High quality legislation? Trust the Government!

Posted on: August 22nd, 2013

We were pleased when, back in May, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of the House of Commons (PCRC) produced a report endorsing the BGI’s long-standing proposals for setting agreed standards for the preparation of legislation and establishing a Legislative Standards Committee to ensure they are met. But in the traditional deck clearing before the Parliamentary recess in July came the unsurprising, but still disappointing, Government response rejecting the proposals outright.

The response was not surprising because the Executive in the UK has an unusual degree of control over the Legislature and governments – regardless of party – are reluctant to fetter their freedom of action. However the grounds on which the proposals were rejected were curious: essentially that standards were not necessary because the Government already does everything that standards might require and codification would risk creating a meaningless tick box approach.

Yes, the elements of good policy making and legislation like the gathering of evidence, consultation and the preparation of impact assessments are done some of the time and to some degree because they are covered by Cabinet Office guidance to departments. But they are not done consistently well enough and the Government seems reluctant to put its own house in order. Experience shows that without standards agreed with, and moderated by, Parliament there will be a constant stream of legislation that is poorly prepared, may not work or not achieve the intended outcome and will need early amendment.

What we are looking for is better policy making and better legislation. There may be alternatives to the specific proposals we made that would achieve a similar result and be more acceptable to the Government. Perhaps there is enough recognition of the need for effective processes in the Government’s response to offer some hope of improvement, especially if the PCRC decides not to take a flat “No” for an answer.