Letters

People in favour of an English Parliament

Via Toque we see that in a Mori poll, 41% of people favoured an English parliament. This sounds like 59% don't, but not so:

41 per cent said they favoured an English Parliament 'with similar law-making powers to the Scottish Parliament' and Only 32 per cent said they were happy with an unchanged House of Commons.

Source: The Observer via Guardian Unlimited

Presumably this means that 27% are either in the 'don't know' or 'English votes for English MPs' category.

This undermines Lord Falconers' previous statements on the issue, on the 'Today' programme he said the following:

That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues.

Under first past the post (which our current government seems to favour) that means that the English parliament idea is the winner.

He also argued that an English Parliament would inexorably lead to the break up of the UK (but a Scottish Parliament would not).

It's about time I wrote another letter....

Dear Lord Falconer

On Friday 10th March this year, you appeared on "The Today Programme". In the interview you discussed many things, not least of which was the anomaly that is the lack of parity between England and Scotland with regard to representation. There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?
Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

You gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but you did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that you addressed these issues and so am turning to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that you said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

I am writing at this stage due to a poll reported today in the Observer (it's also reported on "Guardian Unlimited"):

The poll says that 41% favour an English parliament with 32% favouring an unchanged house of commons. Presumably the rest are in favour of "English votes for English MPs" or are "don't know".

If this were a general election, under "first past the post" the English Parliament proposal would be a clear winner. Given this, have you revised your view that there is no demand at all for devolution to England?

We now have a situation where you have admitted that anomalies exist, though you did not indicate how you would solve them. We also have a situation where you have stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear what your next step will be in resolving this anomaly in our constitutional arrangements. If you do not deem that a solution is needed, then I would ask how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot – and why one would necessarily lead to the break up of the Union and the other would not.

I look forward to your considered response.

Yours Sincerely,

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?

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.

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 Lord Falconer - English parliament

This letter will be going to Lord Falconer:

Dear Lord Falconer

Last Friday, you appeared on "The Today Programme". In the interview you discussed many things, not least of which was the anomaly that is the lack of parity between England and Scotland with regard to representation. There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?

Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

You gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but you did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that you addressed these issues and so am turning to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that you said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

In addition, since the broadcast there has been a poll on the BBC News website running at over 5 to 2 in favour of the English Parliament. As I write there have been some 2752 votes with over 72% in favour. Also, in the introduction to "Any Answers" on Saturday, Jonathan Dimbleby said "We have been deluged with calls and emails on this issue.”

We now have a situation where you have admitted that anomalies exist, though you did not indicate how you would solve them. We also have a situation where you have stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear what your next step will be in resolving this anomaly in our constitutional arrangements. If you do not deem that a solution is not needed, then I would ask how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot – and why one would necessarily lead to the break up of the Union and the other would not.

I look forward to your considered response.

Letter to Harriet 'no anomalies' Harman - English Parliament

This letter has been drafted for sending off to Harriet 'no anomalies' Harman.

Ten months ago I wrote to you after an appearance on "Question Time", a letter to which I never received a reply. To refresh your memory, there was a question about constitutional anomalies. At the time I was surprised that as a Constitutional Affairs Minister you said "What anomalies?".

This was surprising given the disparity between, for example, England and Scotland and the fact that one has the trappings of nationhood, and the other does not.

Last Friday, the Lord Chancellor appeared on "The Today Programme". There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?

Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

The Lord Chancellor gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but he did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that the Lord Chancellor adequately addressed these issues and so am turning back to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that the Lord Chancellor said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

In addition, since the broadcast there has been a poll on the BBC News website running at over 5 to 2 in favour of the English Parliament. As I write there have been some 2752 votes with over 72% in favour. Also, in the introduction to "Any Answers" on Saturday, Jonathan Dimbleby said "We have been deluged with calls and emails on this issue."

We now have a situation where the Lord Chancellor has admitted that anomalies exist, though he did not indicate how he would solve them. We also have a situation where he has stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear your views on these matters and, in particular, how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot.

I look forward to your considered response.

Reply from Lords Ashdown - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

I've had a reply from Lord Ashdown regarding my letter about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I'm not sure whether to take this as a form letter from someone who didn't read the original, or as a brief letter from a busy man. I'd like to think the latter. I'm inclined to think the former.

House of Lords

Thank you very much for your letter of the 25th February 2006.

I am grateful to you for writing to me with your views. I read these with much interest and I will take your views into consideration when matters come before the House of Lords.

