Among the highly aspirational measures in yesterday's Queen's speech, two in particular seem to demand the question "Why?"
The Child Poverty Bill seeks to enshrine in law the Government's commitment to end child poverty by 2020. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill similarly legislates for the commitment to halve the budget deficit in five years.
What is the point? Will either enactment, if passed, make it any more likely that the desired outcome will be achieved? With child poverty, a previous target of halving it by 2010 is going to be missed. What sanctions could effectively be imposed on Government (not, of course, the present lot) should we discover in 10 and a bit years' time that unfortunately still children in a state of poverty? Stop ministers' pocket money?
Even more so in relation to the budget deficit. How will the nation look in the eyes of the international community, particularly those who might be asked to lend it money, if it sets itself such a goal and then fails to achieve it? Will we fine the Government, thereby adding to the deficit? I seem to remember in the 1980s a law being passed to require the US Government to live within its means. Whatever happened to that, it would have been totally useless as last year's financial crisis unfolded.
Granted, we already have both Scottish and UK Climate Change Acts which also enact strict percentage targets. The effectiveness of these remains to be seen, but at least there we have the prospect of internationally agreed standards and measures, and the Acts can be seen as part of a concerted global response to a global problem.
Surely what matters in both the present cases whether the policies are in place to achieve the ends. If they are, you hardly need the legal statement on top. If not, changing the law will change nothing. If, worse, the Government is simply attempting to tie the hands of its successors (as has also been suggested), it is simply being cynical and anti-democratic. Elections are the place for accountability on such topics.