Michael Gove

Michael Gove Replies: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

My MP, Michael Gove, has responded to my letter about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Overall it's a pretty satisfactory response, I think.

I have some concern about the level of 'concession' that he, and by extension, the Tories, would deem appropriate, but that remains to be seen

16th March 2006

Dear ()

RE: LEGISLATIVE & REGULATORY REFORM BILL

Thank you for your letter dated 25th February concerning the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

The Government claims that the Bill is designed to reduce regulation, red tape and bureaucracy. I believe that we would all support this aspiration, but unfortunately the Bill fails to deliver. There is no reference in it to deregulation. Instead, a wide power is granted to Ministers to amend, repeal or introduce new law, using a fast track Order making power. It extends the powers available to Ministers, whilst relaxing the constraints of Parliamentary scrutiny.

Conservatives have been active in the debates in Parliament about this Bill. Oliver Heald MP, Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary, has called for clear safeguards, so that the Bill concentrates on deregulation and only allows Ministers to use the powers in the Bill for non-controversial changes. The Bill is currently before a Committee of the House and it is possible to follow these proceedings via the Parliamentary website, www.parliament.uk. Oliver Heald has described the Bill as "a major move away from primary legislation towards Government by Ministerial edict" That is why our Team is putting forward dozens of amendments to the Bill and arguing strongly for their inclusion.

Following concerted pressure from Oliver Heald in Committee, and his letter published in The Times on 28th February, the Government has agreed to table amendments to write a clear veto for the Regulatory Reform Committee over any order into the Bill. This was described by the Minister in charge of the Bill, Jim Murphy MP, as a "great concession", and certainly goes some way towards allaying my concerns.

I can assure you that we are continuing to work hard to ensure that the necessary safeguards are built into the Bill and that Parliament is not sidelined.

Yours Sincerely

Michael Gove MP

I looked at the Times, and am probably missing the obvious, but I could only find this letter which was published on the 2nd March from Oliver Heald. On the 1st, Jim Murphy writes a case for the bill, which makes me wonder if he's looking at the same draft as the rest of us.

The only article I could find for the 28th was this one, which concludes:

Until now, ministers have recognised that the parliamentary process is a necessary element of a democracy, and that it may even improve the quality of legislation. It speaks volumes for the ever-increasing arrogance of this Government that it has introduced the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and does not even understand the opposition to it.

Letter to Michael Gove MP regarding the Totalitarianism Bill

Imagine John Prescott with even more power

Adapted from the letter to various Lords, this is the letter sent to my MP, Michael Gove (Tory), see also these previous articles.

Dear Mr. Gove,

I am writing to you as I have great concern regarding the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill".

This bill has a disarmingly benign title and aim; after all, who could oppose a bill designed to cut red tape?

To my, admittedly inexpert, eye, the bill seems to give ministers the power to create arbitrary new offences with penalties of up to two years without reference to parliament. More than this, the bill allows any piece of legislation, including itself, to be amended. Regardless of the intent of the bill, such a bill is, at best, ill advised. Even if one attributes the best of intentions to the current government, one should not have laws which rely upon good intentions – we cannot guarantee that such a law will never be abused. I would like to draw your attention to Section 1, Section 3 and Section 6.

This piece of legislation, which is woefully out of the public eye, has the potential to be one of the most, if not the most damaging piece of legislation passed by this government.

Please allow me to emphasise that I am concerned that such laws could be abused by some future Government, and that even if the laws are made with the best of intentions now, the potential for such abuse must not be built in.

Yours Sincerely,

Further Reading:

English Parliament and Electoral Reform: A reply from Michael Gove MP

I have received a reply from Michael Gove to my previous letter. I've also received a reply from the department of constitutional affairs. This will appear later. I'll write the responses sometime over the weekend. The issues covered here are the English Parliament and electoral reform

9th June, 2005

Thank you for your letter of 27th May. You make a series of interesting points. Funnily enough just after replying to your previous letter I read a piece by Matthew Parris in The Times which encapsulated, even better than Jack Straw's article, my main feelings on changing the electoral system. I appreciate that the Single Transferable Vote and AV+ are among the more attractive PR systems available, but I still believe that first past the post is the best means of securing effective Government.

I do, however, believe there may be a case for a form of Proportional Representation in Assemblies which are more deliberative and I am open-minded on the case for PR in a future reformed second Chamber.

You am quite right to bring me up short for my failure to answer your question on England. I think there is a problem for English voters now that Scotland has a Parliament and Wales has an Assembly. I suspect the answer may be something close to the proposal outlined by William Hague when he argued that laws which apply only to England need to have the support of a majority of English MPs. But these are difficult matters to navigate and I do not have a definitive view on precisely the right means of addressing the problem you correctly identified. I know you will still find this answer unsatisfactory but thank you, nevertheless, for taking such an informed interest in this important question.

Yours Sincerely,

MICHAEL GOVE

I have several points I will be making in response (not least of which being my amusement that he doesn't view the commons as deliberative, but admiration at his honesty).

If you have spotted things which need comment, please use the comment form for this article. It may duplicate my list, but there is no harm in that!

Update: This post mentioned in Britblog

Electoral Reform - a reply from my MP

I wrote to Michael Gove MP on the issue of electoral reform, and this is what he had to say in response.

Thank you very much for writing.

I would like to think that I am open minded about all proposals to make our electoral system work better. But I have to say that the direct accountability of our current system seems to me to have many advantages. Even though he is not, of course, a Conservative the arguments made by Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary in The Guardian recently seem to me to make a persuasive case for the maintenance of the current system.

Yours sincerely

Michael Gove MP

This is my response:

Dear Mr. Gove,

Thank you for your reply to my letter of the 6th May.

I am pleased to hear that you're open minded about proposals to make the electoral system better, and am glad that you are supportive of a system which allows direct accountability.

May I venture to suggest that the current system actually inhibits accountability at a national level given that a voter in a marginal seat has much more power than a voter who lives in a safe seat?

If you are referring to Jack Straw's article of the 12th May (available on the Guardian website), it seems that Jack Straw was writing against the use of list-based PR at Westminster. Quite right too, as it would be biased against independents.

As I mentioned in my original letter, AV+ (as proposed by Lord Jenkins) maintains a constituency link, and hence maintains accountability.

Still better than AV+ is the Single Transferable Vote which has no "list based" element at all. This would allow voters to say "I'd prefer A, wouldn't mind B, but would prefer them both to C". This preference is at the level of individuals and not parties. In a stroke this eliminates the need for tactical voting, as people can express their true preference without a need to worry about "splitting the opposition vote". Under a current system it would be possible for an MP who has the support of only 30% of the population to have three "protest" candidates gain 70% between then and still be elected. Under STV, the voters would be able to express preferences between the "protest" candidates without harming the chances of their protest being unheard.

STV would not provide "proportionality" in terms of first choice, but it would give a government which most people can feel engaged with – it would provide a much "better fit" than the existing system. STV is used for the Australian Senate, the Republic of Ireland, and several other governments.

In short, STV is a system which keeps local accountability, can still provide strong government (it is not "proportional") and it allows voters to express preferences between candidates. It is also easy to understand for the voter; they just rank the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4 etc…

This is electoral reform where strong governments can be formed and where those governments do represent the true preferences of the people.

I would be interested to learn your views on STV, and hope that you will give the issue of electoral reform further consideration – list based PR is not the only alternative to first past the post.

I still await your views upon the second question I raised in my original letter.

Yours Sincerely,

The government has formed a sub-committee to look at these issues. The list of names does little to inspire confidence in this humble voter. I hope I'm wrong in my scepticism.

Edit: Above letter modified slightly.

Letter to my New MP on electoral reform

Today, I wrote my first letter to my new MP, Michael Gove.

Dear Mr. Gove,

Given that Labour have attained a substantial majority of seats, almost double that of the Conservatives despite having only achieved about 3% more of the popular vote, I am writing to learn your views on electoral reform.

In 1997, Labour promised electoral reform as part of their manifesto. Despite a 1998 recommendation to move to the AV+ system, this promise was quietly dropped. AV+ maintains a constituency link and allows voters to select individuals (as opposed to the list based PR system)

If you support the current system, I would be interested to learn your reasons, especially as it seems self evident that the electoral system itself is responsible for much of what politicians like to call "voter apathy".

If you do support electoral reform, I would be pleased to hear how you intend to challenge the government and promote this issue.

In addition, England remains the one part of the United Kingdom without national representation, Scottish MPs in Westminster vote on matters which they know will not affect their own constituents. I would like to learn your views on this matter, and how you plan to redress this democratic deficit. This topic holds some potential interest given that your party has beaten Labour in England, a cynic may wonder if this is the reason that powers haven't been devolved to England.

As with previous letters, when I get a reply I'll scan it for you. (I did forget to scan a couple in the past, oops, sorry, nothing too important!)

I have sent a modified version of this letter to Number 10.

Dear Mr. Blair,

I am writing this in the hope that this makes its way to your desk and that you are continuing to listen to the electorate as you said this morning. Labour have attained a substantial, albeit diminished, majority of seats, almost double that of the Conservatives despite having only achieved about 3% more of the popular vote. Given this, I am writing to learn your views on electoral reform.

In 1997, Labour promised electoral reform as part of their manifesto. Despite a 1998 recommendation to move to the AV+ system, this promise was quietly dropped. AV+ maintains a constituency link and allows voters to select individuals, thus not penalizing independents (as opposed to the list based PR system).

If you support the current system, I would be interested to learn your reasons, especially as it seems self evident that the electoral system itself is responsible for much of what politicians like to call "voter apathy". It might seem that your support for first past the post stems from the advantage which it gives the Labour party. I would hope that this appearance is incorrect.

If you do support electoral reform, then I am thrilled. I would be pleased to hear how you intend to promote this issue.

In addition, England remains the one part of the United Kingdom without national representation, Scottish MPs in Westminster vote on matters which they know will not affect their own constituents. I would like to learn your views on this matter, and how you plan to redress this democratic deficit. Given that the Conservatives won the popular vote in England, a cynic may wonder if this is the reason that powers haven't been devolved to England. I am sure that this is not the case, and I would like to understand the reasons why England seems to be treated as a special case within the UK.

Edit 6th May: Make My Vote Count points out an article from the FT.

Edit 13th May: A good letter to Gordon Brown

Edit 24th May: A holding letter from Downing Street. As of now, my MP has yet to reply.

House Arrest and my Prospective MP (Tory)

I've received a reply from the Conservative Candidate in my area regarding the house arrest of terror suspects.

My apologies for not replying earlier.

I take the threat of terrorism very seriously. Which is why I want to see terrorists face trial and be punished, not be placed under house arrest at the request of the executive.

I'm sorry you found it so hard to find my website. I'll explore what we can do to ensure a higher profile. And thanks also for your blog tips

(I made some comments about putting in an RSS feed, and how it was so difficult to find out who the conservative candidate was given that the current guy was deselected - though I don't support the chap in all things, he'll probably be my MP as this is a safe seat and I want to keep tabs on what he's doing.)