In the run-up to the Christmas recess it became really noticeable that the Commons didn’t have that much to do. All the key legislation – eg the Welfare Reform Bill and the Health Bill – was in the Lords, and we were spending much on our time on general debates, Opposition day motions, and backbench business committee debates…. i.e. interesting topics but nothing where the votes actually changed the law.
This pattern has continued into 2012. Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, announced the next two weeks’ business in the Chamber today. On Monday we have an Opposition Day, with Labour choosing the topics (Individual Voter Registration and the role of the private sector in the NHS). On Tuesday it’s a general debate on the future of town centres and high streets. On Wednesday it’s the committee stage of the Local Government Finance Bill – so, some proper legislation, but this is the sort of thing that’s normally done in a Bill committee; we’re only doing it on the floor of the House because we have nothing else to do. On Thursday it’s various things – an EU document, ‘scrutiny of draft orders’ and ‘continuation of debate on national policy statements relating to ports’. The following Monday is another Opposition Day, on Tuesday the Local Government Finance Bill is back, on Wednesday it’s another EU document and opposed private business, and on Thursday it’s a backbench business committee debate. On the Friday it’s actual proper legislation, albeit Private Members’ Bills, with the Daylight Savings Bill and the Live Music Bill due to get a hearing.
It’s clear that the Government has somehow messed up its business programme. There’s a logjam in the Lords, after some key legislation was rushed through the Commons without allowing enough time for proper scrutiny. At some point all the amendments they’ve made in the Lords will have to come back to the Commons, but for now we’re treading water. The Queen’s Speech is rumoured to be on May 9th, so there won’t be much in the way of new legislation till then. (One of the measures I hope to see in there is the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill – long overdue, and no real reason for stalling on it).
This isn’t to say there isn’t still important things going on in Parliament. As well as the things I’ve mentioned above we also have Oral Questions every day, ministerial statements and Urgent Questions, debates in Westminster Hall, and Select Committee work. It’s just that the Commons isn’t actually making many laws at the moment. Given the legislation that is currently in the Lords, some people might think this is actually a good thing!