Dangerous Trends in Modern Legislation… and how to reverse them

“No business of any size would allow its Board and shareholders to take strategic decisions without the inclusion in its end-of-year report of detailed information about its progress and activities in the past year: Parliament, which is in the business of controlling the lives of citizens through a range of legislative activities, should feel the need to ensure that both it and its citizen-shareholders are properly informed.”

A leading parliamentary draughtsman, Daniel Greenberg, warns that the length of new Bills and the number of clauses they include is becoming so great that Parliament is unable to scrutinise them properly.

In a new report Dangerous Trends in Modern Legislation… and how to reverse them, published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Friday 8 April, he shows how the average number of clauses included within Bills has doubled.

  • Between 1960 and 1965, the average number of clauses included in a new Act was24; between 2010 and 2015 the average number of clauses included in a new Act had risen to 49.
  • The 1960 Annual Volume of Public General Acts – the official edition of all Acts passed in that year – was 1,200 A5 pages long. In 2010 the same document had grown to 2,700 A4 pages.

To counter these trends, Greenberg suggests that publicity and transparency on the degree of parliamentary scrutiny of Bills could be effective. To this end, he proposes the introduction of two new elements to the legislative process:

  • The Explanatory Notes for each Bill and Act should record the level scrutiny given to the legislation in each House; they should also record incidents of certain powers for subordinate and quasi-legislation that undermine Parliamentary control;
  • This information should be consolidated into a yearly review, which would be debated in both Houses of Parliament.

The changes would be simple and inexpensive, requiring neither legislation nor procedural change to implement.

Daniel Greenberg comments:

A number of recent developments in legislation and the legislative process can be seen to have concentrated power in the hands of the Executive and to have diluted the role of Parliamentarians.  The concern is that these trends threaten the effective protection of the rule of law.

There are two aspects to this: procedural and substantive.

In procedural terms, it is open to argument whether or not there were one or more past “golden ages” in which legislation received full and effective scrutiny; what is not open to argument, however, is that it does not do so now.

In substantive terms, the use of subordinate legislation and various forms of quasi-legislation has become extended in recent years in ways that give the Executive significantly greater powers and make it difficult or impossible for Parliament to scrutinise effectively the exercise of those powers.”

Click here to read the full report.

Media Impact: 

Daniel Greenberg - Friday, 8th April, 2016