In the Media

'Question Time' panels on new laws

PUBLISHED May 30, 2006

THE government is planning to set up Question Time-style panels drawn from members of the public to scrutinise new laws.

The idea is to recruit ordinary citizens with relevant jobs or experience to comment on proposed legislation. 
The groups will meet before MPs vote on legislation, with their comments ? positive and negative ? officially recorded and circulated at Westminster.

The government admits that the move will be highly unpopular with some ministers, exposing them to embarrassment if their laws are rubbished.

They describe the move as a ?huge gamble?, saying that heavy criticism from the panels, which will sit in public, could effectively kill off key bills.

Proponents of the scheme, which will be officially unveiled next week, believe that it will give the public more of a direct say in business at Westminster.

Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, said: ?This is a major risk for us, but we believe it will make for better laws. To a certain extent parliament legislates in the dark. We should be able to hear the views of the people who are directly involved.?

The scheme will be piloted next month with the coroners bill which was drawn up after recommendations by the inquiry into the Harold Shipman murders.

Harman has begun recruiting a panel of 12 to 15 members of the public with experience of the coroners? service to examine the draft bill.

They will sit for two days in a televised hearing at the Commons. The meeting will be minuted and recorded in the same way as Hansard, the official parliamentary record.