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!