Yours sincerely

Paddy Ashdown

The Cabinet Office writes on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Baroness Amos' office forwarded my letter onto the Cabinet Office.

They have written to me with this reply. It really does need a response. I have a few ideas, but any comments would be gratefully received.

Dieu et mon droit

Better Regulation Executive

6th Floor
22 Whitehall
London
SW1A 2WH
Telephone 020 7276 2155
Fax 020 7276 2138

8 March 2006

Dear Mr. ()

Thank you for your letter of 25 February 2006 to Lady Amos concerning, amongst other things, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I have been asked to reply on her behalf.

The purpose of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is to replace the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, to make it quicker and easier to reform legislation, to support the Government's aim of bringing about risk-based, proportionate and targeted regulation and to make provisions about legislation relating to the European Communities.

Within the Bill there are rigorous safeguards which prevent orders from being made without proper consideration. In particular, a Minister cannot make an order under Part 1 unless he considers that certain conditions are satisfied. Furthermore, a Minister is under a statutory duty to consult on any proposals made. Where a Minister considers it appropriate to proceed with a proposal following consultation, they must lay an explanatory document with the draft order before Parliament.

The Bill also contains a number of procedural safeguards. For example, while it is for the Minister to recommend which level of parliamentary scrutiny they consider to be appropriate for an order, the ultimate determination always rests with Parliament, which can require that more rigorous scrutiny take place. This could either be affirmative procedure, which requires that the relevant committee has forty days to scrutinise a proposal, after which a proposal must be approved by both Houses, or the super-affirmative procedure which requires that the relevant committee has sixty days to scrutinise a proposal after which the proposal must be approved by both Houses.

In addition to these safeguards, the Government has undertaken not to use the order-making powers in the Bill to effect highly controversial measures and the statutory consultation process would identify any proposals that fall into this category. Furthermore, the Government has undertaken not to force any order through in the face of opposition from a committee of either House.

I hope that this allays any concerns that you may have regarding the Bill.

Yours,

(Civil Servant)

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill Team
22 Whitehall
Kirkland House
London
SW1A 2Wh
020 7276 2155

This is a detailed reply, but it's essentially what I expected. There are several points here which I could come back on, however I want to be sure I don't miss anything, so before I consider a response, I'd be interested to hear any comments. (Please use the on site comment form - indicate if you don't want your comment to appear on the site)

See also:

Bishop of Winchester replies - Legislative and Regulatory Reform, Glorification and ID cards.

I've had my first reply from a Bishop member of the Lords regarding my letter about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. The Bishop of Winchester seems to have replied personally, and he has replied in detail.

Bishop of Winchester Letterhead

The Bishop of Winchester

The Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt

Wolvesey, Winchester S023 9ND
Telephone: 01962 854050 Facsimile: 01962 897088
Email: (email address removed - anti spam reasons)
www.winchester.anglican.org

8 March 2006

Dear (),

Thank you very much for your letter of 25 February with your comments on three current pieces of Government legislation. I was glad to receive this and have noted carefully what you say and particularly take your point that, however well intentioned legislation affecting civil liberties may be, we must be vigilant to ensure that there is no uncertainty or scope for possible abuse by a future Government - a view with which I have considerable sympathy.

Dealing with your concerns in turn, my perception is that while the avowed intentions of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill are unexceptionable in terms of facilitating the deregulation of business, as it stands the Bill gives very sweeping powers to Ministers to enact legislation by Order with inadequate checks and balances, and that further safeguards are needed. I shall follow this as closely as possible, and anticipate that these wider constitutional aspects will feature prominently in the Bill's consideration in the House of Lords.

As for the Terrorism Bill, I have consistently opposed the "glorification" provision and was present in the House and voted with the majority for the amendment removing this.

As for the Identity Cards Bill, I share the scepticism which has been expressed in various quarters about whether the Bill will achieve its intended objectives and I have considerable reservations - both of principle about the encroachment on privacy and the disclosure of information without consent, and also of practical consequence causing me to question the effectiveness and cost of such a scheme. I am afraid, though, that I was not able to be present for the Bill's consideration in the House on 6 March.

With my very warm thanks for your letter and for your shrewd comments,

Yours sincerely

(Signature)

A very thoughtful and detailed reply - and it's also encouraging that he seems to agree with the points I raised.

This morning I received a reply from the Cabinet Office, from Baroness Amos' forwarded letter. This will be posted later on today... it will need a rebuttal.

