The Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill completed work on the draft Bill last Tuesday – the last day of sitting prior to the summer recess. Though the recommended period is a minimum of three months for a committee to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny, we had under three months to examine what constitutes five bills in one. We only managed to complete our task by meeting twice a week, with each sitting lasting usually two hours or more. We had a total of twenty sittings.
Four members of the committee achieved a 100% attendance record. Three of them were MPs. Modesty forbids me mentioning the name of the peer. These figures, though, are misleading in that at virtually all the sittings, peers notably outnumbered MPs and at times we were in danger of not having a quorum because not enough MPs were present. (To be quorate, there had to be three peers and three MPs present). One Member put his head round the door at the first meeting but was never seen again. We got through a large volume of evidence, both oral and written, in the time available and were assisted greatly by excellent clerks and specialist staff. They demonstrated a remarkable capacity to produce fluent drafts at short notice.
We were not unanimous on all points, though I was impressed not only by the level of agreement reached on most of the report but also by the extent to which much discussion was cross-party. When we did disagree, it was not necessarily along party lines. The report is being published on Thursday. I thought I would give advance notice so that readers can get ready to purchase or download a copy…
I will be interested to have comments on the report once it is published. Just to remind you, the Bill covers demonstrations outside Parliament, the role of the Attorney General, judicial appointments, parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, and the civil service. The committee was also asked to consider Parliament and war-making.