, the first bill to be fast-tracked since the report, was published, the Government announced in a written ministerial statement that a full explanation of the reasons for the expedition of the Bill, in line with the Committee’s recommendation would be given in the Explanatory Notes.

An explanation of the reasons for fast-tracking legislation has been offered in the Explanatory Notes of most subsequent fast-track legislation. In 2019, the Constitution Committee welcomed this:

We welcome the fact that the Cabinet Office’s Guide to Making Legislation now requires the justification for fast-tracking to be included in a bill’s explanatory notes. We note that the Government has observed it in respect of most recent bills that have been fast-tracked.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN05256
  • Author: Richard Kelly
  • Topics: Parliament

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