Leading article: An undignified scramble to legislate

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The Independent Online

Few things looked more calculated in the closing stages of this Parliament than Gordon Brown's death-bed conversion to alter the first-past-the-post voting system. Even when the Bill first appeared – as a decoy to draw Liberal Democrats in any eventual hung parliament – and after the Commons voted on it in February, it was clear that such a major change had no chance of making it into law in the short time left to Parliament. Entirely predictably, it has been junked, along with a medley of other Bills – some good ideas, others a waste of time.

Of the bills earmarked for scrapping, it is most regrettable that the Government has given up on its promise to reform the libel laws, which are so absurdly skewed in favour of the plaintiffs that they have turned Britain into a beacon for so-called libel "tourists". It is embarrassing that a country that boasted the world's most free press in the 18th century is now famous for different qualities – so much so that the rich, the paranoid and the secretive hurry here from all over the world, seeing Britain as the best place to sue for defamation and win huge damages.

Instead of continuing a laudable fight to curtail this malignant industry, the Government insists it will carry on the battle for the ill-thought-out Digital Economy Bill under which illegal downloaders and file-sharers could be cut off from the Internet. It is not hard to work out what has dictated these odd-looking priorities. Libel reform was voted down by a coalition of Opposition MPs and Labour defectors – united in horror of change that might reduce lawyers' fees.

No one should be surprised that Parliament is ending on such an undignified note, with bills thoughtlessly rushed through and others equally thoughtlessly dumped – their fates contingent on whatever bargains MPs have struck. One of the worst features of this Government has been its increasingly casual attitude to legislation. Whoever controls the next Parliament should realise that it is better to enforce a few well-framed laws than pass a multitude unfit for purpose. Meanwhile, our libel laws still cry out for reform.

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