Totalitarianism Bill

The Lawyer on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

The Lawyer has an article on the LRRB. The Legislative and Regulatory reform bill is supposed to reduce legislative burdern upon business, but it allows for law to be past without the oversight of parliament.

Giving ministers powers to cut regulation sounds good. But when you have a government for which the answer to everything is to introduce new legislation, you are left with even more red tape for ministers.

In its rush to push through the bill without pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government failed to recognise the constitutional impact of its plans.

Legislation exists for a reason and a balance has to be found to boost UK business while at the same time protecting the consumer.

A lot of analysis and consultation is needed to get that balance. But it will definitely not be achieved by passing ill-considered acts of legislation.

Excellent Independent Article

There is a well written article in the Independent today. I would advice everyone to read it.

... And what is remarkable - in fact almost a historic phenomenon - is the harm his government has done to the unwritten British constitution in those nine years, without anyone really noticing, without the press objecting or the public mounting mass protests.

Britain is not a police state - the fact that Tony Blair felt it necessary to answer me by e-mail proves that - but it is becoming a very different place under his rule, and all sides of the House of Commons agree.

Chakrabarti, who once worked as a lawyer in the Home Office, explains: "If you throw live frogs into a pan of boiling water, they will sensibly jump out and save themselves. If you put them in a pan of cold water and gently apply heat until the water boils they will lie in the pan and boil to death. It's like that."

This leads to my favourite quote:

In Blair you see the champion frog boiler of modern times

The article goes on to discuss the Civil Contingencies bill, as well as The Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill:

I realise that it would be testing your patience to go too deeply into the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the Government has been trying to smuggle through Parliament this year, but let me just say that its original draft would have allowed ministers to make laws without reference to elected representatives.

Imagine the President of the United States trying to neuter the Congress in this manner, so flagrantly robbing it of its power. Yet until recently all this has occurred in Britain with barely a whisper of coverage in the British media.

ID cards also get a mention:

George Churchill-Coleman described it to me as an absolute waste of time. "You and I will carry them because we are upright citizens. But a terrorist isn't going to carry [his own]. He will be carrying yours."

Save Parliament - report following the debate

After initial optimism following an apparent climbdown on the 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill'. The 'Save Parliament' group have been discussing our response to the amended bill.

The response has been published today

After pushing the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill through the Committee Stage without changes in March, the government conceded that this was a very important bill. They made significant changes, and allowed two days for debate. This was still not enough time to air all the objections.

After our initial optimism, we have gone over it carefully, and decided that it's not much better than before. For example, the Bill still allows the government to rewrite any law, provided they can claim that at least one of the things they are doing will 'remove a burden'. It would still be possible for jury service or Habeus Corpus to be removed by order. Many of our complaints still haven't been dealt with.
[Source]

The report goes into some detail as to what the next stages are likely to be. As part of this the report encourages us to examine how our own MP did.

There is no way this Bill will get through the House of Lords in its present state, since it appears that members of the upper chamber tend to read what's before them, and take as much time as they like. The Lords will make changes to this Bill. This Bill will return to the Commons. The MPs will be asked to revert these changes by voting.
[Source]

The changes are likely to be similar to what had been proposed and rejected during this two day debate of the Bill. Your MP may have voted for or against those changes. We have a list of the votes that were made by MPs on the Bill so far, and the direction they would have voted had they wished to save Parliamentary scrutiny.

To see how your MP voted, you can go to the report stage page of the Save Parliament website and enter your postcode. My MP, Michael Gove, got near 100%, so he'll get a 'pat on the back'' letter.

The interesting ones to consider are Division 232, where your MP could have voted against the requirement that ministers act "reasonably"; Division 234, where your MP could have voted against the requirement that ministers had to implement law commission reports "without changes", so they couldn't cherry-pick them; Division 238, mentioned above; and Division 240, where your MP could have voted against giving the committee overseeing an order complete freedom to reject it.
[Source]

Of course, being a Tory I'd expect him to oppose the government, the real interest comes if you're in a Labour held seat. I'd be interested to hear of any replies received from Labour MPs (especially Labour MPs that vote as SaveParliament would wish!)

