Quality vs Quantity

Lord Tyler

Goldilocks looked at Tony Blair’s Queen’s Speeches, with 30+ bills announced each time, and pronounced, ‘that’s far too much legislation’.  Then Goldilocks looked at the Coalition’s final Queen’s Speech and lamented, ‘this is far too little legislation.’  She looked at a perfect, fantasy government of the future and said, ‘that legislative programme will be just right’.

The Goldilocks press seems to have swallowed whole Labour’s line that a Queen’s Speech with eleven bills means the government is “a zombie”.  The same media swallowed with equal alacrity opposition lines that Tiggerish governments putting forward 30 bills at a time were no good either.  Criticising the number of measures is a good way to avoid commenting on their content.  For those suffering from advanced oppositionitis, no particular number of bills will ever be just right.

This morning’s London Metro records that Labour’s Angela Eagle had branded the Queen’s Speech as that of a “zombie government fast running out of steam and ideas” before the Speech had even been delivered!  Perhaps she felt this would be more difficult to say once all the Government’s plans – to improve pensions, strengthen the minimum wage, tackle zero-hours contracts, protect our environment, build more homes, introduce tax-free childcare, provide free school meals for infants and create 400,000 more apprenticeships (to name just a few measures) – had been announced.

That all sounds like quite enough to be going on with.  In any case, the House of Commons is always under attack for failing to scrutinise Bills properly.  If there are fewer Bills, we should expect more time for MPs to do a more comprehensive job.

In a Lords debate on 13 May I gently suggested to some of the pundit Peers who were opining that the final session would be a waste of time that they over-rated the importance of introducing yet more new laws.  I deplored the tendency of introducing Bills as if they were Ministerial virility symbols.   I was supported by none other than ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell.   With some notable exceptions, this Parliament has largely been better than its predecessors at pre-legislative scrutiny:  a big step forward.  Yet we seldom go back to examine at how laws we have put on the statute book actually operate, and if they might be improved – post-legislative scrutiny.  Lord O’Donnell and I agreed that the Fixed Term Parliament Act (for which I campaigned so vociferously immediately after the 2010 Election, to achieve much needed stability) would produce another benefit if Parliament used the final year to review the adequacy of existing laws.

This Parliament looks to me as though it will be busy for all the ten months it has left.  We should aim to produce quality rather than quantity for once.  And, after all 11 Bills will still be more than one a month!

22 comments for “Quality vs Quantity

  1. maude elwes
    05/06/2014 at 6:39 pm

    Hilary Benn for Prime Minister.

    I listened to the debate in the Commons this afternoon on The Queens Speech, and felt that Labour has a man they are not seeing. He delivered so well he made Pickles look like a ridiculous boar faced fool, a character out of a Dicken’s tale.

    Benn speaks with conviction, which is the first quality needed in a Prime Minister.

    And I don’t believe for one minute a Tory government has any intention of giving a break to the chosen poor they are feeding off. No matter what they put in the Queen’s Speech. It’s the equivalent of now you see it, now you don’t. And once in office, ‘who said that’ not I.

    As a side line, Cameron getting Obama to back his policy on Scotland and Europe is a prime way of prodding the mind to mull over ‘what’s in it for him and the Leader of the Free World.’ If he wants it, then you have to know it’s the one thing we don’t want to get anywhere near. Add to that the Blair creature and his grinning clown face pushing with his Blairite Progress Group and you know severe danger lurks down that road. And, that anyone or anything that touches that organisation is a no go area.

  2. Dave H
    06/06/2014 at 2:46 am

    It is worth noting that Labour’s last year in power, trying to cram all that legislation in, resulted in very poor debate and quality control in the Commons, with the government trying to steamroller stuff through. The CSF Bill, which is indirectly why I ended up reading this blog, was a good example of this, with a rushed consultation on the home education section and DCSF being overwhelmed by the scale of response (and the level of opposition contained within that response) that they only published the result of the consultation on the morning of the Bill’s second reading. Hardly time for a proper consideration of the contents by MPs, and one wonders whether the consultation was held simply so the relevant box could be ticked.

