Contrary to Labour’s attack ad (right), the measure of a good government isn’t the quantity of legislation it passes, but the quality. As Tony Blair ably demonstrated, using legislation as a costly form of press release to make yourself look good is the very opposite of effective administration.
Testing tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech by the number of Bills is, therefore, the wrong way to go about it. Instead we should be asking whether the proposals it contains are good ones – and whether it is missing anything that ought to be in there.
Four things that shouldn’t be in the Queen’s Speech but will be
1) New criminal offences for those who help gangsters. This is a classically Blairite form of legislation – do we really need new crimes for hoodlums’ accountants, lawyers and landlords when conspiracy, obstruction and profiting from the proceeds of crime are all already on the statute book?
2) Legalising heroism. It’s a great idea to put a stop to a culture which discourages people from taking risks to help others for fear of being sued or prosecuted, but it’s a culture that needs fixing, not the law. A more sensible approach by the judiciary and the Crown Prosecution Service would be a much more productive change.
3) Clawing back quangocrat redundancy payments. Again, this is a good idea, but it’s hard to see why it would need legislation. Why not just change the contracts of senior civil servants and quango officials? If they don’t like it, they can shuffle off.
4) Removing landowners’ property rights over shale gas. The economic potential of shale gas is huge, and must be exploited as soon as possible. However, removing landowners’ already very limited rights does not seem to me to be a wise solution - it would be far more effective to give them a stake in the resources under their land, encouraging them to support and invest in accessing them, rather than overriding their interests altogether. We’ll only get a booming shale industry if those in the areas involved benefit from its extraction.
Five things that should be in the Queen’s Speech but won’t be
Paul wrote a list of fifty policies for the future last week – here are a few top ideas:
1) Proper Recall. As Zac Goldsmith has written for this site, the repeated attempts by Nick Clegg to fudge the issue are not only a missed opportunity but are harmful to parliament’s bruised reputation. People should have the power to sack MPs – end of.
2) Lower the Benefits Cap. Not only has this been one of the most popular and effective policies of the Coalition, there’s evidence it can and should be reduced further. Voters and taxpayers would thank the Government, while Labour would proceed to have another brain-freeze as to how to deal with it.
3) Replace the immigration net target with a points-based system. Net immigration as a measure has failed – not only because we don’t control migration from the EU, but also because economic success has increased the number of expats returning to the UK and reduced the outflow of emigrants. We should manage immigration based on skills and economic need, not based on arbitrary numbers or undeliverable promises.
4) Require a 50 per cent turnout threshold for strike ballots. The membership of trade unions are increasingly divorced from the militancy of a minority in their ranks and at the top of their organisations - as Dominic Raab has proposed, this reform would stop that minority hijacking the unions for political ends.
5) Reform postal voting and the security of elections. The recent concerns about Tower Hamlets, and widespread fears over the abuse of postal voting elsewhere, requires action – the integrity of democracy must be protected.
Four things that we’re glad will be in the Queen’s Speech
1) New pension freedoms. The Budget ‘rabbit’ of new rights for pensioners to remove lump sums from their funds made a big impact – it is founded on conservative principles of freedom, reward for doing the right thing and personal responsibility, so gets three cheers from us.
2) Exemption from green targets for small builders. With house-building still well below necessary levels, it’s a good idea to exempt smaller developments from the extra costs of a zero carbon requirement. If only the requirement itself been paraded in last year’s Queen’s Speech in the first place…
3) Tougher sentences for slavery. That such an abhorrent crime still occurs within the UK is a sign that the penalties aren’t harsh enough – raising the sentences is a welcome move.
4) Cuts to red tape for small businesses. While some progress has been made on deregulation, there’s still a long way to go – exempting small businesses from more red tape will be a good start.
Of course, there will be other proposals that we don’t yet know about – it will be interesting to see which category they would have fallen into.