What can we expect from the pre-legislative scrutiny phase?
Pre-legislative scrutiny is being carried out by the DCMS Committee, which is comprised of ten MPs, each of whom are particularly experienced in media regulation; its members are split across parties, with five Conservatives, four Labour MPs, and one member of the SNP. The Committee will take evidence on the Bill and set out its recommendations in a report.
In order to inform its advice to the Government, the Committee has published a call for evidence seeking feedback from relevant stakeholders, for example, by asking them to identify any potential unintended consequences that could result from the proposed Bill in its current form. In short, pre-legislative scrutiny provides a crucial but limited window for stakeholders to catch the ear of the DCMS Committee, ensuring that its recommendations benefit from a wide range of perspectives from industry, civil society groups and consumers. The call for evidence has a particular focus on public service broadcasting, video-on-demand regulation and the radio aspects of the Bill. It also sets out a number of more general questions for stakeholders, such as whether the power conferred by this Bill is proportionate, the extent to which Ofcom will be able to deliver on its new mandate, and whether the Bill risks harming the competitiveness of the UK broadcasting industry on the global stage.
Following the 17 May 2023 deadline for submissions, we can expect the Committee to publish its findings, conclusions, and recommendations for the Government’s consideration although it may also invite oral evidence from particular stakeholders before doing so. If you have particular insights that the Committee should consider, the opportunity to submit written evidence remains open until 23:59pm on 17 May 2023, and any submissions can be made via this link.
What next steps will the Bill face before it can become law?
The DCMS Committee is expected to publish its findings and recommendations for the Government’s consideration this summer and the Government will likely formally respond. It may then decide to make amendments to the Bill ahead of its introduction to Parliament, in line with the recommendations. Once the Bill is introduced to Parliament it will undergo the usual stages of the legislative process in each House:
- First reading – the title of the Bill will be introduced to the relevant House, but no debate will occur.
- Second reading – the main principles of the Bill will be debated, and the Government will close the debate by addressing the points made, but the drafting of the Bill cannot be amended at this stage. It is unlikely that a bill will be rejected at this stage, but, if it is, it will not proceed further.
- Committee stage – a detailed consideration of the Bill will commence, on a line-by-line basis. At this stage the Bill may be amended, for example to ensure that it works as intended, or to achieve a new policy objective. Concessions can also be made at this stage to make the Bill more likely to pass a vote, if required. If amendments are more than technical in nature, they will also require the consent of the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee.
- Report stage – any amendments are discussed (if there are none, this is a formal stage only).
- Third reading – this will be a general discussion in the House of Commons, but tidying amendments can be tabled at this stage in the House of Lords.
Royal Assent – if a final version of the Bill has been passed by both Houses it can then receive Royal Assent. The Government will confirm in the Bill which parts are to be effective immediately after it is passed as an act, and which sections are to be effective after a fixed period of time (say, two months after the act has passed).
Authored by Telha Arshad and James Furneaux