David Howarth MP replies - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

David Howarth MP has replied to my letter of support, following an exchange in parliament between David Howarth MP and Geoff Hoon MP, where Geoff Hoon MP replied in what I consider a disgraceful way

House of Commons Letterhead

Dear ()

Thank you for your letter of 25 February about the article that I wrote highlighting the serious effects of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

I am pleased that you are able to support the action I have taken in drawing attention to this pernicious Bill, which, if passed, will have such severe repercussions for our democratic state.

What can be done? For my part, I have been appointed to the Committee examining the Bill line by line and am in touch with top legal advisers to see what amendments can be made to dilute to effects of this Bill.

For your part, highlighting the effects of this Bill widely to your contacts may help to increase the pressure on the Government to withdraw the Bill, or at least to remove some of its more oppressive effects. 1 hope that effective lobbying will help to secure the backing of a greater number of MPs.

I shall continue to work to achieve what I can.

Yours sincerely

(Signature)

David Howarth
Member of Parliament for Cambridge

Now, on the downside, this looks like a form letter to me, as I was actually writing about the parliamentary exchange not the Times article directly. However, looking at the upside, this implies that there has been a sufficient volume of correspondance on this issue - this is a good thing. I just hope that it extends to more than just Mr. Howarth.

Baroness Amos 'replies' - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

I've had my first reply from a member of the Lords regarding my letter about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Unfortunately it's the classic 'non-reply reply'. Also, it's not from the member themselves, Baroness Amos in this case, but a flunky.

I now expect a bland letter from the appropriate ministry.

Baroness Amos LetterHead

6 March 2006

Dear *****

Thank you for your letter of 25 February 2006 to Baroness Amos. She has asked me to reply.

She has noted your concerns about several bills which are progressing through Parliament, the issues you raise are not the responsibility of the Leader of the House of Lords therefore your letter is being sent to the Home Office and the Cabinet Office for a helpful reply.

Yours sincerely

(Name)

Support Officer to the Leader of the House of Lords

A helpful reply would have been 'Yes, I'm aware of all these things and I do/do not support them, and will/will not oppose them'. Instead I'll get a justification from the various ministries trying to push these things through.

No Replies Yet - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

I have yet to receive a reply from my letters regarding the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill (aka The Abolition of Parliament Bill, or Totalitarianism Enabling Act). Fortunately, the mainstream media are gradually catching up with the net on the problems with this bill, as today's Observer demonstrates.

However, it has yet to hit the public eye in any real way.

It is still out of the public eye, I suspect, to the deviously boring title. There have only been 40 articles in the mainstream media over the past month (as of right now), this compares to some thousands in the past few days for Tessa Jowell. I know which one is more important - unfortunately Tessa Jowell is much more 'newsworthy'. Google Blogsearch has some 140 entries and Technorati has over 650 entries. Contrary to what the esteemed Tim Worstall might think, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, this bill IS unnoticed - even on technorati, Tessa Jowell has collected more posts in a few days than this appalling bill has had for all of february.

This is not a good state of affairs.

I still await the replies - and am thinking about the 'public eye' problem. What it really needs to go mainstream is for someone like Rory Bremner or 'The News Quiz' to start to satire it... or for someone with a public profile to pick up the cause and tubthump for a while. Ming Campbell? Boris Johnson?... Jeremy Paxman?(!)

Legislative and Regulatory Reform: Replies from my letters due

My letters regarding the Legislative and Regulatory reform bill (aka the Totalitarianism bill, or abolition of parliament bill) should have all arrived at their destinations on the 28th february. This means that I could start to see replies from today. Start timing.

More importantly, start writing.

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:

Serious question on the Totalitarianism Bill deflected

In a shameful display, Geoff Hoon (Labour) deflected a perfectly reasonably question upon the 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill' from David Howarth (Lib Dem).

Aside: See all my writings on this topic here

David Howarth said:

I hope that the Leader of the House has had a chance to read a letter in The Times today from six professors of law at Cambridge university, expressing their concern about the extraordinary powers granted to the Government by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is now widely known as the "Abolition of Parliament Bill". Will he take steps to rescind the decision of the House last Thursday not to consider the Bill in a Committee of the whole House but to take it upstairs? Surely, given the Bill's massive constitutional importance and the seriousness of what part 1 does to the House's powers, all Members should have the opportunity to discuss it in detail on the Floor of the House.

To which Geoff Hoon replied:

I know that the hon. Gentleman is on temporary, sabbatical leave from the university of Cambridge. We are delighted to have him here for a relatively short time while he represents the people of Cambridge. I hope that he did not stimulate that letter in The Times from his former colleagues in the law faculty at Cambridge university. I know that he is a distinguished lawyer and anxious to get back to academic life as soon as possible, but before he does so he will of course have the opportunity to debate the Bill in Committee in detail, and we look forward to his observations.

