Post-legislative scrutiny

It has always been possible for a select committee to examine the workings of an Act of Parliament relevant to its subject area, but there have been recent moves to make such post-legislative scrutiny more systematic. Following various exchanges between Parliament and government, in 2008 the government undertook that in most cases it would produce a memorandum assessing each Act between three and five years after Royal Assent; 58 of these had been published by January 2013. It is then up to the relevant select committee to decide whether to take up the memorandum and make it the subject of an inquiry. In late 2012, the Liaison Committee was able to point to only three specific examples of such inquiries, though there had been wider inquiries that had included evaluations of previous legislation. The House of Lords began setting up select committees to carry out post legislative scrutiny in 2012 when adoption legislation was considered and, in the 2013-14 session, further committees were set up to consider the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Inquiries Act 2005. Overall, this is an initiative that promised more than it has delivered. This may well be because, if a particular legislative provision is clearly not working and this really matters to the government of the day, it will be dealt with by subsequent legislation; and, if it is a matter of party contention, it may be repealed upon a change of government. A systematic assessment of how an Act of Parliament is working is no doubt worthy, but may be better carried out in an academic rather than a parliamentary context. If there is a specific problem with a piece of legislation, a select committee is well-placed to investigate it.

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