Sitting more to scrutinise and debate

Lord Norton

I have done a post on my own blog on the problem of politicians who regularly lament the fact that there is too much legislation, but then complain when the Government does not have that many Bills to bring before Parliament.

The fact that there is not much legislation is the reason for Parliament being prorogued a week earlier than initially planned.  (Prorogation takes place tomorrow.)  The next session is not expected to be heavy with legislation.  A dearth of Government Bills, however, is not a reason for the Houses not sitting.  It may be for the convenience of Government, but not necessarily to the benefit of good government.  Both Houses could usefully sit in order to debate issues of concern to people outside the House – the Commons is already making great strides in this respect, not least thanks to the creation of the Backbench Business Committee – and to scrutinise and question ministers.  There is no reason why the two Houses cannot fulfil some of the functions identified by the great Walter Bagehot – not least informing and educating – other than the legislative.

There may be a case for members of the two Houses to press to gain greater control of the parliamentary timetable…

5 comments for “Sitting more to scrutinise and debate

  1. tizres
    13/05/2014 at 3:54 pm

    Lord Norton, “Both Houses could usefully sit…”

    Yes, but isn’t it much more likely that small groups of MPs will be found huddled in a dark corner, plotting unspeakable plots?

    • Lord Norton
      14/05/2014 at 10:51 am

      tizres: MPs can usually manage to plot whether or not the House is sitting!

  2. 14/05/2014 at 8:42 am

    Your own blog puts it better: politicians variously complain. Those who want more legislative activity in Westminster form a different constituency from those who object to the burden of too much law, surely?

    In my opinion, for what it’s worth, what has been wrong with this parliament is that there has been too much timetabling, which prevents Bills being given a decent airing, and too little time for ordinary members. Why do we hear less about Private Members’ Bills these days (unless they involve Europe, of course)? This House of Commons has been better than its predecessor, but there is still some way to go. I couldn’t agree more with your last sentiments.

    • Lord Norton
      14/05/2014 at 11:00 am

      Frank H. Little: Thanks for your comments. In my experience, the two groups are not mutually exclusive. I can understand the pressures leading one to want measures to debate, while at the same time voicing the belief there is too much legislation. The advantage of procedures in the Lords is that we do not have timetable motions. All amendments are discussed and there is the time to discuss them.

      On PMBs, it depends whether an MP successful in the ballot wishes to air an important and likely controversial issue – in which case it gets noticed, but not passed – or wants to get something on to the statute book, in which case it is likely to be a Government hand-out Bill. There are exceptions (such as the Byles Bill). Despite the tendency for many members in recent years to go for hand-out Bills, there was a notable decrease in the number of PMBs making it to the statute book in the last Parliament.

  3. Gareth Howell
    14/05/2014 at 1:34 pm

    Indeed not just legislating but informing and educating too, are also good purposes of the debating chambers of parliament.
    It is when legislation is created from worthless debate, or created from subjects which are just not capable of being any value, that the public wonders what they are paying for.
    I quoted three bills, now acts, recently, which were exactly thus.

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