    Then we got the wonderful events of early April 2010 with the wash-up (also referred to as the stitch-up) where very edited parts of some of the Bills (minus the bit referred to above) were voted through with almost no debate. Clearly not the way government should be making law, and I know some peers commented on this in various debates.

    I’d like to propose to the Lords that they require all Bills passed with improper scrutiny in a wash-up should automatically have a sunset clause added so that they lapse if not re-affirmed by both the Commons and the Lords within twelve months. I was not impressed with the poor quality of legislation, full of ambiguities and loopholes, that was forced through under the previous Labour government. Even worse is that the present government has let much of it stand so I agree that there should be a mandated post-legislative scrutiny of everything. Give it all a five-year expiry clause that requires a vote before the end of the five years to avoid it lapsing. that might slow things down and encourage proper debate again.

  3. Lord Tyler
    06/06/2014 at 2:17 pm

    Very interesting comments, here and in person, on my suggested priorities for the new Session. I will pursue further your particular ideas, Dave H. Meanwhile, both Lord (Norman) Fowler (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140604-0001.htm#14060430000171), in a typically wise and witty speech on the “Humble Address”, my Liberal Democrat colleague Baroness (Ros) Scott (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140604-0001.htm#14060430000161) who seconded his motion, and indeed the Leader of the House (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140604-0001.htm#14060430000168) all reflected on the desirability of using this final year of the Parliament to good effect. All agreed that more legislation doesn’t necessarily mean better legislation. I hope to make some specific suggestions to this effect in the debate on Wednesday next.

    • Dave H
      11/07/2014 at 1:22 am

      Here’s an upcoming opportunity. The government wants to rush through some legislation on data retention. If ever there was a bill that was ripe to have a sunset clause added, this is a good candidate. Hasty reaction, all parties agreeing to it, it’s clearly going to be pushed through with minimal time allowed for scrutiny. Bad news for the residents of the UK and probably a bunch of people overseas too.

  4. maude elwes
    07/06/2014 at 5:11 am

    One more component of new legislation being much of it is ‘bent.’ Take a look at this piece on the government lark surrounding ‘bedroom tax’ with throwing people out of their council homes if they can’t pay the ‘under occupancy penalty.’ Should they have a cupboard considered to be a bedroom by the ‘Landlord?’ Surely they jest.

    Here we read a room, considered by the courts not big enough for an ‘Asylum seeker’ to qualify as a bedroom, because it’s too small to be reasonably defined as such, yet, qualifies as okay for the indigenous old girl to lose her forty year home for it. Another example of why people are voting UKIP.

    Why are lawyers not taking this issue up at a rate that would show government are indeed out to punish the poor for being destitute. Therefore should government pay poverty stricken individuals compensation for such harassment? Could this be why government has virtually eliminated ‘legal aid’ from the poor to make sure they cannot fight in court to define this creepy practice. Should lawyers not consider taking these cases on a no win no fee basis in order for justice to prevail?


  5. Howell of Trent Valley
    07/06/2014 at 5:12 pm

    What was very difficult about a huge majority was the complete lack of opposition for any argument between 2001-2005. Seriously embarrassing.

    I often wonder whether party policy is only determined by the duty to oppose, at least something, and how that becomes a point of policy simply because it has been opposed. I suppose it is always shelved when party becomes party of government.

    The one thing we can look forward to, is a UKIP/Tory majority after the next General election, which will require the usual lurch to the right (or to the left)
    of the party in government.

    Euro/district elections are very different from general ones but it may be the way.

    One wonders if the LibDem agreement to enter a co-alition in 2010 should have been harder negotiated, before being entered upon, with the benefit of hindsisght, and how it could have been.

    Did the Queen mention Plastic bags by any chance?

  6. MilesJSD
    07/06/2014 at 8:05 pm

    My taxi driver today averred that “the World’s problems are not Ours”; “Nor are Europe’s”.

