The House of Lords Constitution Committee publishes a report on the Deregulation Bill. In the report the committee questions government proposals to grant a “Henry VIII” power to the Secretary of State to remove or add to the criminal sanction for non-payment of the BBC licence fee.
The committee points out that the clauses giving the Secretary of State power to create alternatives to the TV licensing offences by regulations were not included in the draft Deregulation Bill and therefore were not scrutinised by the Joint Committee on the Draft Deregulation Bill.
The report states that if after a review it is decided to change the sanctions regime regarding TV licence violations it would be better to introduce a bill at that stage, which would be subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, rather than legislating now by a new Henry VIII clause.
The report also covers a proposal to amend the Clean Air Act 1993 to remove the need for a Secretary of State to authorise a fuel by secondary legislation. This authorisation provides a defence from criminal prosecution for anyone using the fuel. The Deregulation Bill would remove Parliament’s role in this process and instead give the Secretary of State power to make changes simply by listing the fuel on the Defra website. The committee says that this clause should be removed from the bill.
The committee is concerned about clauses repealing various duties on local authorities to engage in consultation. It stresses the constitutional importance of consultation and agrees that Parliament will want to be assured that the Government have taken full account of the possible consequences of such a step. The committee also comments on a clause requiring regulators have regard to economic growth in exercising their regulatory functions. It suggests that such a duty should not take precedence over the need for regulators to act in the public interest.
Commenting, Lord Lang of Monkton, chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:
“Irrespective of whether non-payment of the BBC licence fee should be a criminal offence, such a significant change should be made only by legislation passed at the time by Parliament. It does not seem appropriate for a wide power to be given now, before the proposed review of the licence fee, for a minister to change the regime later.
We also are concerned about the provisions amending the Clean Air Act, the proposed reduction in the requirement for local authorities to hold public consultations and the lack of clarity on the requirement for regulators to have regard to economic growth when performing their functions.
We make our report to the House of Lords ahead of the committee stage debate, which is expected to take place after the summer adjournment.”
Image: Parliamentary copyright