Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Labour outed as legislation addicts

It became clear over the Blair-Brown years that New Labour regarded the House of Commons as no more than a legislative production-line. They seemed to revel in the thousands of new offences they had created in their thirteen years in office. Because they couldn't get off the massive log-roll, they couldn't prevent a jam at the end of their administration. As a result, poor legislation was rushed through in spring 2010, while some useful measures were lost.

Last Thursday, Angela Eagle, the shadow Leader of the House, revealed that they were suffering from withdrawal symptoms. She asked (Hansard 8 Dec 2011 : Columns 419-420): "In 20 years in this place, I have never known business statements to contain so little legislative substance, especially so early in a Parliament. There has been little even resembling Government legislation in this place for weeks now. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Commons is twiddling its thumbs ?"

They still have not realised that passing laws is not a good thing in itself. Liberals down the years have instinctively resisted new legislation without overwhelming justification. At the Business Ministry, Vince Cable and Ed Davey have put principle into practice with the "one-in, one-out" rule.

New Labour have not adjusted to the new Commons where debate, especially on topics chosen by back-bench members (pdf), is returning to its traditional place in the balance of business.

Where Angela Eagle does have a point is that there should be more pre-legislative scrutiny, so that obvious nonsense can be ruled out of draft legislation before it comes to Parliament formally. The Health and Social Care Bill is a case in point. (Fortunately, the resulting Act will not apply to Wales, but it does have implications for those in the north and the Marches, who have to reply on English hospitals for some procedures.) The Leader of the House, Sir George Young, could not resist pointing out the hypocrisy of Labour who habitually denied sufficient time for discussion of Bills when they were in government. However, in answer to a later question from Diana Johnson (Labour, Hull North) he stated: " It is the objective of the coalition Government to have more pre-legislative scrutiny and more Bills introduced in draft. We think that that leads to a better scrutiny process in the House of Commons."

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