One interesting possible outcome from this year’s UK General Election (which looks like resulting in a hung parliament), is how it could result in fewer, much shorter, more clearly defined and better debated legislation than that of a large majority government or even a formal coalition.

This goes against the prevailing arguments in this election that majority government will result in the clear and decisive government that the UK so desperately needs and the Tories’ election supremo, Lynton Crosby, in particular won’t thank me for saying it! However, traditionally governments come into office and legislate heavily in their first few terms and then wind down – the 2009-10 parliamentary session was an exception as Labour pushed to complete its legislative agenda, confident that it wasn’t coming back in 2010. In 2005-06 Labour passed over 50 bills in one year and the coalition, more restrained than one might have thought, passed over 40 bills!

At the same time, bills have been getting longer, the amount of time for their scrutiny by the legislature has been reduced markedly and new parliamentary tricks have been implemented to curtail debate in order that governments can get their legislation through. The result is generally weaker quality legislation, whatever the original aims, and also it is harder to “sell” to a sceptical public once it has been passed. Lower legitimacy around the laws which govern us generally ensues.

It is hard to see 50 bills passing through parliament in 2015-16! But this may be no bad thing. A future government will not have the luxury of passing whatever it sees fit and will have to make judgment calls and deals on what it can get through the Commons and Lords. Therefore battles will have to be picked carefully. Whatever one may think of not having majority government, a government developing a shorter and more concise Queen’s Speech and then working hard to get parliamentarians of all shapes and sizes to support it, may help greater authority around government legislation. Fewer bills should also mean the drafting is improved, that they are better developed and consulted on, shorter and more targeted to the matter at hand. It should also mean more parliamentary time for debating them, with more independent committees to scrutinise them. Governments can also properly plan for the implementation of such legislation to ensure all eventualities are considered, and that the Bills actually do their job out in the real world. At the same time, parliament can also focus on its other core functions of holding the executive to account and debating wider issues of importance to the public realm.

Might ten high quality pieces of legislation, which have been properly scrutinized, be better than five times as many as that? Could slowing down parliamentary procedure be a good thing?

The Queen attended cabinet a few years ago and wryly remarked that government’s duty was to limit its action and not be too frenetic. Might her wish, in an election where she will play a more pivotal role than she might have wanted to (given her constitutional position), come to the fore?

The modern world – and the modern parliamentarian – are frenetic creatures, so don’t bet on it. But it might be a good thing!

William Wallace

William Wallace is an integrated communications consultant specializing in public affairs and issues management. Read More