See also my previous entry: The gradual slide to totalitarianism
Any emphasis has been added by me in order to highlight key points.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), whose eloquence was such that there is probably not a great deal for me to add.
Who could possibly oppose a Bill that is intended to reduce unnecessary regulation? Who could possibly oppose a Bill that is intended to cut red tape for business, the public sector and voluntary organisations? In my constituency, I see the impact of over-regulation on small businesses and charities all the time. When we look at Britain as a whole, it is possible to see the damage that over-regulation does to us as a country and an economy.
As others have pointed out, we have slipped down the international league of competitiveness, from fourth place in 1997 to 13th in 2005. Superficially the Bill makes a great deal of sense, but behind the headlines it is not all that it seems. If it did what it says on the tin, I would support it wholeheartedly, but it does not, so I will not.
Part 1 enables Ministers to reform legislation or implement recommendations of the Law Commission by order. Law would, in effect, be made without reference to democratically elected parliamentarians. There would be a further extension of the power of a remote Executive and unaccountable national regulators. Merging regulators does not lead to less regulation. It was Max Weber who said as early as the 19th century that bureaucracy has an inherent tendency to expand. Bureaucracy tries to assume new powers, and to aggrandise itself. A merging of regulators could simply create new super-regulators, hungry for yet more power and more prone to regulate. I am concerned that part 1 will be a further step away from proper parliamentary scrutiny. It appears to empower the Executive, but in reality it will empower senior civil servants and those bureaucrats and regulators already beyond meaningful parliamentary accountability.
In the past 30 years, we have seen a steady erosion of representative parliamentary government. Behind the façade of a functioning parliamentary democracy is an increasingly post-representative system of government. In almost every sphere, financial service regulation, food standards, environmental protection, it is remote quangos, not parliamentarians, that increasingly call the shots. Remote elites make the decisions; local people take the rap; no one is accountable; no one gets sacked: this is how we are governed today. I fear that this Bill is not so much anti-regulation as anti-democratic.
Speaking as someone who could be characterised as slightly sceptical about the European project, part 3 of the Bill leaves me somewhat suspicious. Not for the first time, measures are being introduced in the name of streamlining, but I fear that they may turn out to be a power-grab. European law is currently introduced into this country through regulation. This Bill could enable Brussels diktats to be brought in through schemes and rules. What does that mean? Yesterday in this House, one Member spoke about the European Union achieving the so-called Lisbon agenda. Remember that? It was about deregulating in order to make Europe competitive. Reference was made at the time to making Europe the most competitive economy in the world. That may seem absurd now. Easing EU institutions' ability to make our laws for us will only exacerbate the Euro-sclerosis afflicting that tired old continent. Easing such ability will only tie us closer to those worn-out EU economies; it will only place us more firmly in Europe's economic sarcophagus.(I think the Euro-phobia weakens the guy's case - but left it in, as that's what he said : Murk)
I welcome the Regulatory Reform Committee's acknowledgement that, far from being about deregulation and tidying up, this Bill
has the potential to be the most constitutionally significant Bill that has been brought before Parliament for some years.
I welcome the recognition that the driving force behind it is the Cabinet Office and, perhaps, senior civil servants. It could become a bureaucrats' charter: it could allow them to avoid the messy and unpredictable business of having their measures scrutinised by the people's elected representatives. Yes, Minister, (Clever : Murk) this Bill could be Sir Humphrey's dream come true. The Minister would be able to amend, repeal and replace primary and secondary legislation without reference to this House.
It was Walter Bagehot who said in the 19th century that the Crown had ceased to be part of what he called the efficient part of the constitution and had become the dignified part. By that, he meant that it had the trappings of power, but not the reality. My fear is that although this democratically elected Parliament has the trappings of power here in our ornate Chamber, real power is increasingly moving elsewhere. This Bill will only exacerbate that process.
- BBC news story: Red tape law 'must not be abused'
- Paul Leake: Parliament-lite
- Blood & Treasure: honestly, you just treat this country like it's a hotel
- Previously Linked: qwghlm: because the other domain names were taken
- Previously Linked: SpyBlog - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill - arbitrary powers for Ministers by Order, no exempt Acts, no full public consultation no detailed scrutiny by Parliament
- Previously Linked: Talk Politics :: What the f***ing hell is this?
- ... and of course, my previous posts the gradual slide to totalitarianism and the legislative and regulatory reform bill
- Similarly troublesome Next year's local elections in England could be abandoned under plans being considered by the government (David Milliband said "We expect and intend the 2007 elections to go ahead" - not 'they will go ahead'.