I was giving evidence yesterday to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the Commons, alongside Lord Maclennan and MP Nick Raynsford, as part of the the committee’s inquiry into legislative standards. The committee is examining whether, among other things, a commitee on legislative standards should be established.
I was keen to argue that such a committee is desirable, even necessary, but it is not sufficient. There needs to be changes in respect of the whole process by which law is made, encompassing for Parliament pre- and post-legislative scrutiny as well as reform to how Bills are dealt with once introduced.
Changes are needed in order to achieve a culture shift among ministers and, indeed, backbenchers. I summarised the nature of the problem in my written evidence:
“Problems with the process derive in large part from prevailing attitudes. For a minister, failure is not having a Bill to bring forward. The starting point of the legislative process is seen as the First Reading of a Bill. The timing of introduction is largely determined by what Robin Cook termed ‘the tidal wave’ principle, with a continuing attachment (despite provision for carry-over) to the sessional cut-off. Legislative ‘success’ is seen in terms of Royal Assent.
The way in which we legislate is thus marked by a large volume of legislation (bigger bills rather than more bills) – incoming senior ministers wanting to make their mark through legislation, the government wanting to show that it ‘has done something’ – and a process that is constricted and rushed. Creating a Committee on Legislative Standards is desirable, even necessary, but it is not sufficient. It has to be set in this wider context. As such, it can fulfil a valuable role, helping address some of these problems.”
The session helped tease out how the whole process can be improved. However, once proposals for change are made the real challenge is ensuring there is the political will to implement them.
I will do a link to the transcript of the session once it is made available.