04 June 2014

There has been much talk lately of Parliament morphing into a so called ‘zombie Parliament’, devoid of legislative impetus and lacking in fresh law-making ideas. As we have argued before, there is much more a Parliament could and should usefully do than simply add to the statute book in order to be seen to be alive and kicking. But what does the data show?

Our analysis is based on data from services.parliament.uk/bills. We looked at Government bills that received Royal Assent in parliamentary sessions 2005-06 to 2013-14, excluding private bills, hybrid bills and private members’ bills. We cross-referenced with House of Commons Sessional Returns – for the most recent session we also checked against a written statement from the Leader of the House of Commons. A similar number of Government Bills were passed in 2013-14 as in 2012-13 Given that the 2010-2012 session was around twice as long as subsequent sessions, the number of Government bills passed in each session has been largely stable since 2010. A total of 42 public Government bills gained Royal Assent in 2010-12, compared to 28 in 2012-13 and 25 in 2013-14. Compared to the previous parliament, which saw a spike in the number of Government bills passed in the first year, the current parliament has passed Government bills at a relatively steady pace. More pages of government legislation were passed in 2013-14 than in 2012-13 While the number of Government bills passed is one measure of legislative productivity, it isn’t the only one. Not all bills are created equal: simply counting the number of bills says nothing about their varied size, complexity or policy significance. Contrast the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which legislated for the extensive reorganisation of the NHS across England and runs to 473 pages, with the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Act 2010, which modifies Child Trust Fund eligibility via a grand total of 5 pages of legislation. Calculating the number of pages in the PDF of each Act shows that in the first session of the Coalition Government, 4265 pages of Government bills were passed compared to 2573 pages in 2012-2013 and 2943 pages in the most recent session. The session in the last two parliaments that passed the highest number of pages was Tony Blair’s 2005-06 administration, with just over 5000 pages. Number of pages of Government legislation passed by parliamentary session More government legislation was passed per parliamentary sitting day in 2013-14 than in 2010-2012 Given the variation in session length, the raw numbers don’t allow for an accurate comparison of Government legislative productivity across sessions, so we broke down the data by sitting day. Number of Government bills passed on average each sitting day by parliamentary session The average number of Government bills passed by sitting day in 2013-2014 declined to 0.15 from an average of 0.2 in 2012-2013 (figures rounded to the nearest decimal point). However, this remains slightly higher than the average of 0.14 bills passed each sitting day in the Coalition’s first session. That means in 2013-14, one bill was passed roughly every seven sitting days, compared to one every five days in 2012-13. The 2009-2010 session saw the largest number of Government bills passed by sitting day, perhaps owing to the Government’s push to complete its legislative agenda before the 2010 General Election. Number of pages of Government legislation passed on average each sitting day by parliamentary session Looking at pages of government legislation, the Government passed very slightly more pages on average each sitting day in 2013-2014 (18.2 pages) than it did in 2012-2013 (17.99 pages). The first session of the Coalition, 2010-12, produced 14.5 pages of legislation on average per sitting day. While the number of Government bills passed has fallen in 2013-2014, the average number of pages of legislation passed has not, suggesting the Government is passing a smaller number of larger bills. The Treasury has passed more Government bills under the Coalition Government than any other department Assigning each Government bill to its sponsor department shows that since 2010, the Treasury has been responsible for 29 bills in total, three times more than any other department. The Home Office, the second most legislatively productive department, was responsible for 9 bills. Number of Government bills passed by department by parliamentary session, 2010-12 to 2013-14 Unsurprisingly, the Treasury has also been responsible for a significant number of pages of legislation, producing over one third of all pages of Government legislation since 2010. Number of pages of government legislation passed by department Government bills passed in 2013-14 received, on average, the most scrutiny of all the bills in our dataset The parliament.uk website gives us some limited data on parliamentary scrutiny – the number of parliamentary stages each bill went through back to 2007-08. According to this, the average number of stages of scrutiny of each bill passed in 2013-2014 was 26. This can be contrasted with the 17.7 stages of scrutiny received on average by each bill in 2009-2010, the final session of the Labour Government. It will be interesting to see if 2014-2015 sees a similar decrease in scrutiny as the race begins to pass any outstanding legislation before the next General Election. Average number of stages of scrutiny per Government bill by parliamentary session