A forum has been created on the save parliament site for discussion (you could also comment directly on murky.org)

The LRRB in parliament

In Parliament, we see the following exchange upon the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Gordon Banks (Labour)

I thank my hon. Friend for that response and welcome him to his new position, in which I am sure that he has experienced great joy in the past few days. In my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire in Scotland, a number of businesses are creaking under the burden of regulation. Is he being bold enough in his attempts to address that?

Bold enough? Under this guise they are trying to introduce the broad sweeping Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is passed in the form the government wants is much broader than deregulation.

... or are they already thinking of the next step?

Patrick McFadden (Labour) replies:

I thank my hon. Friend for his question.

I'll bet you do, pal

The strong and stable economy that we have enjoyed in recent years is of course essential to business growth and business health. In addition, all Government Departments have been asked to produce a plan to cut unnecessary red tape by the time of the pre-Budget report later this year. However, businesses in my hon. Friend's constituency and, indeed, throughout the country will want to know why the Conservative party voted against the Third Reading of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill yesterday. Conservative Members say that they want to reduce the burden of regulation, but when it came to action, they voted against the Bill.

Perhaps as the LRRB wasn't LIMITED in any way to deregulation, and indeed could lead to many new regulations without parliamentary oversight (such that it is in these days of blackberry and pagers).

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in Parliament, and a letter reply.

Parliament has been debating the vital bill with the comatosing name, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Yesterday, Bliar made a speech to the CBI which included this bill, presenting it as a purely deregulatory bill

Smarter regulation means doing away with regulations that are outdated or inefficient; fewer regulatory bodies; and it means risk-based enforcement by all regulators, not enforcement by rote.

Our intention is then to measure existing burdens and to set stretching, public targets for de-regulation, to be announced later in the year.

Tonight, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is in its final stages in the House of Commons. This Bill will give us powers to amend legislation to reduce burdens. We need your support.

Deregulation, laudable. It's a shame that this isn't, despite proposed amendments, the only possible affect of the bill. Several of the promised amendments did not make it through the debate due to 'guillotine' reasons. How 'unfortunate'. I would have thought that the sensible thing would be to table the most important amendments first.

Over on 24 dash, a website focussing on public sector news, we see the following:

The legislation - dubbed the Abolition of Parliament Bill for allowing ministers to side-step parliamentary scrutiny - is designed to speed up the process by which redundant laws are changed and cut the burden of regulations.

....

Shadow Corporate Governance minister Jonathon Djanogly accused ministers of failing to fulfil a promise to include a parliamentary veto in the Bill and called for the Houses of Parliament to be given the power to intervene without relying on a select committee.

"Why will the Government simply not accept that this is a matter of great concern to opposition parties ... and deal with the matter now, here, and within the Bill?

"There is an accepted fact in most quarters that the Bill requires adequate safeguards so it is not used in future years as a tool for the executive's abuse of power and the discarding of Parliament.

"The amendments fall far short of the robust and firm veto we would have expected to see in such an important and constitutionally significant piece of legislation."

I've also come across this wider article upon Blair's Legacy:

Since Tony Blair took office in 1997 he has presided over the complete implosion of every fundamental human right in Britain that one would expect to hold in a free society.

The article then enumerates the changes that Blair and co have made. Even if some of the powers are rarely used, the cumulative effect leaves a situation where the powers are open to future abuse - not a good place to be.

Back on the current issue of the LRRB, Bloomberg has an article which starts by discussing how the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill could affect the murder laws (an odd place to begin, to my mind)

Without safeguards on the bill now before Parliament, Heald said government ministers would be able to push through changes to legal definitions without Parliament's approval. While the government maintains the rules will be used to strip away regulations that stifle business, Heald said another administration would be able to abuse the powers to change the definitions of criminal acts including murder and theft, something the bill doesn't intend.

