Lords considering a Legislative Standards Committee
Is a fearsome new creature about to be created, to prowl the corridors of Westminster, savaging badly drafted bills?
On Monday the House of Lords debated a report on its working practices which suggested setting up a Legislative Standards Committee, which would pre-vet Bills - and quite possibly send sub-standard offerings back to Ministers with a terse instruction to sort them out.
Several senior Lords complained they are are pretty tired of badly drafted bills - the Crossbencher Lord Bichard said some recent bills had been "frankly, not fit for purpose", with "embarrassingly poor drafting", while the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler pointed to the 70 plus Home Office acts for the Labour years, which he said were frequently devoted to amending previous deficient acts.
An awful lot of Lords seemed to like the idea - the brainchild of a "Leaders' Group" chaired by the former Conservative Chief Whip Lord Goodlad - and it was also endorsed by the Labour leader Lady Royall and the Convenor of the Crossbenchers, Lady D'Souza. But it's not a done deal.
Crucially, the Leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, sounded distinctly queasy about the prospect of Government bills being rejected on the basis of technical merit, before even receiving a second reading. (nerd note: the Committee would only vet bills introduced in the Lords - unless it was made a joint committee with MPs as well as peers sitting on it, in which case it would presumably vet every bill on technical adequacy, proper consultation, clear aims and other criteria.)
He suggested further consultation would be needed - and that as it stands the proposal would violate the constitutional principle that a Government was entitled to have its legislation considered by Parliament.
But I can't imagine he, or the Coalition whips would relish the prospect of attempting to block a mechanism designed tweed out badly drafted laws in advance... I wonder if this will emerge as an issue during the Lord Speakership contest.