Totalitarianism Bill

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.

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill - Latest Roundup

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Here's the latest roundup of articles talking about this dangerous bill.

If you don't know what the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill is, please don't glaze over with the dullness of the title, it really is important. You can read all about it in these previous articles.

In short, it's known by it's opponents as the 'Abolition of Parliament' bill - and that's the mildest form.

Onto the roundup...

Tanngrísnir has noticed the article in The Times from the 21st Feb entitled 'Who wants the Abolition of Parliament Bill? Tanngrísnir says:

This, even from the government of one such as His Holiness, is so outrageous I am almost speechless

Also linking to the Times Article on the 21st Feb, Iain Coleman points out the virtues of his MP, David Howarth (Lib Dem) in trying to (finally) get this bill some publicity. Discourse.net also comments.

Posters to James Nicoll's LiveJournal (which again linked to the Times) pointed out the shameful response of Geoff Hoon to David Howarth's question, which I alluded to the other day.

Someone who glories in the name of 'Big Bubbles' comments on the Observer piece, and draws a comparison with the past of the bill's main proponent, Jim Murphy.

The Observer piece is worth a read:

The Prime Minister claims to be defending liberty but a barely noticed Bill will rip the heart out of parliamentary democracy.... Like all Labour's anti-libertarian bills, it appears in relatively innocuous guise. The bill was presented last year as a way of improving a previous Labour act and is purportedly designed to remove some of the burden of regulation that weighs on British business and costs billions of pounds every year.

RINF also quotes the Henry Porter article from the Observer. This piece is all over the place, right.blog.co.uk has it too

Back over on LiveJournal, taking their lead from Schnews, Saintpap talks about people who say 'they're not interested in politics' and why this bill is something they should be interested in:

Let's take the humorous approach to start with. If a Minister decides that the wearing of lime-green trousers should be illegal, he or she can make this happen in a heartbeat. No-one will have to vote. No debate will be held. It will just become law.

Let's now take the historical approach. Similar legislation was introduced to Germany in the form of Hitler's Enabling Act, the wholesale mutation of traditional values that allowed the Nazi Party to seize control of Germany and suppress dissidents.

Neither historical or humorous approach uphold the principles of democracy, and taken into historical context, seem to uphold the basic values of tyranny. Consider :-

The text of The Bill of Rights (UK), 1689
  • reaction to the reign of King James II, another ruler of the UK that assumed he could circumvent Parliament
  • It says that "That the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal."

If we'd sussed all of this out, three hundred and seventeen years ago, why can't we suss it out now? "Not interested in politics"? You really should be.

There is a copy of a Schnews article on rights.blog.co.uk

Meanwhile Fdelondras takes an Irish view of the bill

Still on Livejournal, Miramon writes:

The UK government is currently trying to pass the so-called 'Abolition of Parliament Bill' (actually the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill) as a response to their recent defeats in the Commons. This bill removes any meaning from the Parliamentary scrutiny function and allows every minister to retroactively rewrite the contents of any bill in any way they wish, without having to consult Parliament or subject themselves to a vote.

Spy.org.uk comments that the Tessa Jowell affair is hiding more important issues, this is something I mentioned yesterday

Back to Livejournal, Mishalak notes the synchronicity between this bill and the film, V for Vendetta, which is set in a near-future United Kingdom, which has become an totalitarian regime. Something which Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill sadly makes possible.

On The Sideshow the comments are quite inciteful for this topic:

It is as if the democracies are tired.

Nouslife begins like this:

A note to UK readers, please lobby your MP on this especially if they are Labour. Why am I so agitatedly anxious? Well, it appears that in order to speed up legislative process, our government is about to try to enact a law that would pass significant powers to the executive from parliament, to amend or make law on the hoof, without real redress by elected process. In fact the kind of thing that Nazism did in 1930's Germany.

