IfG issues scrutiny warning over ‘wash-up’ legislation

HM Treasury passed most bills in 2016-17 session, followed by DCMS, Home Office and DfE


By Richard Johnstone

05 May 2017

Photo credit: PA

The Institute for Government has raised concerns about the scrutiny of legislation after an analysis found a majority of the bills passed in the current session became law only on the last sitting day of parliament.

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An analysis by the think tank’s Gemma Byrne highlighted that 13 of the 24 successful government bills from the 2016-17 parliamentary session passed on Tuesday, the last sitting day of parliament, ahead of the general election – more than on the last day of any other session since 2010.

The legislation passed in the so-called “wash up” period before dissolution included the Finance Bill related to the chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget in March, as well as the Higher Education and Research Bill.

Byrne noted that in total 1,097 pages of legislation were passed in a day, which amounts to 38% of the total number of pages passed in the session.

“With so many highly significant bills being rushed through on the last day of parliament, they will not have been subject to the serious scrutiny that is required,” she stated. “And the more controversial parts of some of these bills will have been dropped in an attempt to get them through by the end of the session. For example, the Finance (No 2) Bill had 776 pages when it was introduced, but passed with 154. The government dropped over half of the 135 clauses in the bill, including the clause on Making Tax Digital.”

In the past, parts of the legislation would have been reintroduced in the next parliament where they could receive the proper level of scrutiny, Byrne highlighted.

However, given that the next government’s forthcoming agenda will be increasingly dominated by Brexit, it is unlikely that this would be possible, which likely contributed to the rush.

In total, 24 government bills received Royal Assent during the 2016-17 session. As Brexit could require as many as 15 new bills, and assuming the next government is able to pass a similar amount of legislation, this may leave little room for non-Brexit related work.

Of the 24 bills passed in the session, the Treasury passed the most (six) as is often the case due to annual finance bills. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Department for Education all passed three bills each.

Byrne also highlighted that Brexit will require different levels of legislation from different departments. Although the Home Office – responsible for almost as many pages of legislation as the Treasury in 2016-17 – is used to passing legislation, departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not pass a bill in the 2016-17 session.

“Departments such as Defra, that are not used to passing primary legislation, may need to get used to it quickly,” she added.

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