Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The value of PROPER scrutiny

You may recall that last year I drew attention to the frantic attempts of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committees to draw attention to the complete lack of scrutiny that was being allowed into the new Coalition's constitutional reforms. In particular they were concerned about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. On 27th July the Chair wrote to Nick Clegg saying -

You wrote to me last week about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

The bills were published on 22 July. Both are to receive their second reading in September. For the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, this gives my committee a grand total of two clear sitting days in which to consider and take evidence on the bill before second reading. The time that we have to scrutinise the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is only marginally less inadequate.

Both bills are, as you say, "fundamental to this House and to our democracy". Contrast this with your approach to House of Lords reform, where a draft bill will be published before the end of the year, which will then be subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint select committee over several months before a bill is formally presented to Parliament. On what principle can you justify this different treatment of legislation affecting the two Houses?

The Leader of the House has told the Liaison Committee that your government remains committed to pre-legislative scrutiny, and that proper pre-legislative scrutiny requires at least twelve weeks. Even though these two bills clearly deserve this degree of proper pre-legislative scrutiny, I have made every effort to adjust the committee's schedule to meet the government's legislative timetable, and I have written to you twice, on 25 June and 6 July, to try to find a window, however small, within which some reasonable level of committee scrutiny of the government's bills could take place. I have had no reply to either of my letters.

Your legislative timetable has put me and my committee in an extremely difficult position. When the House agreed to establish the committee, it did so, in the words of the Deputy Leader of the House, "to ensure that the House is able to scrutinise the work of the Deputy Prime Minister". In the case of these two bills you have denied us any adequate opportunity to conduct this scrutiny.

The legislation was then rammed through the House of Commons - and attempts were made to indimidate Peers into speeding the process through in the Lords. Opposition - and Crossbench - Peers complained - but the Government pushed on. Again you may recall the Washminster posts in January and February.

The bill - now an Act of Parliament - was a compromise between the Conservatives - who wanted to slash the number of MPs - and the Lib-Dems who wanted a referendum on a change to the voting system. It was key to the coalition agreement.

So what did Nick Clegg gain for his party? The referendum was held - and lost, killing the chances of electoral reform for a generation or more. But now a study by Democrat Audit suggest that the results of the boundary review could be devastating for the Lib-Dems

The Guardian reports that the study suggests that "Labour would lose 17 seats (6.6% of their constituencies), the Tories 16 (5.2%) and the Liberal Democrats 14 (24.6%). The Tory lead over Labour would remain stubbornly unchanged but the Liberal Democrats fundamentally weakened."

The Guardian report from Monday can be accessed here - and the more detailed information from Democratic Audit can be found here.
FIRST LESSON IN LAWMAKING - legislation needs scrutiny. Rushing things through and curtailing proper consideration often backfires. Nick Clegg may have condemned his own party to an electoral disaster (and that's not taking into account the current unpopularity of the party) by being the Minister who rushed this ill-thought out piece of legislation through.

When will some politicians learn?

There are some excellent studies suggesting ways that the effectiveness and quality of legislation could be improved -

Hansard Society's "Making Better Law"
The Institution for Government's "Government by Explanation"
The Better Government Initiative "Good Government"

No comments: