February 19, 2015

You know what?  There’s too much legislation.  Not just tax legislation, all legislation.  No-one has time to read it all, yet we are all presumed to know and understand it, because ignorance of the law is no defence.  And if you have been watching the programme about what goes on Inside the Commons you will have seen why.  Who has the time, in amongst the running down corridors to be shepherded into the right lobby to vote and camping out in empty offices to get to the front of the queue for a Private Member’s Bill slot (have these people never heard of computers?)

Parliamentary scrutiny is supposed to be the way that Bills are turned into Acts of Parliament – a series of formal debates take place with select committee scrutiny in between and so anything that comes out of the process has been scrutinised by our elected representatives and that’s democracy, right?

Yeah, right.

Parliament isn’t fit for purpose, or at least not for THAT purpose.  The House of Commons is a generator of heat, not light.  Even the way the building is designed confirms it, with two sides sitting opposite each other at a distance calculated to prevent them *sticking each other with swords*.

Which is why the process is vital.  By the time the Bill gets to the floor of the House, all the democratic scrutiny should already have been facilitated.  If it is a regulation, then there should be an impact assessment to show what the proposed change will cost and why the particular option has been chosen.  There should have been a public consultation where all the unintended consequences were bottomed out.  There should be an explanatory memorandum showing what the regulation is intended to achieve and assuring Parliament that all the necessary processes have been followed (there’s a good explanation of what ought to be in the EM at paragraphs 18 onwards here, in the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s guidance:

The purpose of the EM is to provide members of Parliament with a plain English, free-standing, explanation of the effects of the instrument and why it is necessary)

So consultation is important.  Oliver Letwin told the Legislation Scrutiny Committee that debates in parliament were the bedrock of democracy (so it didn’t really matter if he cut the time allowed for consultation, because consultation wasn’t the place to gather public “views”)  But I disagree.  I think democracy is, perhaps not quite broken, but a bit battered and bent round the edges, and that a consultation process before changes get as far as the Commons is a good sticking plaster.

Which is why it pisses me off that, three years after I suggested it to the Legislation Scrutiny Committee and they made it one of their recommendations, you still can’t get a list of consultations ordered in the date they will close.

I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it?


  1. On a related note, I just read this: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/18/the_inside_story_of_govuk/
    They don’t list TIINs in order either; tried to find the DRD one the other day; took longer than turning up a 50 year old Ugandan Statute.
    BTW, did you know they updated the consultation guidelines in Nov 2013 – without consultation, and without warning. And without any explanation – and the old version has been airbrushed off the web. Accountability? They’ve heard of it.

  2. I feel your pain!

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