A few days ago I received a reply to my letter upon this bill:

Thank you for your letter of 5 April 2006, to Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, regarding the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

I'm forced to wonder if 'Good old Jim' ever saw the letter... he was, at the time, saying that hardly anyone had written to him on the topic.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to make a real impact on reducing burdensome regulation.

It's a shame that the aim was lousy, missing by a mile.

This Bill is the third attempt by governments since 1994 to have an Act that can improve the way we regulate the public sector, businesses, charities and the voluntary sector.

You'd think they'd have got good at it by now.

Although the World Bank in September 2005 ranked the UK second in the EU (behind Denmark) and ninth in the world for the best business conditions, we must get this Bill right if we are to further strengthen the UK's position.

Unfortunately, the bill is drafted in loose and wideranging terms, and amendments to tighten up the terms are opposed by the government. This isn't 'getting it right'.

Debate about the Bill during its passage through Parliament so far has served to confirm the general consensus that the 2001 Act is not up to the job of delivering the reductions in red tape that businesses, public servants and voluntary workers tell us they need. That's because the 2001 Act is too narrowly defined and too complicated to use. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to deal with these shortcomings.

By having a simplistic and broad bill?

However in its current form, the order-making power in the Bill has caused some concern.

You might say that....

Wilder claims have ranged from government being able to use the power to abolish trial by jury to repealing the Magna Carta.

Wilder claims? 'Anyone who disagrees is making a 'wilder claim'? Besides unless protected on the face of the bill, such changes are possible. Why is this then a wild claim? The claim isn't that these changes are desired, only that they're possible. The implication of refusing to recognise this leads to the conclusion that perhaps this is the purpose of the bill.

These and other far-fetched statements about amending. by order our constitutional arrangements could never happen as a result of the safeguards already in the Bill. Similar wild accusations were made about the 2001 Act and have proved to be groundless.

A false argument. Just because a power in a bill has yet to be used to it's full extent, it does not mean that the power does not exist.

However, the Government want to make it clear beyond doubt that the Bill could not be used to make such constitutional changes.

Yes. Good... on the face of the bill, please, that's where it counts.

The Government have listened to more measured concerns...

Hang on, pointing out that the bill in the form as it then existed could be abused is not 'measured'? ... and the current executive wonder why people are going off them...

... as Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, said it would do at Second Reading and in Committee, about using the power for changes to legislation that would deliver no better regulation benefit. Government amendments have been tabled that will ensure that this Bill can deliver the Government's better regulation agenda and nothing else. These amendments clearly focus the power in Part 1 of the Bill on better regulation objectives.

Now, did these amendments actually make it onto the bill, and are they sufficient? The fact that this was received a day or two before the parliamentary debate is interesting.

The changes to the order making power in Part 1 focus the power so that Ministers can only use orders for the purpose of furthering the better regulation agenda. This will be achieved through a power to remove or reduce burdens, and a power to bring regulatory activity in line with the Better Regulation Commission's five principles of good regulation: that regulation should be proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted.

The definition of burdens proposed differs from that in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The 2001 Act described how legislation could be reformed - by removing legislative restrictions. The power in the proposed amendments focuses on why legislation should be reformed - for the purpose of removing administrative burdens or barriers to productivity etc. This will remove the need for onerous legal analysis when preparing orders which has proved such a constraint on the effective use of the 2001 Act.

Yes, who would want parliament to pass laws that have actually undergone legal analysis? Heaven forfend.

Concentrating the order-making power in this way will allow us to make real changes to the way we regulate. This includes the simplification measures that every department is currently putting together as well as our comprehensive programme to reduce overall administrative burdens for businesses, voluntary organisations and our public services.

