Final letter to the Cabinet Office

I've finally sent this letter off today, with thanks to the commenters on my earlier post. This letter is in reply to this missive from the Cabinet Office

I am writing to you in response to you letter of the 8th March regarding the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill".

Your letter has done nothing at all to allay my concerns.

You mention "rigorous safeguards" – to my mind the safeguards lack the properties of both rigour and safety. For example, you say that a minister must consult – such consultation does not necessarily translate into action. Indeed, "consultation" can be ignored.

There does not seem to be any requirement for what constitutes a proper explanatory document built into the bill. Must it, for example, include a list of who was consulted? Must it relay the arguments both for and against the proposal?

You say that "in addition to these safeguards, the Government has undertaken not to use the order-making powers in the Bill to effect highly controversial measures". Such an undertaking is not meaningful unless it is written into the bill. This is something that has been refused.

What is the definition of what is, and what is not, a "highly controversial measure”? What about merely controversial measures?

Similarly, there is no limit to the bills which could be affected. Everything from the Parliament act to the Magna Carta, from the Scotland act to the bill itself could be changed by order. If this act can be used to amend constitutional acts such as the Magna Carta then it fundamentally changes the way that we are governed. If this is the case then it, in itself becomes a constitutional act. This should therefore only be passed by referendum. It certainly should not be passed through parliament "under the radar".

What would be so wrong with having, as was proposed by the Opposition, a Schedule of Excepted Acts of a constitutional nature which would require a full Primary Legislative process for them to be repealed, amended or replaced?

By the controversial Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 (Part 2 Emergency Powers), emergency Regulations, by (oral) Order of a Minister, already have the full force of any Act of Parliament or exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and which can amend or repeal any Act of Parliament save for the Human Rights Act and the Civil Contingencies Act itself.

Why is there no such similar safeguard, written into the text of the Bill, which would prevent the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act from being used to modify itself ?

You say that a Minister cannot make an order "unless he considers that certain conditions are satisfied". This is an absurdity; do we truly expect ministers to think that their plan is one that will be classed as controversial? It should be Parliament and the public who consider such matters in detail. It should be the duty of a Minister and the Civil Service to provide the relevant, fair, balanced and detailed background information upon which such policies and decisions can be made.

Neither the "affirmative" nor the "super affirmative" procedures nor the alleged vetos of some, but not all Select Committees (presumably at the whim of a Minister) are what the public would understand as being actual "safeguards".

Select Committees are invariably under the control of the Government of the day and whilst they may disagree with portions of a proposed Government legislation, they usually approve it.

There is no scope for any amendments or improvements or even simple error corrections to the obscure doublespeak which creeps into the draughts of Orders and other legislation these days. What mechanism is there for any amendments or improvements or even simple error corrections to the to the highly complicated and obscure wording of modern legislation or regulations?

The "affirmative", the "super affirmative" and the alleged Select Committee vetoes, would all be on a "take it or leave it" basis and will be prone to the same sort of political manipulation as with all "composite motions" and "portmanteau Bills" i.e. one or two contentious clauses will be slipped into a much larger package of generally acceptable and necessary measures, so people will end up voting for what they see as the lesser of two evils overall, but the contentious clause will have been smuggled into law.

As another example, Section 7.1 prohibits the authorization of forcible entry search and seizure, or compelling the giving of evidence except to the extent that it implements recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions. Nor does it prevent orders made under section 1 from extending any power for purposes similar to those which the power applied before the order, this allows for gradual changes – resulting in an eventual large change without primary legislation.

The government must remember that no matter what the intent, unintended consequences can flow. Even if this bill is written with the best intentions, one cannot guarantee that some future government will not use it to the letter of the law, ignoring the guarantees made, but not written into the bill.

I have sent a copy of this letter to Jim Murphy MP.

To Jim Murphy MP I have sent this:

Dear Mr. Murphy,

As the minister in charge of the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill", I am sending you a copy of the letter I have recently sent to Mr. Sydney Nash.

I note that you recently stated that you had only had 50 letters on this subject. I would be interested to know what fraction of those 50 gave you wholehearted support, and what fraction expressed concern. I had not written to you directly on this issue, as you are not my MP, but I had written to my MP as well as to other people in positions of influence. Obviously you could not count such letters in your 50 as you were not aware of them. I suspect many other people are in a similar position.

There is much concern about the proposed legislation amongst people who are aware of it. It has sadly had little coverage in the press – though there have been occasional editorials. Online, several sites have appeared, such as http://www.saveparliament.org.uk/ and http://bill111.wordpress.com/ . I wonder if you have any comment upon the point made on these pages, as well as the pieces in the Press, such as Danny Kruger's opinion piece in the Telegraph on 27th March, the Observer leader on the 2nd April, or the Law in Action interview on Radio 4 on the 21st March 2006?

Here is the copy of the letter which I sent, I look forward to your response to both the letter, and the above points.

I've then inserted the letter.