Today is the first day of the committee stage of the Academies Bill. The only other Government Bill starting in the Lords is the Local Government Bill. As a result, time is being utilised to debate select committee reports and motions by back-benchers. Some members look forward to more legislation coming forward in order to ensure it is effectively scrutinised. I rather favour the existing situation.
The tendency of government has been to legislate for the sake of legislating. Bills have been rushed through in order to give the impression that action is being taken. However, many ills cannot be solved by legislation. Much legislation is drafted in haste and is not solidly evidence-based. Each new senior minister wants to get his or her ‘big Bill’ on the statute book, with success being measured in terms of Royal Assent and not the actual effect of the measure.
We need to engender a culture of legislative excellence, where the emphasis is on quality – well thought through and evidence-based Bills – rather than quantity. Government should seek to take credit for the impact of its measures and not the number of measures on the statute book. Letting ministers stay in post for longer may help. So may the new Goverment’s declared intention of not having so many Bills subject to programme motions in the Commons. We also need to make sure that the provisions of a Bill are actually needed – and not going to end up never brought into effect at all (see the earlier post on unimplemented legislation). Perhaps each Bill should provide that any provisions not brought into effect within three years of enactment of the measure shall be deemed to be deleted. In any event, we need a new view of legislation.