I'm in wholehearted agreement, if one reads the bill and considers the behaviour it permits (regardless of what one believes is the intent of the current incumbents) the fears do not overstating the issue.

the Act would make it possible to

  • cast aside the five-year limit on a parliamentary term allowing the Prime Minister to remain in Downing Street for as long as he wanted. Mr Clarke, chairman of the Conservatives' Democracy Taskforce, said the law would sideline democracy and debate on an 'astonishing scale'.
  • Under the 1911 Parliament Act, the Government must call a General Election within five years of winning office. But the little-publicised Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill would give Tony Blair and his ministers the power to change any law without scrutiny or approval by Parliament. Ministers would be able to change divorce laws, introduce house arrest, curtail or abolish jury trial and give police powers to detain individuals, with no vote or discussion by the House of Commons.

Being flippant for a second, could this be what 'Tony' means when he says he'll serve a full term?

I would like to stress that even if there is no intent to use the bill for these purposes, such a bill is a dangerous instrument to have on the statute books.

Chicken Yoghurt, says this:

But this is to forget the law of unintended consequences and as I said the other day, when your thirst for efficiency, or for at least the facade of efficiency, produces the same outcome as if you'd set out to be a bastard, you can't really be too sore, in my opinion, if people start refusing to make the distinction. "I didn't mean to hurt you," often doesn't impress those on the receiving end. It's a trust thing

Note to self, let chicken yoghurt know that their CSS is doing weird things in the standards compliant Firefox

Once More has a list of questions which could be asked when writing letters (though I would encourage people not to cut and paste questions, it's better to put things your own way

The Liberal Democrat Spokesman, David Heath, said on the floor of the House:

"Part 1 of the Bill does much more than even Henry VIII dreamed of. It gives Ministers the power to make law, alter law, repeal law, invent law, without effective parliamentary scrutiny.

"It allows our basic constitutional safeguards to be removed by Order in Council: electoral law, Habeas Corpus, jury trial, the Act of Union.

"We will not throw away centuries of parliamentary democracy. We will not throw away the traditions and safeguards of common law.

"Tony Blair sees a tension between modernisation and human rights. I say a truly modern Britain would strengthen and enshrine human rights, not undermine them."

I urge you to write to your MP, especially if they're Labour, and to write to various Lords

Concern about this Law has reached the USA, an article has appeared in The Jurist a law review edited in Pittsburgh

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.

The Horrible 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill' in the US

The 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill' is getting noticed in the USA, okay, it's by lawyers - but it still feels like more interest than is being generated in the mainstream UK media, a letter to the Times notwitshstanding (for more, see here). The article finishes with: "The legislative proposal comes at a time when British jurists of various political stripes are becoming increasingly concerned [JURIST report] with undue extensions of power by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, now in its third term."

Whatever one thinks of this odious, dangerous and ugly bill (guess what I think!), it is without a doubt a masterstroke of politicing to give it the mind-numbing name of 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform' - it almost guarantees that hardly anyone will talk about it - especially when there are much 'sexier' education bills going through the house!

In other news: The Lords have rejected the vaguely worded 'Glorification' phrase, my concerns about the wording of that law were part of this letter. I said "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."

Are you the constituent of one of these MPs?

If you're the constituent of one of the following MPs, then you really should write them a letter if you object to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. (The bill has a deceptively boring title - do read about it, get past the title) Heck, you should write a letter anyway - especially if your MP is labour, but people in these constituencies may well have a little more success. I've written to my MP, but these MPs are Labour Party candidates, and they rebelled against the government previously.

With thanks to Perfect.co.uk for the list.

Write To Them is a handy link which gives the addresses of your various representatives. Personally, I think snail-mail is a better bet than email.

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) John Austin (Erith & Thamesmead) Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield) Michael Clapham (Barnsley West & Penistone) Katy Clark (Ayrshire North and Arran) Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead) Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) Ann Cryer (Keighley) Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras) Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nantwich) Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central) Paul Flynn (Newport West) Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) Ian Gibson (Norwich North) Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath) John Grogan (Selby) David Hamilton (Midlothian) Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North) Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate) Sian James (Swansea East) Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak) Sadiq Khan (Tooting) Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton) Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North & Leith) Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) Andy Love (Edmonton) Christine McCafferty (Calder Valley) John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington) Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway) Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton) Julie Morgan (Cardiff North) George Mudie (Leeds East) Chris Mullin (Sunderland South) Gordon Prentice (Pendle) Nick Raynsford (Greenwich & Woolwich) Linda Riordan (Halifax) Clare Short (Birmingham Ladywood) Alan Simpson (Nottingham South) Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South) David Taylor (Leicestershire North West) Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury) Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) Bob Wareing (Liverpool West Derby) David Winnick (Walsall North) Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)

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:

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill summed up.

