Improving standards in legislation

55718The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee yesterday published its report on ensuring standards in the quality of legislation.  (You can read the report here.)  I gave oral and written evidence to the committee.  I was pleased that they accepted the case for a legislative standards committee.  They also took up the case for Government to identify constitutional legislation and treat it differently to other legislation.  I was especially pleased with their specific recommendations on this, which build on my work as Chairman of the Constitution Committee:

140. Constitutional law is qualitatively different from other types of legislation. We agree with the House of Lords Constitution Committee that there is currently no acceptable watertight definition of what constitutes constitutional legislation. However, we consider that it can be identified through experience and commonsense, and that this is encapsulated in Lord Norton’s “2Ps” test (does it affect a principal partof the constitution, and does it raise an important issue of principle), and the list oftypical features of constitutional legislation suggested by Professor Sir John Baker.  We await the Constitution Society’s work to formulate a definition.

141. We have considered the Government’s response to the House of LordsConstitution Committee Report, and disagree that a watertight definition is needed before making any changes to processes for preparing and legislating in the area of constitutional law.

142. The current ad hoc process of identifying which bills to take on the Floor of the House of Commons in a Committee of the whole House lacks transparency: it is clear that differentiation is taking place in order to decide which bills are to be considered by a Committee of the whole House, but the decision-making process is unclear.  We recommend that the Government adopts our suggestion and applies Lord Norton’s“2Ps” test, together with the list of typical features of constitutional legislation as suggested by Professor Sir John Baker, or at the very least sets out why it does not agree with this approach. We also recommend that the Government follows our draft Code of Legislative Standards and explains whether the test has been met for each piece of legislation.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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1 Response to Improving standards in legislation

  1. pp549 says:

    I was interested to see they argued for the Legislative Standards Committee to report post-Royal Assent rather than pre-second reading, as the Lords’ Leader’s Group proposals suggested. As keen as I am to see a Legislative Standards Committee, I rather thought a pre-second reading report was a good idea! Otherwise you’ve got no leverage, since you’d have to convince a government to either improve future drafting or amend the past laws in another new law (hardly the most effective solution). I have to admit I was more convinced by the Leader’s Group here than the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

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