MPs are on holiday - but what did they do for us?

After the months of fury, intrigues about the leadership, sackings, reshuffles, and clashes across the despatch boxes at the House of Commons, what has Parliament achieved?

Apart from a few key bills, such as those on nursery vouchers or divorce law reform, the answer will be - very little. This was not a vintage year. It was more the last dregs of a dying Parliament. The legislation was so thin, that inquiries around Whitehall yesterday produced nonplussed responses from various departments.

MPs increased their productivity this year by 20 per cent, having passed 34 bills for Royal Assent, compared to 27 bills in the previous session. They rewarded themselves with a 26 per cent pay rise.

So, is Britain any better for all the legislation passed this year? The attached table provides a guide. The Family Law Act to reform the divorce laws put the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, on trial, as the Act came under all-round Tory attack. It finished its passage in a heavily amended state. Couples whose marriages are irretrievably broken down, may come to curse these politicians.

There was also the last vestige of Thatcherism, with a minor piece of legislation on the right-to-buy for "social housing" tenants, and the Act that gave force to vouchers for nursery education. Little else to suggest muchideological zeal though. In fact, Lady Thatcher complained bitterly about the lack of ideology in this Government when she addressed the 1900 Club, a group of elderly knights of the shires dedicated to the memory of Tory Party zealots.

There was a strong flavour of Majorism to the legislation. Worthy but boring measures included the bill to preserve railway heritage, and the Rating (Caravans and Boats) Act, introduced by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment.

The small beer included the London Regional Transport Act which allows LRT to raise private finance, and the Government's Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Act.

Some of the more interesting legislation came from backbenchers, from Alan Meale's protection of wild animals bill, to the Dogs Fouling of Land Act. Other backbench measures for which 1996 will be noted include the Party Wall etc Act, and the Marriage Ceremony (Prescribed Words) Act, which streamlines that part of the ceremony concerned with lawful impediments.

Much of the legislation left officials in Whitehall understandably lost for words last night when asked to explain some of the bills. The Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Act, which received the Queen's Royal Assent on 29 February, after being taken by both the Commons and the Lords, was described by one Whitehall source as "fairly esoteric". It provides, by the way, pension provision for civil servants after the colony is handed over to the Chinese in 1997.

Laws passed in this Parliament

Bills receiving Royal Assent

ARBITRATION: streamlines law to encourage firms to go for arbitration rather than litigation.

Impact? A modest reform, which may cut business costs.

AUDIT (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS): empowers Audit Commission to probe local authority social services.

Impact? May help efficiency in over-stretched services.

ARMED FORCES: discipline, renewed every five years.

Impact? Bad news for gays who want to join armed forces; but this may be reversed by European courts.

ASYLUM AND IMMIGRATION: cuts benefits for asylum-seekers.

Impact? Cuts down, a little, on fraud, but very severe for some genuinely persecuted foreigners.

BROADCASTING BILL: cross-media ownership for digital TV.

Impact? Fudged key issues. Mirror Group, one of the owners of the Independent, among losers.

CONSOLIDATED FUND, CONSOLIDATED FUND No 2: puts pounds 230bn tax receipts into a fund.

Impact? None on most of us; but Kenneth Clarke would be broke without it.

CHANNEL TUNNEL RAIL LINK BILL: go-ahead for fast track.

Impact? Yes, plenty, in time.

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE: prosecution and defence disclosure of evidence.

Impact? Tilts court procedures a little in favour of the prosecution.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS: makes it an offence to make chemical weapons.

Impact? Very few of us were doing this anyway.

CIVIL AVIATION AMENDMENT: powers to arrest in the air.

Impact? Hardly any.

COMMONWEALTH DEVELOPMENT

CORPORATION: extended its powers to assist governments with privatisation programmes.

Impact? A little, abroad.

COMMUNITY CARE: cash payments in lieu of community care.

Impact? Minimal.

DEFAMATION: allows judges to dispose of defamation cases.

Impact? A modest speeder-up.

DAMAGES: personal injury claims.

Impact? A modest reform.

EDUCATION SCOTLAND BILL: nursery vouchers etc.

Impact? Brings a whiff of radicalism to Scottish education.

FAMILY LAW: divorce law reform.

Impact? Despite much sound and fury, the final act was a compromising affair, modestly liberal in its effect.

FINANCE BILL: puts last Budget into effect, 1p off tax and 15p on cigarettes

Impact? A few more pounds in our pockets and a few fewer fags in our fingers.

HEALTH SERVICE: ombudsman for complaints about GPs.

Impact? Significant for a few angry patients.

HUMBER BRIDGE DEBTS: wiped out debts for that bridge.

Impact? None - the byelection which brought the bridge was back in 1970.

HOUSING AND CONSTRUCTION: right to buy for tenants of new social housing.

Impact? Yes, if you have one of those houses.

HONG KONG OVERSEAS PUBLIC SERVANTS: provides pensions after 1997 hand- over to China.

Impact? Yes, if you are an HK civil servant.

NORTHERN IRELAND EMERGENCY

LEGISLATION: renewal of anti-terrorism measures.

Impact? Keeps in force measures Labour used to hate, but now accepts; helps police searching for bombers

NORTHERN IRELAND ENTRY TO NEGOTIATIONS: elections in Ulster.

Impact? A gateway to peace, being slammed shut since.

NOISE: Harry Greenway (Con), making noise an offence

Impact? Powerful, let's hope, on the youth in the flat above with pounds 400 worth of bass equipment.

NURSERY EDUCATION AND GRANT-MAINTAINED SCHOOLS: vouchers for all four- year-olds, and lifting bar on borrowing for GM schools.

Real impact? Too early to say whether this will prove a gimmick or a popular reform.

OFFENSIVE WEAPONS: Lady Olga Maitland (Con) tightens law on knives.

Impact? It may help a little.

RAILWAY HERITAGE: Mark Robinson (Con) conserving records and artefacts.

Impact? Only for serious anorak-wearers.

RESERVE FORCES: allows more flexible use of reservists

Impact? Only in Preston.

STUDENT LOANS: allows private loans.

Impact? Creeping privatisation of higher education.

SEXUAL OFFENCES: John Marshall (Con), outlaws sex-tourism, mainly by paedophiles.

Impact? Can only be good for some foreign children.

SECURITY SERVICE: lets MI5 fight crime with police.

Impact? Will make life harder for the most serious crime barons.

TREASURE: Sir Anthony Grant (Con), abolishes treasure trove.

Impact? Depends on whether you stub your toe on a Saxon helmet - and if you do, it is good news.

TRADING SCHEMES: Sir Nicholas Scott (Con), controls chain letters and pyramid-selling.

Impact? Curbs a growing and dubious commerce.

WILD MAMMALS PROTECTION: Alan Meale (Lab), protection from cruelty.

Impact? Another small step for decency.

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballLive: Latest news from Champions League draw
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Scrum Master (Agile, Java, team recruitment)

£45000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Scrum M...

Junior Asset Manager

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Junior As...

Investment Analyst

£33000 - £40000 Per Annum Discretionary profit share: The Green Recruitment Co...

Supply teachers required in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?