Thursday, 15 May 2008

Drafting for salvation

Yesterday Gordon Brown announced the draft legislation programme, in essence the Government’s proposed legislation for the next Parliamentary session that will be kicked off with the Queen’s Speech in November. Last year the draft legislation programme was announced in July. It is a bag of the last remaining scraps that could be cobbled together. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…

The Government has pushed this forward deliberately to attempt to build up some good momentum after the disaster of recent weeks and to try and save the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. We are so far away from November Brown could easily have delayed this by a few months without any harm being done to the programme or slowdown in public involvement in the process. It could have something to do with a critical report from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Public Appointments out yesterday, which said “It is not appropriate that Prime Ministers should be able to alter the structure of the civil service departments on a whim, and we do not understand why they should ever need to do so”. There was a radical change in the structure of Government departments when Brown came to power and done against a lot of frustration at the lack of scrutiny over such plans.

As with every Queen’s Speech under Labour, there is a raft of legislation to go before Parliament in this coming session. If this draft programme becomes the programme proper, as it probably will, there will be Whip driven processes restricting the length of time Bills can be debated and scrutinised for, leading for poorly written and inadequate legislation which will have to be revisited at a later date, taking more time away from holding members of the Government of the day to account for their policies or spending more time scrutinising the legislation that requires more time. Given that one such bill is designed to replace 10 pieces of immigration legislation, surely lesser issues can be put off to allow further debate on that and some of the other key pieces of legislation? Another Bill, the Equality Bill, will act to allow ‘equality of opportunity’ (a concept I will come back to in more detail at a later time) and to tackle discrimination in the workplace.

More legislation doesn’t mean better legislation. It means the complete opposite. As we’ve seen from the various defeats the Government has had in the courts over issues of immigration and terrorism, the Government needs to realise that by allowing more scrutiny of Bills going through Parliament, the law can be improved over and above what the Government itself wants. Just because the Opposition proposes an amendment, it doesn’t automatically make it a bad idea.

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