Legislation is now too long for parliament to read properly, and it's threatening the status of the rule of law

Hayley Kirton
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Library Studies
As legislation grows and grows, does parliament have time to read it all in detail? (Source: Getty)

A fundamental principle of law could be under threat because of the increasing length of new legislation.

A report out today by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) warns that the number of clauses in new legislation has doubled since the 1960s, putting the rule of law – essentially the idea that nobody is above the law – at risk because parliament is too pushed for time to review proposals in full.

According to the study, between 1960 and 1965, new Acts of Parliament contained 24 clauses on average. By comparison, the average number of clauses for new Acts between 2010 and 2015 shot up to 49.

Meanwhile, the Annual Volume of Public General Acts – a document which contains all the Acts passed in a particular year – for 1960 consisted of 1,200 A5 pages. The document for 2010, on the other hand, had grown to 2,700 A4 pages.

"A number of recent developments in legislation and the legislative process can be seen to have concentrated power in the hands of the executive and to have diluted the role of parliamentarians," said Daniel Greenberg, author of the report. "The concern is that these trends threaten the effective protection of the rule of law."

In light of the findings, Greenberg recommended that the level of scrutiny parliament gives to each Bill and Act is recorded in the explanatory notes and this information should then be consolidated into a yearly review, which should be debated in both Houses of Parliament.

The CPS has previously warned that tax legislation is now so long and complex that it has pushed the cost of hiring a tax adviser up to the £1,000 an hour mark. A report released in March pointed out that the latest version of Tolley’s Tax handbook, which contains copies of the need-to-know pieces of legislation for tax professionals, contained around 10m words, double the length it was in 2009.

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