Aims of a legislation mean little unless written into the face of the bill

Other better regulation initiatives which this order-making power will allow us to deliver include:

  • the consolidation of legislation to make it easier to understand and work with;
  • ensuring that inspection is risk-based to reduce the burden on those who comply with regulation and concentrate inspection on those who do not;
  • simplifying and making more transparent the ways in which people and businesses need to apply for consent from authorities; and
  • the exemption in certain key instances of Small and Medium Enterprises, charities and others from burdensome regulation to allow them to concentrate their effort where it is most needed.

Laudable aims, but this is one very blunt tool.... it's interesting to consider how inspection might be focussed on those who do not follow regulation. It seems rather chicken and egg. (I know this is semantics, but...)

This Bill is all about driving forward the Government's ambitious programme of better regulation and addressing the recognised weaknesses of the 2001 Regulatory Reform Act. Safeguards already in the Bill ensure that the order-making cannot be used to remove necessary protections, rights or freedoms.

Erm, where are these safeguards, exactly?

The amendments to focus the power on better regulation reinforce these safeguards and ensure that the order making power can only be used to achieve our better regulation objectives.

The safeguards in the Bill will be policed by the Regulatory Reform Committee and its equivalent in the House of Lords, but the Government is strengthening the role of Parliament further with other amendments. There will be a statutory veto to be exercised by the relevant Committee in either House. This means that the Committees will have a statutory power to block an order.

... and the committees are formed by what means?

A further related change is that the period which Parliament has to determine which scrutiny procedure should apply to any order is extended from 21 to 30 days. These two amendments follow commitments made to this effect at Committee stage by Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office.

30 days? <slightly facetious> Crikey. Almost impossible to imagine how the government could put out a clutch of laws at one time to swamp that time period!</slightly facetious>

The combination of an order-making power concentrated on better regulation objectives, the Bill's existing safeguards as well as the statutory Parliamentary veto on the face of the Bill, will allow us all to focus on the substantial challenge that we face: how Government and Parliament can best tackle the burden of regulation placed on our businesses, public services and voluntary organisations.

Finally, the Government is proposing that orders implementing Law Commission recommendations will now be subject to the same restrictions on imposing criminal penalties and authorising forcible entry, search, seizure or compelling the giving of evidence as are applied to other orders.

This is the third attempt at legislation intended to lighten the regulatory load. The Government believe that it is vital to the continued competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the effectiveness of public services and voluntary sector that it delivers on the better regulation agenda - of which this Bill is an important part.

Why does he come back to 'third attempt' as if getting it wrong twice is a good thing. Presumably we're being set up for the fourth attempt...?

Yours,

Sydney G. C. Nash

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill Team

Better Regulation Executive
Cabinet Office
22 Whitehall
Kirkland House
London
SW1 A 2WH

Now, should the man get a response... and if so, where should the response focus?

Any thoughts?

I'm Back!

After a week of downtime on the servers, things are now back... and what a week to be cut off!

Blair government in meltdown, Clarke sacked. Prescott removed from job (but not title or perks....), an apparent climbdown on the potentially disasterous Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (I haven't had a chance to study this.. have we won?)

On the geeky side, I'm now up to 26 geocaches (having got a few in Dorset at the weekend), and I've discovered the wonders of Google Calendar - a lovely application - still in beta and needing improvement, but already pretty damned good!

On server issues, at the moment the email may not be working fully, and the web side of thing has been back for only five minutes - so I'd appreciate any bug reports via comments (or via gmail)

Guardian Comment upon Tony Blair's Observer email exchange

Yesterday, we saw an exchange between Tony Blair and Henry Porter printed in the Observer.

Today, there is a rather good comment piece in The Guardian on this exchange.

Blair's genius, here as so often, is to present ends that we would all find desirable, while implying that his methods are the only means of getting there. Anyone who criticises those methods, whether a judge, journalist or citizen, can thus be presented as an opponent who cannot deliver what he is seeking: a just and free society. His emotional appeal is undeniable. His logic is flawed, indefensible and dangerous.

Bang on the mark, this sums it up so nicely.