    An ordinary TV News channel revealed that Britain’s debt is 500% of its GDP, making Britain the next to worst Indebted Nation-State in the World.

    None of the foreign countries that Britain took Quantity and Quality from during the Colonial years, including near-extortions of best silver from China (much of which still serves as Centrepieces and Status-ware throughout the Royal and Aristocratic classes’ palaces, courts and mansions)
    are ‘calling in’ such historically ‘black debts’
    and that is surely because there are much bigger life-and-death Issues and Impasses, both globally and downwards into local neighbourhoods and cutting into the individual human food-ration and bed-space, for any sober individual to worry about whilst at the same time working fingers to the bone for a participatively-democratic enablement to tackle the Real and Pressing Needs, Difficulties, and Governance-Disasters that are increasingly undermining every country around the World.

    Surely the current British Strategy of avoiding and effectively denying the increasingly-threatening existence of these Common Human Race Crises by
    focusing the whole of our National effort upon scratching at long lists of mere band-aid sized legislational itches, simply to keep the Establishment smelling sweet and pleasing British Voters sufficiently for the dominant Political minority to win the 2015 general election,

    surely this Quantitative Teasing is tantamount to being a retreat-under-rout for we British;
    and surely it will make the Monarchy complicit with cheap party-political power-mongering, and with that lone taxi-driver’s “view” and “say”, as far as our Real and Longest-Term Lifesupports are to be ensured,
    not only in Quality and Quantity but in terms of Survival-Necessity ?

  7. Howell of Trent Valley
    09/06/2014 at 11:52 am

    “and if they might be improved – post-legislative scrutiny.”

    Recent posts by Lord Norton, I think, have discussed this question.

    “used the final year to review the adequacy of existing laws”.

    A good many acts are continuations of acts from many years previously, such as the TPA(Town planning act) 2008? of recent year which was said to be a great improvement on previous acts. I didnt think so.

    Every state department has Acts which might be put through as Regulatory but which, on account of their detail, are determined to be worthy of scrutiny by the chambers.

    Is it therefore worthwhile to have post legislative scrutiny of those acts?

    Many acts (again as recently discussed) are merely a seal on debates, of more or less value, so they would only extend the agony.

    Such acts as Lord Tyler suggests should be scutinized, in years after putting the seal on it, may not be that many, and would have to be carefully chosen for the purpose.

    Considering how few Peers had any knowledge whatsoever of the recent NHS computerization Acts, which spent some thousand million, post legislative scrutiny would be even more worthless, even more so than that of peers, ‘working’ or not working!

    ‘Working’, is with respect, an excuse for a comfortable red leather bench and a fee to go with it!!

  8. Senex
    12/06/2014 at 7:15 pm

    Are you are referring to the prorogation ceremony where the stamp of perfection is placed upon each bill receiving Royal Assent?

    Why are you concerning yourself with quality vs quantity when the executive and back bench members in both houses are free to bypass all Parliamentary best practice and have the outcome become perfect?

    Why we could elect or appoint peanut fed monkeys and have them sit on the back benches to see Hansard record gibberish then have the resulting bill receive the stamp of perfection indirectly by Royal Prerogative.

    Why is Hansard shy of recording what is said in the ceremony?

    You and Lord Norton both sit on the board of Hansard can either of you explain why in the presence of both houses a bill receives Royal Assent as perfection when it is patently not the case. Is Hansard embarrassed by this or under orders from the Clerks of Parliament to have your recorder absent?

    Whilst one clerk names the bill another speaks in Norman French:

    “La Royne le veult” the formula of Royal Assent, more usually spelt
    “La Reyne le veult” (the Queen wishes it)

    Maria Miller was present at the ceremony this year no doubt to see her perfect marriage bill not mentioned except as a passing remark by one of the doffers. One assumes her replacement will grant assent without the “La Reyne le veult” under the Royal Prerogative and give a commencement order date, which is when?

    Bring it on…real people await your pleasure at the ballot box.

