Day of the Dead? My last To The Point post was a bit longer than I generally like them, so I shall try to reach the point more quickly with this one. What we have above is two graphs compiled from data on legislation.gov.uk. The question: do they prove that this Parliament has declined into zombiehood? The answer: not exactly. Here are three reasons why.
Reason (1) The first graph shows the number of Acts passed in all the years since 1992. Following the method of this Commons library note, I’ve separated the Acts passed in Westminster from those passed in Holyrood from 1999 onwards. And what does it suggest? That, on this measure at least, there’s not too much difference between recent Parliaments. Only 18 more Acts were passed across the five years from 2005 to 2009 than from 2010 to 2014, or 11 if you include Acts of the Scottish Parliament. The lowest total achieved during a single year of this Parliament was 23 in 2012, which isn’t far removed from the 24 achieved in 2005, or the 25 in 2001. Did people talk of a Zombie Parliament then?
Reason (2) If our political class is shambling into undeath, it’s going a peculiar way about it. The number of Acts passed in 2014 was higher than in either 2011 or 2012. The number in 2013 was higher still.
Reason (3) There are plenty of ways to judge the quantity of Acts passed, including by page count. But Acts aren’t the sum total of Parliament’s legislative business. Successive governments have made greater use of statutory instruments, as shown in the second graph above. These pieces of secondary legislation generally allow ministers to enforce or advance the provisions of an Act without having to deliver another Act through Parliament. Just under 2,000 were in play in 2010. That rose to almost 3,500 last year.
Quality, not quantity. There are some people who cheer the absence of legislation on the grounds that limited government is the best government of all. But I prefer to look at it another way: less legislation ought to mean better legislation. As the Institute for Government’s Jill Rutter has argued, an unburdened Parliament would have more time for doing useful things such as tidying up existing laws or unpicking the complexities of European regulation. In that way, a Zombie Parliament might be a boon. Ours could be too active in the wrong ways.