I’m one of those annoying people who take deadlines really, really seriously. Last year I accidentally prepared two tax returns because I did the first one so far in advance of the deadline that I clean forgot that I had already done it. So I find the “last minute” working style both perplexing and frightening. And yet, in recent weeks, I have had to stand by, helpless, and watch it happen in the most important arena: legislation.
As I wrote a few days ago, the UK’s Criminal Finances Act 2017 has just been passed. I had been tracking it day by day from the beginning – when it had its first reading in the Commons on 13 October 2016 – and could see that it was going to be close. Of course, the closeness was not part of the plan: the date of prorogation (the closing of a session of parliament, at which point, to put it simply, Bills must become Acts or fall by the wayside) was abnormally affected by the announcement of the coming General Election. And so the race was on: would the Lords be able to debate all their proposed amendments and send them back to the Commons for approval before prorogation? As you know, they did, and for the most part, it has worked out as we had anticipated.
Not so for the (confusingly similarly named) Finance Act 2017 (“a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the national debt and the public revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance”). This one started on its legislative journey much more recently – on 14 March 2017 – and so the sudden looming appearance of prorogation had a more drastic effect on it. As you can see here, in this handy table showing which bits survived and which were sacrificed in the name of expediency. You will note that of the original 135 clauses, 72 were removed in order to push the legislation through – that’s 53% of them, and presumably they’re the tricky ones that might have held things up. The slimline Finance Act 2017 did receive Royal Assent on 27 April 2017, but I’m not sure I am comfortable with the way that parliamentary timetabling can trump (please can we reclaim that word?) original legislative intentions.