Thus using his answer to make pot shots and irrelevant points, whilst ignoring the substantive issue at hand. Shame.

On the 'They Work For You' site, Francis Irving commented:

He doesn't answer the substantive point which David Howarth raises - that the proposed Abolition of Parliament Bill (the so called "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill") is of sufficient constitutional importance that it should be debated on the floor of the house.

Instead, he starts irrelevantly discussing the potential results in Cambridge at the next General Election (3 or 4 years away). He goes on to imply that law academics shouldn't comment on a law with significant constitutional impact.

Neale Upstone says:

David Howarth asks a serious point about democracy in this country, and Geoff Hoon uses it to take pot shots.

Frankly, that doesn't surprise me, when what has gone on the last few hears in the Labour government has eroded so much of the freedom they're preaching to the rest of the world about.

I could not agree more. Geoff Hoon's response may have shown 'good debating skill', but it was disgraceful.

David Howarth has written on this subject in The Times

This letter is being sent to David Howarth:

Dear Mr. Howarth,

I am writing to you as I have great concern regarding the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill". I was very pleased when you raised this in parliament, saying:

"I hope that the Leader of the House has had a chance to read a letter in The Times today from six professors of law at Cambridge university, expressing their concern about the extraordinary powers granted to the Government by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is now widely known as the "Abolition of Parliament Bill". Will he take steps to rescind the decision of the House last Thursday not to consider the Bill in a Committee of the whole House but to take it upstairs? Surely, given the Bill's massive constitutional importance and the seriousness of what part 1 does to the House's powers, all Members should have the opportunity to discuss it in detail on the Floor of the House."

In contrast, I was appalled my Mr. Hoon's reply, which seemed nothing more than an cheap attempt to sidestep the question, to cast aspersions upon your character and to score points.

"I know that the hon. Gentleman is on temporary, sabbatical leave from the university of Cambridge. We are delighted to have him here for a relatively short time while he represents the people of Cambridge. I hope that he did not stimulate that letter in The Times from his former colleagues in the law faculty at Cambridge university. I know that he is a distinguished lawyer and anxious to get back to academic life as soon as possible, but before he does so he will of course have the opportunity to debate the Bill in Committee in detail, and we look forward to his observations."

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. I would encourage you to keep up with your efforts. 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.

Geoff Hoon himself is getting this letter:

Dear Mr. Hoon,

I am writing to you as I have great concern regarding the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill". Mr. David Howarth raised a point in reasonable point regarding this bill in parliament:

"I hope that the Leader of the House has had a chance to read a letter in The Times today from six professors of law at Cambridge university, expressing their concern about the extraordinary powers granted to the Government by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is now widely known as the "Abolition of Parliament Bill". Will he take steps to rescind the decision of the House last Thursday not to consider the Bill in a Committee of the whole House but to take it upstairs? Surely, given the Bill's massive constitutional importance and the seriousness of what part 1 does to the House's powers, all Members should have the opportunity to discuss it in detail on the Floor of the House."

In contrast, I was appalled by your reply, which seemed nothing more than an attempt to sidestep the question, to cast aspersions upon the character of your fellow MP and to score political points.

"I know that the hon. Gentleman is on temporary, sabbatical leave from the university of Cambridge. We are delighted to have him here for a relatively short time while he represents the people of Cambridge. I hope that he did not stimulate that letter in The Times from his former colleagues in the law faculty at Cambridge university. I know that he is a distinguished lawyer and anxious to get back to academic life as soon as possible, but before he does so he will of course have the opportunity to debate the Bill in Committee in detail, and we look forward to his observations."

It is disturbing that you don't seem to acknowledge the seriousness of the concerns which surround this bill, and I would encourage you to give it the parliamentary hearing that a bill of this magnitude deserves.

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.

Further Reading:

Letters to the Lords regarding the Totalitarianism Bill

My name is parliament and Tony Blair wants to neuter me

As regular readers of this website will know, I have become concerned with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, as seen in these previous articles.

Therefore it's time for another letter writing campaign. This time I'm sending letters to various Lords. I've made a selection which is cross party, choosing links with my area (where I can) and going for name recognition where I cannot find a link. I have a Bishop, a couple of Law Lords, and several others.

Dear Lord (),

I am writing to a selection of members of the House of Lords because I am concerned about several recent bills which are progressing through Parliament. It is my opinion that several of these bills have serious implications for civil liberties and practical enforcement, and in at least one case the bill is unnecessary.

