Guy Fawkes is taking over the asylum

by Suw on March 21, 2006

When you think of the abolition of Parliament, you think of various moves made by various Bad People in England's dim and distant past. Kings who arbitrarily suspended democracy. People who decided blowing up the Palace of Westminster was a nice idea. That sort of thing.
Well, our lovely Labour government (and yes, I voted them in, and no, I won't be voting for them again – I had no idea they'd turn out to be such appalling control freaks) is attempting to abolish Parliament under the guise of legislative reform. From the Save Parliament site:

The boringly-named Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is in fact a very dangerous piece of legislation. It grants any minister the ability to amend, replace, or repeal existing legislation. The frightening thing is this: they would be able to make major changes to the law without Parliament being able to examine it properly, taking away the ability of Parliament to meaningfully represent the citizens of this country.

That really should alarm you. Democracy is not a perfect system, but this bill will destroy any pretence at democracy we have here in the UK and will instead institute a sort of collaborative dictatorship, with power to summarily change the law shared between ministers who, ultimately, will be steered by Blair.
What more can I say, other than take action. Your parliament needs you!

Anonymous March 21, 2006 at 1:33 pm

Although I doubt that Blair will be in charge by the time it becomes legislation.
What frightens me more than the Blair regime getting these powers is any future Tory regime getting them. [And not by that much I have to admit]
We already have a Parliament Act that asserts the primacy of the elected government and the Commons.
This is unnecessary legislation and over-empowers the elected government.
A waste of taxpayers money. [Not that I pay tax in the UK]
They need to remember when considering such legislation that the most efficient form of government is a Dictatorship.
Take care!
and Enjoy your new place!

Anonymous March 21, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Hi Suw
I'm going to get all anal over this…
Have you actually read the draft Bill? Because it is actually an extremely sensible and well-thought out piece of legislation (as far as I can tell).
Having worked in the civil service (yawn!) I can tell you that one of the most awkward things about legislation is all the crap legislation hanging around long after it was ever useful. There are so many occasions when it would be so useful for all concerned (including citizens and consumers etc) if we could just abolish some useless piece of nonsense.
But, the basic principle is that Acts of Parliament, quite rightly, can only be changed or removed by other Acts of Parliament – even if they're crap.
But finding time and space in Parliament's agenda for a Bill voiding some silly little piece of nonsense just isn't going to happen. So what does happen is that real Bills for real important stuff get cluttered up with a whole load of articles hanging onto their coat-tails whose only job is to ty to get rid of some other clutter elsewhere. At least, in theory, these articles (which, largely, do the sorts of thing Govt wants to do with the new Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill) do get scrutinised by Parliament. but, in practice, unless some enterprising MP who doesn't mind upsetting the whips makes some sort of fuss, most of these Articles get passed without even being read by our noble legislators.
Even that route (adding Article to more serious bits of legislation) doesn't work if you can't make some tenuous link to the Bill in question.
So what exactly should we do with all the accumulating crap?
The answer is that we leave it cluttering up the statute book and making life difficult for people, or we find a new and sensible way of sorting it out.
This new Bill seems, to me, to be a reasonably balanced solution.
It does not give complete carte blanche for ministers to make whatever Orders they want (though a cursory glance might look like that).
Firstly, any Order made under this Bill is subject to judicial review. So, if Ministers push their luck with it, then the judges will come along and very publicly strike the Order down. Not perfect, but surprisingly effective in practice. And knowledge that Judges can and will do this is actually quite a brake on foolhardy ministers.
But, much more significantly, the procedure set out in the Bill guarantees that Parliament has at least as much, if not more, genuine control than it does at present when the Government tries to make minor modifications to the Law.
It really is worth actually scanning down to sections 10 onwards to see what the procedure is.
It does NOT mean that Ministers simply make an Order and that's that.
They have to draft the Order and publish it.
They have to consult all interested parties.
They have to lay the draft Order and an explanatory document before both Houses of Parliament explaining why the Order is necessary, how it meets the requirements of this Bill, and what the results of the consultation have been. And it has to suggest one of three options for Parliamentary Procedure.
These options are long-established means for passing secondary legislation in this country.
Essentially, if the matter is fairly trivial, then it goes to “negative resolution procedure”. This means that it is published as an Order and it becomes law within so many days unless one or other Houses of Parliament object.
If it's more important, there's “affirmative resolution” which actually requires both Houses to vote in favour before it becomes law.
And there's also “Super-affirmative resolution”, which is affirmative with extra knobs on.
In the cases of Affirmative resolution, both Houses of Parliament have to approve the Order. In other words, this is absolutely 100% as compatible with principles of basic representative Democracy as any Act of Parliament. It's just quicker.
In the cases of Negative resolution, I suppose a minister might try to get something through under negative resolution which should have gone through positive resolution. But they'd be on dodgy ground if they tried. And they'd still have to consult etc etc. But, also, if a Minister puts something forward under negative resolution, either of the Houses of Parliament can look at it and say, “sorry, not good enough, this is too important to slip through like this, we demand that it goes through affirmative resolution, or even super-affirmative.”
So, the reason that it all looks so open to misuse is because they have deliberately kept the scope as wide as possible. They don't know yet what kind of legislation they're going to want to use this for, so why restrict it's scope in advance?
But the proposal is saved by the procedural rules which back it up. Nothing gets through on a whim. It all has to be subject to justification, publication and consultation.
And Parliament will always get its say, and can always dismiss any Orders made under the Bill.
And, finally, it means that legislation can be kept up to date and sensible without having to tag indecipherable additions onto any passing Bill that comes along.
It's actually more open, transparent and accountable than the current mess.
But then I am a Civil Servant. And I didn't read it closely.
So I could have got it totally wrong.
Or I could just be very boring.

Anonymous March 27, 2006 at 9:33 pm

I have to disagree. This is not balanced at all.
I do agree there is too much legislation (hell there is too much Government) but this really isn't the way to go about it. For instance, this Government has created new crimes 10 times faster than any previous administration. The machinery of the House has needed to expand quickly to keep up with the number of Bills. All we need to do is slow down and do less legistlating better leaving time for proper Bills to repeal and ammend previous problems.
Also, you do not address the lack of protection for legative liberties (e.g. privacy) or why the bill contains the power to rewrite laws and create new crimes. If the idea is to reduce the burden of the state upon its people then the only power needed is the power to repeal legislation.
The question about rewriting laws is really important because the words in these Acts are a lot like computer program code – it can and does contain bugs which put into law incredible injustices. These injustices are mitigated by judicial interpretation in a body of Case Law that builds up over time. You cannot simply take the power to “merely restate” legislation. These are powerful words (think of Willow sucking black magic out of a thousand magical tomes …) – and every word matters.
Anyway, the really really scary question is why the Government have not accepted ammendments tabled in committee that remove the power for the Bill to ammend itself, the Human Rights Act,and a long list of the most powerful constitutional Acts many of which have nothing to do with the regulation of businesses.

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