COMMONS

Evidence call: Ensuring standards in quality of legislation

20 January 2012

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is examining how to ensure standards in the quality of legislation. The Committee wants to hear your views.

This paper sets out the issues and questions likely to be covered in the Committee’s inquiry. The Committee welcomes responses to any of the questions raised, and any issues you think we have missed.

Background

There has been repeated criticism in recent years from a variety of sources about both the quantity and quality of legislation:

“There has been too much legislation in recent years, some of it has been unnecessary and too much of it has been badly prepared.” (Better Government Initiative, 2010)

"There is no single cause of deficient legislation. The explanation lies in a complex confluence of factors primarily related to volume, attitude, preparation and deliberation." (Hansard Society, 2010)

"The last quarter century has seen a huge increase in the volume of legislation, primary and secondary, put before Parliament by Government. The reasons for this increase in volume of legislation, and the perceived corresponding drop in its quality … have been repeatedly analysed." (Lords Leader’s Group on Working Practices, 2011)

"It is widely regarded that the quality of legislation has declined. One only has to quote in aid the 70 or so Home Office Acts passed under the last Government-many of them amending deficient previous Acts and many containing provisions which have never been brought into force. Even worse, all too often, the Government do not explain why legislation is necessary, what its objectives are, what it will cost and what consultation the Government have had in preparing it." (Lord Butler of Brockwell, former Cabinet Secretary, 2011)

"every hour that I have spent on these Benches has convinced me that we need something to raise the standards of draft legislation. In the recent past, some Bills, frankly, have not been fit for purpose, with little pre-legislative scrutiny and some pretty embarrassingly poor drafting." (Lord Bichard, former Permanent Secretary and former Director of the Institute for Government)

This has been despite changes to the legislative process in the House of Commons (Public Bill Committees), initiatives to consult on some legislative provisions in draft before their formal introduction (pre-legislative scrutiny) and the beginnings of a process for evaluating the effectiveness of legislation following its enactment (post-legislative scrutiny). It has also been despite the existence of a Cabinet Committee (Parliamentary Business and Legislation) which is supposed to ensure that Bills are well-prepared before they are presented to Parliament.

A Legislative Standards Committee?

The Better Government Initiative, Hansard Society and the Leader’s Group on House of Lords working practices have all suggested that a parliamentary Legislative Standards Committee could help to improve the quality of legislation. They see such a committee as acting as a gateway: giving an impetus to Government to ensure that its proposals are well-drafted, and allowing Parliament to prevent the passage of sub-standard legislation.

There are different possible models for a framework of standards that such a committee might use. The Better Government Initiative and Leader’s Group have focussed on broad matters of principle, such as thorough preparation and demonstrating that legislation is necessary. The Leader’s Group is explicit that

"It would not be the role of the Legislative Standards Committee to consider either the underlying policies or the drafting of the legislation, which are properly matters for debate and scrutiny in the two Houses. Instead the job of the Committee would be to ensure bills’ technical and procedural compliance with agreed standards of best practice in bill preparation."

The Hansard Society refers to "technical" standards reflecting "narrow, tightly drawn, objective qualifying criteria".

Why we are conducting this inquiry?

There is significant criticism of the status quo. The Liaison Committee (a committee made up of the Chairs of House of Commons select committees) has asked us, among a number of committees that might have done so, to lead on this issue. We believe that Members of the House of Commons, like their colleagues in the Lords, need an opportunity to consider whether it is desirable to establish and ensure standards in the quality of legislation, and whether, if so, a new mechanism such as a Legislative Standards Committee is the best way of achieving this.

Questions

  1. Is there a need for improved legislative standards?
  2. What changes to existing processes in Parliament or Government would contribute to improved legislative standards?
  3. Should a new mechanism designed to ensure improved legislative standards (such as a Legislative Standards Committee) be introduced?
  4. Should all legislation be treated in the same way, or is there a case for differentiating between different types of legislation?

How to respond to this paper

Please send us your views by Monday 23 April. Please contact us if you are likely to have difficulty in meeting our deadline.

Written responses to the Committee will be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published. If you object to your response being made public in a volume of evidence, please make this clear when it is submitted.

Responses should be submitted by email in Microsoft Word or rich text format. If you do not have access to email, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerk of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

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