Douglas Carswell's (Conservative) on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Billwas so inciteful that it's worth reading. The original can be seen in context here, or indeed can be found in hansard.

See also my previous entry: The gradual slide to totalitarianism

Any emphasis has been added by me in order to highlight key points.

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), whose eloquence was such that there is probably not a great deal for me to add.

Who could possibly oppose a Bill that is intended to reduce unnecessary regulation? Who could possibly oppose a Bill that is intended to cut red tape for business, the public sector and voluntary organisations? In my constituency, I see the impact of over-regulation on small businesses and charities all the time. When we look at Britain as a whole, it is possible to see the damage that over-regulation does to us as a country and an economy.

As others have pointed out, we have slipped down the international league of competitiveness, from fourth place in 1997 to 13th in 2005. Superficially the Bill makes a great deal of sense, but behind the headlines it is not all that it seems. If it did what it says on the tin, I would support it wholeheartedly, but it does not, so I will not.

Part 1 enables Ministers to reform legislation or implement recommendations of the Law Commission by order. Law would, in effect, be made without reference to democratically elected parliamentarians. There would be a further extension of the power of a remote Executive and unaccountable national regulators. Merging regulators does not lead to less regulation. It was Max Weber who said as early as the 19th century that bureaucracy has an inherent tendency to expand. Bureaucracy tries to assume new powers, and to aggrandise itself. A merging of regulators could simply create new super-regulators, hungry for yet more power and more prone to regulate. I am concerned that part 1 will be a further step away from proper parliamentary scrutiny. It appears to empower the Executive, but in reality it will empower senior civil servants and those bureaucrats and regulators already beyond meaningful parliamentary accountability.

In the past 30 years, we have seen a steady erosion of representative parliamentary government. Behind the façade of a functioning parliamentary democracy is an increasingly post-representative system of government. In almost every sphere, financial service regulation, food standards, environmental protection, it is remote quangos, not parliamentarians, that increasingly call the shots. Remote elites make the decisions; local people take the rap; no one is accountable; no one gets sacked: this is how we are governed today. I fear that this Bill is not so much anti-regulation as anti-democratic.

Speaking as someone who could be characterised as slightly sceptical about the European project, part 3 of the Bill leaves me somewhat suspicious. Not for the first time, measures are being introduced in the name of streamlining, but I fear that they may turn out to be a power-grab. European law is currently introduced into this country through regulation. This Bill could enable Brussels diktats to be brought in through schemes and rules. What does that mean? Yesterday in this House, one Member spoke about the European Union achieving the so-called Lisbon agenda. Remember that? It was about deregulating in order to make Europe competitive. Reference was made at the time to making Europe the most competitive economy in the world. That may seem absurd now. Easing EU institutions' ability to make our laws for us will only exacerbate the Euro-sclerosis afflicting that tired old continent. Easing such ability will only tie us closer to those worn-out EU economies; it will only place us more firmly in Europe's economic sarcophagus.(I think the Euro-phobia weakens the guy's case - but left it in, as that's what he said : Murk)

I welcome the Regulatory Reform Committee's acknowledgement that, far from being about deregulation and tidying up, this Bill

has the potential to be the most constitutionally significant Bill that has been brought before Parliament for some years.

I welcome the recognition that the driving force behind it is the Cabinet Office and, perhaps, senior civil servants. It could become a bureaucrats' charter: it could allow them to avoid the messy and unpredictable business of having their measures scrutinised by the people's elected representatives. Yes, Minister, (Clever : Murk) this Bill could be Sir Humphrey's dream come true. The Minister would be able to amend, repeal and replace primary and secondary legislation without reference to this House.

