This morning I listened to the dulcet tones of the Shadow Leader of the House (the MP for Garston) predicting that today’s would be a Zombie Queen’s Speech for a Zombie last session of Parliament. In truth it is rather quiet – in fact it brings in the shortest number of Bills since…. the last year of the last Labour Government!
Actually I welcome the fact that there is not a massive amount of legislation – although I will come back to why I think that some of the proposed legislation is really good and should be welcomed. My belief has always been that there is too much legislation both primary and secondary. I believe that many of our problems need good and consistent management to an agreed long term direction rather than yet more Acts of Parliament.
In fact the continued churning of legislation can affect the ability of civil servants and public employees at all levels to actually implement policy. In the 13 years of Labour Government we had no less than 10 Criminal Justice Acts, many of which tidied up or did away with previously introduced legislation. It’s not only too much legislation but too much change not delivered in the right way. In the same 13 years there were 3 major reorganisations of the NHS in which staff went once, twice or even three times from being made redundant in one NHS operation with a hefty pay off to be employed in another part of the same health service.
Why do we have so much legislation? Because of the testosterone methodology and practices of Parliament itself. What would the PPE graduates from Oxbridge do if there were no legislation to play with? Certainly not get their hands dirty by actually running something – a task far beyond many I have met in Government Departments. How would Secretaries of State rate their importance if they are not fighting for space for their important measures with the biggest possible Bill to be put through the agonisingly slow processes of our mediaeval parliamentary system? It’s basically a man thing where men compete strictly on size!
In fact the new fixed term Parliaments should make it easier to have this plan-legislate-deliver approach. Spend the first 6 months checking which elements of the manifesto you put to the people are deliverable- spend 2 years legislating the stuff through that needs legislating – spend the last 2.5 years delivering with constant scrutiny and if necessary minor amendments to legislation because you never get anything 100% right when legislation goes through. Then you seek a fresh mandate from the People for your next set of objectives. As the meerkats might put it –“Simples!”
You can always argue about what isn’t before Parliament but what there is, as revealed in the Queens Speech, is inherently good. Many of the Bills should unite Parliament. Budgetary responsibility; reform of pensions; dealing with modern slavery; saving local pubs; more rights for our service men and women; cash help for child care. Is anyone seriously going to argue against these matters? Different parties might, and indeed should, have different nuances about how to implement these changes but isn’t then the right approach to say to the Government we with are with you but we feel that you need to change XXXXXXXX!
Of all the things that are in this Queen’s Speech and indeed have been put in through the previous 4 years of this Parliament the most important relate to pensions. Step forward Prof Steve Webb MP and take the credit! The triple lock for pensioners; compulsory enrolment; the introduction of an £10,500 income tax limit for all and the current shake up of annuities and the mechanisms whereby collectively pension fund investments are made will have major benefits for all those (and that is almost everyone) who will become pensioners. The effects, however, will not only be felt by pensioners but throughout the City of London and its generally rapacious dealers.
One of the reasons that the banks got away with what they did was because shareholders – usually large insurance companies were in the same cess pit as the banks they were investing in. Huge bonuses were paid on profits in the banks and insurance companies that were not really there. Too few challenges were made to bonus systems and investment decisions by the shareholding decision makers in the insurance companies and other investment fields. By their nature pension investments should be long-term but too many pensioners were sold down the river by those seeking to make a quick quid. The changes announced to day simplify the the structures and will enable people and organisations to enter the market in a more collective way thus driving down costs and ensuring that there is more scrutiny of banks and FTSE 100 companies by people who do not have the same short mentality as those that run them.
So this is careful advance on all fronts. It is not what a Lib Dem Government would have put forward anyone than the last 4 years have been. But my calculation is that the Lib Dems will have delivered or put in hand delivery of about 80% of the manifesto we put to the People in 2010. Not a bad record. My next blog will indicate where I think we got it wrong and what we should do about it in the last year as we limber up to the next election. Nick Clegg beware!!