Coalition government criticised as "divided" and "weak"

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The government is looking "divided and weak" and the country might be better if there was an election now rather than next year, a former Cabinet secretary has said.

Lord Butler of Brockwell, who served three prime ministers as head of the civil service from 1988-98, said the country was seeing the problems caused by fixed-term parliaments during a debate on the implications of coalition government on 13 May 2015.

Referring to recent rows between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition partners over free school funding and knife crime Lord Butler accused the government of being "more concerned with washing their dirty linen in public than running the country."

The crossbench peer told the house that "having exhausted the measures in the coalition agreement, the Government is finding it difficult to agree on new policies and they will find it increasingly difficult to do so as they seek to demonstrate their separateness in the year leading up to the general election.

"As a result we are already seeing that Parliament has very thin gruel to work on. We await the programme in the Queen's Speech in the next session with no lively expectation that it will be substantial.

"Meanwhile, the Government is in my view looking divided and weak."

Post-legislative scrutiny

Responding to Lord Butler, Liberal democrat peer Lord Tyler however said that the final year of the parliament would not be "a complete waste of time" even if there were few new laws to debate.

"Ministers too often think it is a great issue of virility to have some great bill put before the parliament. Otherwise they don't think they really exist in the public's mind.

Lord Tyler said that the Houses of Parliament would be equally valuable if they spent the next year dealing with "post-legislative scrutiny" - looking at how successful or unsuccessful previous laws have been.

Responding to the debate for the Government cabinet office spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said "I think the question of how we handle the final year of a fixed-term parliament is clearly one that we all need to address fairly rapidly."

He said the last year of parliaments under both Labour and the Conservatives had shown that "each of our major parties are coalitions and sometimes unstable and ill-tempered coalitions as well".

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