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Monday, February 20, 2006

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill No 111

I have received the following in my inbox today. It needs no comment other than the picture at the end ...

Parliament to abdicate? 16 October 2006

By Edward Spalton

Among the hullabaloo about identity cards and banning smoking and the "glorification" of terrorism, a thoroughly nasty Bill of incalculable constitutional consequences has been presented. It goes under the grey name of The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill No 111. I have tried to read it but it is in the sort of language, which makes the head spin after a line or two.

Even the explanatory notes are heavy going – but the basic purpose is to make it easier for the government to enact laws without having to tax the intellects or attention of MPs. The Bill is a way of allowing laws to be passed by orders from ministers, bypassing MPs altogether. Of course, they say the law will only be used for uncontroversial matters – "a tidying up exercise", as we were assured the EU constitution would be. But what if these powers were to fall into the hands of a government less given to plain dealing and truthfulness than this one?

In plain language, it is an "Enabling Act". The ambition to pass such measures is not unknown. The late Sir Oswald Mosley proposed just such a law for the day his fascists came to power. It would, he said, "turn Parliament from a talk shop into a workshop". His exemplar, the even less lamented Adolf Hitler, inherited a number of similar "emergency laws" from previous, democratically elected, centre party governments. They were sufficient for locking up his opponents until he could pass the total enabling act, dispensing with parliament altogether, except as an applauding audience.

John Spencer, a Cambridge law professor, says that this Act would enable the government to create new offences without debate, punishable with imprisonment for up to two years. They could also introduce house arrest, give the police even greater powers to interrogate and detain, set up new courts (Star Chamber, perhaps?) and rewrite the rules on immigration, nationality, divorce, inheritance and the appointment of judges – all without troubling your friendly neighbourhood MP or depriving him of a wink of sleep by late night sittings.

In other walks of life, people lose their jobs when a function is outsourced – but not our MPs. Legislation is largely out of parliamentary control already. A recent German study showed that 80% of their laws now originate from the EU – either as regulations, which apply straight away or as directives, which require national parliaments to pass laws implementing EU policy. As the EU’s laws apply across Europe, Britain cannot be very different.

This Bill, if passed, will ensure that most such laws will not receive the slightest scrutiny in parliament. Blair’s babes will not have to trouble their pretty little heads. As one Old Labour peer remarked, "They will be able to get home in time to put the babies to bed".

We have departed so very far from the former principles of responsible British parliamentary democracy. Perhaps it is time for the government to dissolve the people and elect a new one.

-o0o-

Please write to your Member of Parliament urging him or her to reject the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Please pass on this message to as many people as possible. This will be one of the most important letters you have ever written.