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Creation of social work regulator is matter for Parliament not ministers

9 June 2016

The Constitution Committee today publishes a report which questions why the creation of a new regulator of social workers is being delegated to the Secretary of State, rather than being set out in statute so it can be properly scrutinised by Parliament.

New regulator of social workers

The Committee states that when the House of Lords debates the Children and Social Work Bill it may wish to consider whether the new regulator of social workers—and its powers and functions—should be detailed to some degree on the face of the Bill to allow proper parliamentary scrutiny, rather than left entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State.

New criminal offences

The report also points out that the Bill allows ministers to create new criminal offences by regulation. The Committee asks the House to consider how it can be expected to scrutinise the creation of criminal offences when not only are the offences currently undefined, but they relate to other aspects of the Bill which are also undefined and left to the discretion of ministers.

Delegated powers

The criticism of the extensive delegated powers contained in the Bill, with much of the substance of the Bill left to ministers to determine by regulation, echoes criticism the Committee makes separately in its Sessional Report 2015-16, which is also published today. In that report, the Committee expresses concern about "a constitutionally inappropriate shift of power from Parliament to the Executive". Referring to the Strathclyde Review, the Committee states that "The Government appears to be seeking greater discretion in how it implements and interprets legislation while simultaneously seeking to restrict the right of the House of Lords to subsequently scrutinise and approve or reject the Government's use of delegated powers".

The Committee highlights a number of Bills from the last Session, such as the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill and the Childcare Bill, as examples of vaguely worded legislation that left much to the discretion of ministers.

Chairman's comments

"The Children and Social Work Bill continues a worrying trend in which Parliament is asked to agree legislation that is lacking crucial details that allow it properly to scrutinise Government proposals.

"Our political system relies on Parliament having the ability to scrutinise legislation through the full multi-stage process in both Houses. The Government's reliance on legislating by regulation undermines that and risks poorly constructed proposals becoming law.

"The Children and Social Work Bill proposes giving the Secretary of State significant powers to establish a new social work regulator, to define its functions and powers, and to create new, and currently undefined, criminal offences. Changes of that nature should be set out in primary legislation so they can be debated, scrutinised and improved. Instead, by giving the Minister the power to make these changes by regulation there is a risk Parliament will again be denied its proper role in holding the Government to account."

The second reading of the bill is due on 14 June 2016.

Further information

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