Westminster View – 28th June 2012 – Politics is not always exciting, but it’s always important

In my Chester Standard column, I try to cover a healthy balance between discussing the big national issues of the day, highlighting local issues of interest to Chester residents and trying to offer an insight into my role representing Chester in Parliament.

The latter is an area that I tend to write about least often, mainly since Delegated Legislation Committees, Public Bill Committees or arcane parliamentary procedures are often not the most exciting topics to write (or read!) about. However, since I have just been appointed to the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee for the Draft Communications Data Bill, my column this week will try and succinctly explain my role on that committee.

The process of pre-legislative scrutiny is fairly new to our parliament. It tends to be far less partisan and far more open to analysis and debate compared with scrutiny during the full sitting of either Chambers in Parliament, and is therefore thought to produce far better laws.

The three key functions of pre-legislative scrutiny are: to connect with the public by involving outside bodies and individuals in the legislative process; to change Bills to produce better law; and to achieve consensus so that Bills complete their passage through the House more smoothly.

Although the first two of these functions are routinely adhered to, the latter can often be less straightforward to achieve. For example, the recent joint committee tasked with scrutinising the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill fell substantially short of consensus, with two separate reports being produced by its members.

On this occasion I hope that consensus will be easier to achieve. The Committee will be politically balanced and comprise of six Members of the House of Commons and six from the House of Lords. Whilst the Communications Data Bill has already generated heated discussion in the national press, the general premise of the Bill, to ensure that the police and intelligence agencies have the tools they need to do their job, is, understandably, a shared aim of all political parties.

The Committee is likely to take up a significant proportion of my time before it publishes its report at the end of November but I am looking forward to the challenge of ensuring that the Bill maintains the right balance between giving the police and security services the powers they need to protect the public, whilst simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties.