Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

'Dictatorship Britain' in the making?

I have had a series of posts in the past entitled 'Police State Britain', but a whole new level of alarm is warranted by a piece of legislation currently wending its way through Parliament. I first came across the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill about ten or so days ago [*], but in the last couple of days it has begun to get more mention, including this article in The Times today.

The purpose of this proposed legislation is summarised here:


A
Bill
To
enable provision to be made for the purpose of reforming legislation and implementing recommendations of the Law Commission, the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission; to make provision about the exercise of regulatory functions; to make provision about the interpretation of legislation relating to the European Communities and the European Economic Area; to make provision relating to section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972; and for connected purposes.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Part 1
Power to reform legislation etc
Order-making power


1 Purpose
(1)
A Minister of the Crown may by order make provision for either or both of the following purposes—
(a) reforming legislation;
(b) implementing recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without changes.
(2)
An order under this section must be made in accordance with this Part.
(3)
In this Part "legislation" means a provision of—
(a) any public general Act or local Act, or
(b) any Order in Council, order, rules, regulations, scheme, warrant, byelaw or other subordinate instrument made under a public general Act or local Act, but does not include any instrument which is, or is made under, Northern Ireland legislation.

- what this means, baldly stated, is that the Government will be able (should this pernicious legislation ever make it onto the statute Book) to amend or replace legislation of more or less any kind by Ministerial order, without going through the troublesome procedure of presenting the changes as proposals before Parliament and the even more troublesome procedure of trying to get a majority there.

The Explanatory Notes to the Bill summarise the extent of what the Government aims to achieve with this legislation.

In case you think that I, or Daniel Finkelstein (in his 'Times' article linked above) have been supping too much fermented grape or grain juice, the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee said it was "the most constitutionally significant bill" for some years. In the words of Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston:


"This bill must be scrutinised with particular care. Our report recognises that there is widespread support for removing redundant regulation and costly red tape. But the problem many people will have with part one of this bill, as drafted, is that it provides ministers with a wide and general power that could be used to repeal amend or replace almost any primary legislation. That can't be right. We need extra safeguards."

The Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons last week and now goes to committee. I hope that this Bill, which has the potential to have vastly more importance than almost any other legislation currently before Parliament, will at last begin to recieve the public and media scrutiny it merits. As with the memos 'slipped out' on the afternoon of 11 September 2001, one gets the impression that the Government is keen for the spotlight to remain on its ID Cards Bill and its Terrorism Bill (vitally important as these are) as a way of diverting attention from where it really needs to be focussed.

[*] I regret to say it somehow moved down my agenda (for personal reasons well away from matters relating to blogging). This lamentable lack of attention on my part was exacerbated because it went completely unmentioned by all except one of the blogs I read regularly and my own pre-occupations allowed it to drift off the radar, so much so that I forget exactly where I first spotted it - slaps wrist!

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