Friday, April 14, 2006

The Abolition of Parliament Bill

Last week it was delinquent badgers.

After I had written a lighthearted column about the depredations of badgers in Southend West it became clear that they were interering with the democratic process by breaking into cars and stealing council candidates' nomination papers. I tried to withdraw my House Points column from Liberal Democrat News, but it had already gone to press.

This week the government was at it.

Just after I had written this week's column about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill reports began to appear saying that ministers were going to revise it to meet some of their critics' objections.

While I am always pleased to see Labour coming to its senses, it would make my life a great deal easier if they could arrange to do it on Mondays.

So here is House Points - not that I have seen Liberal Democrat News yet. There does not seem to be a delivery of post on Good Friday.

Hedgehog ministers

With MPs away for Easter, there's time to look at one of the bills going through the Commons. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (LRRB) sounds like something that would excite only Sir Humphrey. But give it the alternative name it has earned - the Abolition of Parliament Bill - and it sounds more sinister.

For the LRRB gives ministers power to alter almost any law without involving Parliament. The only limitations are that they cannot impose new taxes; create offences carrying a sentence of more than two years; or authorise forced entry, search or seizure, or compel the giving of evidence.

Apart from that they have carte blanche. The LRRB says the minister who is revising a law must be satisfied of various things - for instance that the policy objective cannot be achieved another way. But ministers are always satisfied they are right. It's the nature of the breed. Ministers are satisfied just as hedgehogs are prickly or Dalmatians have spots.

Besides, as David Howarth said in the Times in February, the Bill applies to itself. So ministers can create any offence they like. They just apply the LRRB to the LRRB, abolishes the limitation on his powers and go ahead.

Jim Murphy, the (very junior) minister in charge of the Bill has given an undertaking that the powers will not be used to implement "highly controversial" reforms. But Murphy will soon be sacked or promoted or moved on. Like a lot of unwritten agreements, his words aren't worth the paper they are written on.

Some would try to make Labour see reason by asking them to imagine what an authoritarian right-wing government would do with the LRRB. But in many ways this is an authoritarian right-wing government. It has reached the stage where it cannot imagine anyone else ever being in power. This is the state of mind Mrs Thatcher had got into in the late 1980s when she went batty and brought in the poll tax.

Not surprisingly, the LRRB has stirred up vigorous opposition. If you want to join it, a good place to start is

For when it comes to the LRRB, we should remember the words of Tony Hancock: "Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?"

1 comment:

Alex Wilcock said...

Don't worry, Jonathan - it's a splendid column, and warning people about this Bill isn’t out of date until the ink's dry on the Government’s written amendments to their appalling Bill.

At the risk of promoting cynicism, I wouldn’t call any of their compromises “Labour coming to its senses” until they’re ready to be put to the vote, rather than at the stage of them just telling us all not to worry…