I seriously dislike the word governance. Okay, it has some reasonable uses: in the phrase corporate governance, for instance, in which it has a useful sense of oversight from on high. Otherwise, it’s unbearably pompous. I also suspect politicians who use it have reached the “statesman” stage in which they’re more interested in their international contacts and memoirs than in achieving anything in government. So this Bill annoys me before I even look inside it.

It’s pretty harmless on the whole. Part 1 makes some fairly unobjectionable provision about the civil service. But why on earth has the opportunity not been taken to pick up the provisions of Andrew Dismore’s Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill? Those provisions are much needed, are uncontroversial (the opposition have promoted a very similar if not identical bill in the past) and should wait no longer. And clause 9, giving civil servants a right to complain about being ordered to breach the civil service code, will only be of use to civil servants who are being sacked or forced to resign. The idea that a civil servant could make such a complaint and retain any career hopes is just laughable.

Part 2 will give Parliament a chance to object to the ratification of new treaties – which sounds fine, and is unobjectionable, except that clause 23 gives ministers a second bite at persuading the Commons and the power to override the Lords; and clause 24 creates exceptions.

And in Part 3, clauses 29 and 30 will in effect allow peers to resign from the Lords, disclaim their peerages and, under clause 30(6) and (7), be free to stand for election to the Commons. This is the one seriously objectionable proposal in the Bill. It sounds nice, fair and modern, but when we eventually get an elected or mainly elected House of Lords, one of the worst things that could happen is if it is filled with party hacks trying to work their way up to the more glamorous and powerful Commons. We have enough elected institutions filled with those people – all councils, and the European Parliament, are examples. One valuable thing about the Lords at the moment is that the bar on members standing for the Commons means the House is made up of people who are not planning any significant future political career, and who are therefore more independent. To throw away that huge advantage is a mistake: you might as well abolish the Lords altogether if it’s going to be a House of whipped wannabes.

I don’t think the Bill does anything else of note. The government’s original consitutional reform plans were insufficiently radical to justify their billing two years ago. With this Bill, we can see they’ve been watered down almost to a homeopathic degree. I’m pleased: this government all too often proposes instant constitutional change as the answer to all manner of passing policy problems, and I’m glad the urge to remodel has been replaced with masterly inactivity. But it does show what a fuss and nonsense they’ve made about the consitution.

I agree with Steve Richards.