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Governments legislate for a variety of reasons, such as: to implement manifesto commitments; to reverse the policies of previous governments; to reflect new policies in response to events or changing circumstances; to raise revenue and authorise expenditure; to give effect to international commitments; and for departmental ‘housekeeping’.  Periodically, concerns have been raised about the volume of new legislation introduced. Lord Framlingham (Conservative) has tabled a question for short debate on 8 September about whether the Government plans to consider the proposal that, for a period of time, all government departments should cease devising new legislation and concentrate on sound administration.

While the average number of Acts has slightly declined over the past 40 years, the number of Statutory Instruments has increased (although there was a fall in the number of SIs in 2015). Calculating the size of the statute book in terms of the number of pages of legislation is not straightforward for methodological reasons and because of changes in drafting styles and publishing practices over time. However, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel concluded in 2013 that the average length of Bills was “significantly greater than in previous decades”, and a former Parliamentary Counsel calculated in 2016 that while the number of Acts passed by governments had stayed approximately the same over the past 50 years, the average number of clauses included within them had doubled.

The Cabinet Office Guide to Making Legislation sets out guidance to departmental bill teams on preparing primary legislation.  Departments are advised to “consider whether primary legislation is necessary” and “whether the ends they wish to achieve could be reached by purely administrative means” before bidding for a slot in the legislative programme. Departments are also expected to comply with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel’s principles that ‘good law’ should be necessary, clear, coherent, effective and accessible.  The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and two House of Lords working groups have all proposed in recent years that a Legislative Standards Committee should be established, but these proposals have not been taken forward.

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