On the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill the article has this to say:

It is always impossible to know whether the prime minister is being disingenuous, or whether he is genuinely ignorant. Take his defence of the truly alarming legislative and regulatory reform bill currently going through parliament. This was blandly trailed last year as a measure to cut red tape. When it was published, civil servants were astonished to find it was nothing of the sort. It gave ministers the unprecedented power to change laws by order, rather than going through parliamentary procedures. They could, in theory, use it for almost any purpose, including ending jury trials, sacking judges, or making political protest illegal.

The government resolutely refused to limit the bill while it was in committee. It was only 10 days ago, in the face of media criticism and internal Labour unease, that the government finally conceded that they would restrict some of its powers. Yet no one knows whether this is a major climbdown or a minor tactical concession, since the details haven't been published. You would know nothing of this from Blair, who simply misrepresented the bill as something that would not interfere with basic rights. He dismissed anxieties about it as "more than far-fetched".

The Save Parliament Committee have not been able to comment on the concessions yet as nobody knows what they are.

Jenni Russell's article is well worth a read - and I encourage you to head over to have a look at the full piece.

This piece also appears on the 'Comment is Free' pages, where you can read the piece and then comment.

See also: The Independent's summary. The Sun typically takes a view which most charitably be described as 'sympathetic' to Blair. (Note the perjorative language, e.g. 'bleats'.)

Tony Blair pinned down

Via Tim Worstall I learn that in The Observer Tony Blair has been pinned down a little on issues of Civil Liberties:

For me, it's not comfortable reading.

You say people can only have blank placards outside Parliament and can't protest. Go and look at the placards of those camped outside Parliament - they are most certainly not blank and usually contain words not entirely favourable to your correspondent. Outside Downing Street, virtually every day there are protests of one sort or another.

He is referring here, of course, to Brian Haw. The only reason that he can protest is because he was there before the law was drafted, and the law is not retrospective. This was pointed out in Henry Porter's reply. This doesn't stop the Government trying to oust him. In the meantime, people have been arrested by standing at the cenotaph in Whitehall and reading the names of the dead in Iraq.

We enter the realm of fantasy with your and others' strictures on the Regulatory Reform Bill. This legislation is proposed for a straight-forward reason. Much regulation becomes redundant over time. It's a real problem for business. It costs money and causes hassle, often in circumstances far removed from its original purpose.

In that case, why were strict limits not placed upon the face of the bill? Why was it written in such broad terms? With the law, the intent is irrelevant, the letter is everything. Bad law can have consequences far removed from the original purpose of the law. (For more detail: see Save Parliament)

On the topic of the DNA database:

and as far as I am aware, no one is on the database for dropping litter!

As far as I am aware - a great get out clause if ever I heard it! The point is not whether anyone has been included for dropping litter, but whether this exists as a possibility under the legislation. It's all about loosely framing laws.

I am sorry to tell you: I want us to go further in all these areas.

Oh. Lovely.

And yes, I would go further. I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in, and require them to prove they came by them, lawfully.

Suspected drug dealers? Not proven drug dealers? So, Tony Blair would like to have a system whereby anybody could have their assets seized until they could prove their own innocence?

I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact, I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country.

There is that word, suspected again. If there is solid evidence, make a case. If not there is the presumption of innocence.

Of course the offender has rights; but so has the victim.

This is true. However as a non-offender I do not want a country where the state can 'harry, hassle and hound' people who are merely 'suspected'. This is more worrisome than any other considerations. This is a false dichotomy, protecting the rights of victims does not require the removal of protections from suspected people who may be innocent.

The Observer Blog also discusses this issue.

Update: qwghlm writes on this topic and refers back to the case with Tessa Jowell's Husband, remembering what our Glorious leader said then:

Asked repeatedly if the Prime Minister believed Tessa Jowell's assertion that the money had not come from Prime Minister Berlusconi, the PMOS said that answering the question would mean him getting drawn into the Italian investigation which he was obviously unable to do. He reminded journalists of the importance of keeping the two issues he had outlined earlier separate. He underlined the fact that, in this country, it was important for us to observe the same standards of justice in relation to a foreign case as we would expect in a domestic case. That meant maintaining the tradition that someone was innocent unless proven guilty.