    Ref: House of Lords Prorogation Ceremony May 2014

    • Hansard Society
      Hansard Society
      13/06/2014 at 9:26 am

      N.B. Hansard [http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/publications/hansard/] is not the same as the Hansard Society [http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/] who run this blog. Lord Norton and Lord Tyler are members of the Advisory Council of the Hansard Society but I doubt they have any connection to Hansard the Parliamentary Record (I couldn’t find any evidence that they did).

    • JH
      14/06/2014 at 5:16 pm

      Commencement is not through the prerogative but through the power granted in the Act itself (ss. 18 and 21). Much of the Act has already been brought into force – see e.g. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/93/made (the gender reassignment and conversion of civil partnership provisions are currently not commenced).

  9. MilesJSD
    14/06/2014 at 11:22 am

    At hidden core, the need here is twofold

    .1. Daily-Media-wise
    Engage the Public unequivocally and seriously-straightforwardly with Issues and Topics about
    the “state of This Earth versus the State of Human Civilisations Worldwide”.

    .2. Monthly media-engage the Public with the Minor Issues
    (such as filled the current Queen’s Speech).

  10. Senex
    16/06/2014 at 11:19 am

    JH, I take your point, whilst not formally a prerogative the end result amounts to one, but lacking the association with perfection. There are as a result two routes to ‘Royal Assent’. One has the regent’s approval and the other has Parliaments approval.

    Bills granted under “La Reyne le veult” cannot be challenged constitutionally. However, those that are enacted otherwise can be.

    The marriage bill sits as an important constitutional precedent. Parliament threw caution to the wind and the bill was progressed in the absence of well established, good parliamentary practice by both houses. It abused the constitution and abused its power of ‘prerogative’.

    An opportunity is afforded Parliament’s Royal House to submit a bill seeking constitutional change to test Royal Consent bills in a court of law whenever Parliament approves the bill instead of the regent. The monarchy in granting Royal Consent effectively writes a blank cheque whilst having no control over the eventual outcome.

    The problem for the public is one of proper representation and accountability by Parliament. Here all the rules were broken and the bill enacted as though it represented perfection. The executive needs encouragement to follow good parliamentary practice on bills associated with Royal Consent.

    What has been achieved in the peoples name by the marriage bill amounts to a Socratic tyranny one that offers a legal basis for revolution?

    • maude elwes
      16/06/2014 at 2:57 pm


      Then who can do something about this anomaly? If, as you say, it is Socratic tyranny offering a legal basis for revolution. Why are our law masters not calling for this revolution you write of in order to rid us of this despotism? And as important, to make sure they don’t pull this little sideshow again. Frankly, if it is allowed to stand under these back door rules, then it surely will happen again and soon it will be dragged into a higher sphere. Control having been lost completely.

      It is an outrage that in an ancient ‘democracy’ this could have been accepted by those who run the show. If they want to hold onto our traditions of government and rule of law then they must act. Can the Monarch not call for such a move, as the ball is always said to be in that court?

  11. Senex
    18/06/2014 at 8:48 am

    Maude, I agree, it beggars the question why are Lords Tyler and Norton and indeed the Speakers of both houses promoting Parliamentary best practice when it is self evident that the legislative process must of itself be of the highest quality in order for the Queen to approve and associate a bill with perfection?

    People will be at a loss to understand why the backbenchers of both houses never downed tools, went on strike because the executive was bypassing the very safeguards that protect us from legal adversity. Bad laws are compounded by the Judiciary enforcing them.

    This government stands to be accused of legislative terrorism along with key players that promoted and allowed it to happen. This Socratic tyranny must end and the house must consider raising a constitutional bill to remedy this.

    • maude elwes
      20/06/2014 at 12:44 pm


      If this was indeed how this particular bill was worked through Parliament by stealth, it was done because whoever managed it, felt it the only way to fool those backbenchers you cite into the fear that produced inaction and muteness. They knew that had they openly used the traditional methods it would have failed. Shenanigans of this sort must result in throwing such legislation out as a lesson in what not to do ever again.