I know that you are very busy, so please accept my apologies for such a long letter. I do hope that you are able to find the time to consider the points within.

My first concern is for 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.

My second concern is for the "Glorification" of Terrorism Bill. The Prime Minister said that not to pass the bill would be to send out the wrong message. I was under the impression that the job of Parliament was to find a workable, necessary set of laws. It is hard to think of a piece of legislation which is as unnecessary as this one.

Under existing laws, the recent protests outside the Danish embassy were already offences as they were incitements to commit murder. Abu Hamsa was convicted under existing laws. It is hard to think of situations where current laws do not allow action to be taken in such situations. Unfortunately, it is all to easy to conceive of situations where the new "Glorification" act could be misapplied.

Would it have been illegal to support the fight against apartheid in South Africa – and what of the Palestinians? Would condemning some of the actions of the USA and UK in Iraq fall foul of this legislation as it gives tacit support (even if this was not intended) to the "insurgents"?

What about Robin Hood, a fictional character who could be classed a terrorist as he used violent means against the authority of the day?

Could Frederick Forsyth and his ilk find themselves in court if their latest blockbuster deals with a terrorist attack from the point of view of the attacker?

Without a definition that is easy to understand, the law is ill-defined and therefore hard to enforce. Coupled with the fact that cases that most people would recognize as needing to be dealt with are already covered by existing law, the "Glorification" law is not required.

The final concern I have is for both the ID card legislation and the disingenuity displayed in getting it through the commons – I refer to the "lack of compulsion". This is unless, of course, one requires a passport. The ID card system has not been justified in terms of a cost/benefit analysis; the potential gains do not outweigh the risks associated with an all pervasive system such as these ID cards (and more so, the database behind them). The database proposed is much more extensive than that which exists in other countries. In Belgium, for example, methods are used to protect privacy and data sharing, an approach in direct contrast to the Home Office. The database will be a target for organized crime – a break into the database will yield a wealth of confidential information. No system can be made 100% secure, and the higher the prize the more determined the attacks will be. An illustration of this is the recent case in which thousands of sets of details were sold by someone working in a local Social Security office.

The cards will not help with illegal immigration and working, as penalties already exist for employers failing to obtain proof of entitlement to work. Similarly, identity fraud only forms a small part of fraud in the benefit system. ID cards, seen as "the gold standard" are more likely to increase "confidence" fraud. It has been shown that when systems are apparently more secure, the human factor tends to be reduced – people stop listening to their instincts. Once in place, the Home Office would have wide discretion to change the functions and content of the scheme at will without further parliamentary scrutiny.

There is also the problem that the scheme will provide a pretext for authority figures to use the cards as a tool for harrying individuals. The chairman of the Bar Council asked the question "is there not a great risk that those who feel at the margins of society – the somewhat disaffected – will be driven into the arms of extremists?" It should be remembered that the World War 2 ID card system was removed when Clarence Willock took a case to the High Court in 1951 and Lord Justice Goddard said that the ID cards "tended to turn law-abiding subjects into law breakers".

Please allow me to emphasise a point I made earlier, 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.

Kind Regards,

Further Reading:

Reply from the Department of Constitutional Affairs

I've received a reply, as promised from the department of constitutional affairs with regard to my letter on electoral reform and the English Parliament. My MPs reply to a previous letter is here There are so many points to take issue with here, it's difficult to know where to start. Not least of which is the complete sidestepping of the issue - and who to reply to? The person writing the letter is probably just a lowly civil servant.

1 June 2005

Dear (name removed)

Electoral Reform

Thank you for your letter to the Prime Minister dated 6th May 2005, regarding the voting system employed to return Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. Your letter has been forwarded to the Department for Constitutional Affairs for response, as the lead department for electoral issues.

I can confirm that an internal review is currently underway within the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which will review the new electoral systems introduced for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly this review is at an early stage, and decisions regarding any next steps for the review will be taken in due course.

The government still maintains that a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.

With regard to the second point you raised; the UK Parliament is responsible for matters that affect the entire UK, including England. A fundamental principle of the UK Parliament is that all MPs have equal rights, and can therefore vote on any matter brought before them, whether they represent constituencies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

The vast majority of MPs are against removing this equality, with House of Commons rejecting a motion in January 2004, which sought to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on matters that did not ostensibly affect Scotland, by 377 votes to 142.

Thank you for writing to the Prime Minister and I hope this satisfies your enquiry.

Yours Sincerely,

(Civil Servant's name removed)

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.