Qwghlm says in response to this: 'You're a suspect. My mate is innocent. Remember that difference.'

An appropriate observation

Government Backs down over the Totalitarianism (Legislative and Regulatory Reform) bill

I've been away for a while, and I return to learn, via The Save Parliament Blog that "The Government has backed down over the so-called "dictatorship Bill”, which would have allowed ministers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny.". It looks like a win, but it's not enough:

"Mr Murphy promised yesterday to give a statutory veto to the regulatory reform select committees in the Commons and Lords, allowing them to block fast-track changes. Some critics say that this does not go far enough."

If I remember correctly, the government can change the makeup of a select committee, so this 'safeguard' doesn't seem too secure.

We shall have to wait for the amendments to see if this truly is a reversal.

Chicken Yoghurt and Backing Blair

Don't Vote Labour Chicken Yoghurt reminds us of the 'Backing Blair' campaign, and lists all the reasons why people should vote against Labour in the upcoming local elections.

To my mind, a lot of these problems are not purely to do with Tony - they'd outlive him, but it's a good start.

Of these, the most worrying to me is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill

For people thinking that these laws could never be abused, remember the guy who was forcefully ejected under terrorism legislation for calling out 'Rubbish!' at the Labour Conference (whilst being told that he was free to call out such things from the stage)? Just a couple of days ago a man was hauled off of an aeroplane because he listened to 'London's Calling' in the taxi.

I kid you not.

The current executive is moving us slowly and surely in a direction that could charitably be described as 'not good'. The ballot box is a place where we can act.

Unfortunately for me, I live in a Tory safe area (with Lib Dem is second and labour nowhere to be seen) - so it's not clear exactly how I can protest via the ballot box, but there are many people out there who can.

The Abolition of Parliament on Conservative Home

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has received prominent placing on the homepage of Conservative Home. This is a link to today's entry.

The article itself is here

Here's the text of the article, though it's much better if you go to the source:

Phil Peter: The Abolition of Parliament

Phil Peter of the Save Parliament Campaign writes about Labour's Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

The Government are attempting to push through a bill that is threatening not only democracy but also the very purpose of Parliament. It's called the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and it's starting to cause a big stir thanks to it's wide-ranging implications. The bill will "give the power to create new laws and regulations, without proper detailed scrutiny by Parliament, to a Minister” (SpyBlog) as well as the ability to amend existing legislation, including the Human Rights Act, Civil Contingencies Act and this new act itself.

It has been said that the bill is in Labour's 2005 manifesto, prompting fears that this bill would have to be allowed through the Lords. However, this simply isn't true. The only part of the manifesto which gets close to this issue is one line; "We will only regulate where necessary and will set exacting targets for reducing the costs of administering regulations.”

The Government are also pushing this bill through under the guise of deregulation, dressing it up to be their implementation on the Hampton Review. In a press release from May 2005, Gordon Brown announced the "Better Regulation Action Plan” which mentioned the introduction to Parliament in "early 2006” of the Better Regulation Bill. This bill has become the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and contains nothing about deregulation.

In fact, the bill not only lacks any mention of deregulation (the core purpose of this bill) but also any safeguards to stop this bill being used by current or future Governments alike to govern by ministerial edict.

Oliver Heald, MP (Conservative, North East Hertfordshire) has tabled key amendments to the bill for debate after Easter and has warned the Government that if appropriate safeguards are not included this bill will not make its way through the Commons. Mr Heald has taken a lead role in opposing this bill and has written on the subject and even called upon voters to take action.

He is not the only one to express concern about the bill. Lord Grocott, the Government's chief whip in the Lords has written to Tony Blair outlining "the inadequacy of the existing safeguards on the face of the Bill” and warned that unless major changes are made to the bill, it will not be allowed through.