  12. Senex
    23/06/2014 at 7:54 pm

    Maude I have some reading for you concerning the dark arts of Parliament and the Cabinet Office led by a dubious link on how it all works.

    The last Act dealing with Royal Consent was in 1967 where some old sex was removed from the Royal body.

    A report by the Commons on Royal Consent demonstrates how the Monarchy is under attack by Parliament. The Labour party wants Royal Consent abolished but then again it wants the Monarchy abolished with it.

    Now to the dark arts: how did or how has Parliament managed to enact according to the Queens own words in her Westminster Hall speech some 3,500 bills during her reign? Not one bill refused Royal Assent but according to the Telegraph some 39 requiring Royal Consent.

    The darkest art of all is that nobody mentions anywhere that bills are enacted as perfection by virtue of association with Royal Assent. Parliament serves dog food to the Queen asking her to eat it whilst Parliament on its high horse consumes caviar and champagne. And on Royal Consent bills the Labour party wants to ram it down her throat if she gips at the resulting bill. Hardly fair is it?

    If bills are enacted on the basis of perfection then each bill should take as long as it takes to reach that distinction and it used to be that way barring the odd guillotine motion. The party of pure bureaucracy, the Labour Party, introduced programming but Commons Fact Sheet P10 never mentions the pursuit of perfection.

    Ref: Learn about Acts of Parliament
    FOI revealed that 39 bills have been subject to Royal approval.
    The impact of Queen’s and Prince’s Consent on the legislative process
    Royal Assent Act 1967
    Royal Sex: the Royal Assent by Commission Act 1541
    Fact Sheet P10: Programming of Government Bills

    • maude elwes
      24/06/2014 at 5:18 pm

      @ Senex:

      Thank you for this informative read. I look forward to what I will glean from it.

      How do you know all this, Senex? And more importantly how can you remember the sequence of events so well? Are you an historian? No matter, I’m pleased you can and that you are so willing to direct. It’s very kind of you.

  13. Senex
    25/06/2014 at 6:33 pm

    How is it done Maude? It’s a gift! Things just click into place. As for sequencing if you know the end point you can back track.

    Remember, Lord Nortons mission in life on this blog is to improve the quality of legislation – well he got a sound beating from Socrates and the word ‘perfection’ had everything to do with it.

    Bills at prorogation become law by the issuing of patents. A formality and one the Queen could forgo but it would have to be for earth shattering reasons. As regent she cannot as perfection associate herself with any bill that falls short of this mark. This can be for a variety of reasons one of which is that she is acting politically. This matters not to Parliament as the bill has become law. It matters now though.

    Hansard does not record how many flawed bills the Queen has rejected because she could be held to account for it? The Queen is the final arbiter on bill quality not Parliament.

    In the republics all bills complete their journey on the basis that they are flawed. The resulting Acts can then be challenged in a Supreme Court. So you see the problem, Socrates has to produce flawed bills to get the quantity out of the door but he does not want to be held to account by a court for this. Socrates as such is accountable only to God and most certainly not the electorate because this is the machinery of Parliament.

    Then along comes the like of Lord Norton who chastises Socrates for the lack of quality. Well the lack of quality is the whole idea. And to add insult to injury the house is filled with the very same people who helped make it all possible, people like Lord Tyler who came from the Commons.

    The Queen has done her job and issued the patents; bills are enacted as either perfect or flawed. The issue for the house is that flawed bills should be held accountable in the courts. If it raised a bill by way of remedy for royal consent bills it would be the business of the house not the Commons. Such a bill could not be defeated by the Parliament Acts and it could ping pong for 5 years if the timing was right. The message to the public would be loud and clear, flawed bills should be open to challenge in the courts.

    Revolution! As only Parliament might achieve it.

    Back next year my shilling has run out.

  14. maude elwes
    27/06/2014 at 6:56 am


    It strikes me secrecy between the law and its process must be open for scrutiny by all. To do otherwise is tyranny. Or, Socratic.

    Bon voyage!

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