The view is shared with the Liberal Democrats who are set to fully oppose the bill, as are the Greens.  Save Parliament, the campaign set up to oppose this bill now has over 1,400 members who have signed up to express their dissatisfaction with the bill and more are joining from all over the country every day.

If the Government do not make the amendments tabled by Oliver Heald this bill cannot be allowed to go through Parliament. It is simply too wide-ranging and gives both this and future Governments too much power, undermining Parliament and threatening 700 years of democracy in the UK.

Herald Letters on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Today's Herald has a nice set of Letters on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill.

Here are some highlights:

Words and symbols can be designed to repel as well as attract. This is a clue to readers like Alan Sinclair puzzled by the "deathly and mysterious silence on this measure" – the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill....

...It is unmemorable and almost unpronounceable. Visually unattractive, this ugly chunk of blurb makes us yawn and turn away...

...Today, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill offers ministers analogous powers to that of the ring in Tolkien's novel – power to act untrammelled by parliament or any other check than their own desires. Blair wants it, as do Brown, Milliband, Milburn, Clarke; which is why they do not oppose its passage. This is precisely why they are not fit to have it and must not get it...

...It fulfils perfectly the vision of Big Brother in Orwell's 1984...

For more on this bill, see the website, or have a browse of my entries on this topic

There are newspaper articles to browse here, including articles from The Observer (A dangerous lust for power), The Telegraph (Labour isn't wicked - but it's doing just what the Nazis did) and even the Financial Times! (A bill that replaces ministerial duties with divine rights)

Now is the time to act, you can write to your MP, they do reply, your letter will have extra influence in a Labour constituency . Write to some Lords, write to the newspapers. You can have your say and the time is now.

Paul Flynn MP (Labour) on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Paul Flynn MP has broken Labour ranks to speak out against the legislative and regulatory reform bill.

The article says:

The government's Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill intends to let ministers make up a law, and make it law, without taking it through Parliament first.1 The Bill is now set for its final reading in the House of Commons. And every Labour MP has so far voted for it.

'We were misinformed' says Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport. In a recent interview he is the first to break ranks and admit this. 'We accepted it at face value. It hadn't been properly discussed. It didn't emerge on the radar. We accepted the assurances that it was a deregulatory Bill, with no malign effects.' He was, he added, very unhappy.

The article finishes with:

As indeed, they might. It is possibly worth noting that, in local government, it is quite common to suggest an idea so outrageous that, after the expected outcry, the administration can gracefully back down – and get their original intentions passed without opposition. But here, this does not seem to be the case. According to Oliver Heald, when asked why the Bill did not contain the orginal recommendations concerning business regulation, Murphy replied 'We have wider ambitions than that'.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is an urgent topic. It is due for its third and final reading in the House of Commons around Easter. Over the last few days many more people have become exercised about it, largely because lawyers, journalists and bloggers have kept up the pressure.

So there you have it, make a noise. Write to your MP, they do reply, your letter will have extra influence in a Labour constituency . Write to some Lords, write to the newspapers. You can have your say and the time is now.

For more on this bill, see the website, or have a browse of my entries on this topic

There are newspaper articles to browse here, including articles from The Observer (A dangerous lust for power), The Telegraph (Labour isn't wicked - but it's doing just what the Nazis did) and even the Financial Times! (A bill that replaces ministerial duties with divine rights)

Update: Looking back at one of the articles I prepared earlier (and linked to above), Paul Flynn is a 'usual suspect' - and so "Shock, regular rebel rebels" isn't too great a headline. What we really need is a 'not the usual suspect' to take a stand, as Robin Cook did with Iraq, gaining a lot of credibility with the electorate in the process.

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.

Oliver Heald Urges Voters to Take Action

On this blog, Oliver Heald has urged voters to take action. His post is attached to one of my previous entries. He is right. After learning of the problem, People need to take action. This includes you, dear reader.

(Thanks to the Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill for the link)

All of my posts on this topic are collected here.