It was Walter Bagehot who said in the 19th century that the Crown had ceased to be part of what he called the efficient part of the constitution and had become the dignified part. By that, he meant that it had the trappings of power, but not the reality. My fear is that although this democratically elected Parliament has the trappings of power here in our ornate Chamber, real power is increasingly moving elsewhere. This Bill will only exacerbate that process.

Further Reading:

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

The potentially disastrous 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill', which is so broadly worded that a Totalitarian regime would be proud (and I'm not over-exagerating, it will allow legislation without parliamentary oversight) went for it's second reading on Thursday.

Aside: See all my writings on this topic here

Tony Wright, a labour MP, said

For me, and, I suspect, a good number of others, if the principle is to be followed that the advancement of ministerial powers must all the time be matched by advancement in safeguards on the use of those powers, the House should expect the three safeguards that I have outlined to be included in the Bill, in order to provide that security. While I welcome the thrust of the Government's aims, the danger is that ministerial powers could be extended in ways that Parliament did not want or intend, and perhaps was not even aware of.

At one point in the debate, Mr. Murphy (Labour) says:

I give the House clear undertakings, which I shall repeat in Committee, that the orders will not be used to implement highly controversial reforms.'

If it is not intended for the bill to be used in such a way then it should not be written into law. Powers once given can subsequently be abused even if the current encumbants do not wish to abuse them. Powers which can be so abused should not be granted even if one fully trusts the motives and abilities of the current government.

Christopher Chope (Conservative) said:

In its present form, the Bill is in danger of being the sort of subtle sleight of hand of which a member of the Magic Circle would be proud. It is calculated to give much more power to the Government and the Executive, at the expense of Parliament. One reading of the Bill leads one to the conclusion that its primary purpose is not to remove burdens from business or people, but to remove the burden of having to legislate from the Government.

In the division which followed to set the programme for the bill, 233 MPs voted yes, and 100 voted no.

... and where is the mainstream media on this one? They're largely ignoring it, probably as it isn't an 'eyecatching' issue (it's presented as 'reducing red tape'). It's important, dagnamit! One has to admire the genius of giving it the ball-achingly boring name of 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill' - I have to (literally) look it up each time I mention it. The name almost guarantees little media attention at this stage! It needs a catchy, accurate, yet damning nickname...

'Red Tape Bill' sounds like a good thing, so that won't do.

I'm stuck for ideas at the moment - the best I could do was 'the Legislative and tonguetwisting totalitarian slippery slope bill' (which although a mouthful is easier to remember!). How about just 'The Slippery Slope Bill'?

Further Reading:

The gradual slide to totalitarianism

Anyone who can read this bill and not be concerned about a slide into a totalitarian state can't be reading the same bill.

(1) A Minister of the Crown may by order make provision for either or both of the following purposes—

   (a) reforming legislation;
   (b) implementing recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without changes.

(snip)

(3) An order under section 1 may for the purpose specified in subsection (1)(b) of that section also make—

   (a) provision amending or abolishing any rule of law;
   (b) provision codifying rules of law.

(snip)

6) Criminal penalties
   (1) Provision under section 2(1) may not create a new offence that is punishable, or increase the penalty for an existing offence so that it is punishable—
      (a) on indictment, with imprisonment for a term exceeding two years;

Assuming I have not read this wrongly it would, in a nutshell, allow ministers to repeal or create any new law they wished, without parliamentary oversight. It would enable them to create offenses at will (as long as the punishment did not exceed two years in prison).

This is outrageous, truly outrageous - and I'm amazed that it's not front page news. I only learned of this bill via pointers from friends.

There is some further discussion of this here

In a not unrelated story, there have been considerations of 'scrapping the 2007 local elections' because of plans to 'shake up local government'. (Funny, I thought that was what elections were for!)

In November last year, OwenBlog put this spoof together, it could have given Tony the idea!. At the time it was amusing, now it just seemed prescient.

Of course, they've been busily denying that it was ever considered.

The real issue that remains is the parliamentary bill to, possibly literally, end parliamentary bills.

What is really depressing is that this obscene power grab will probably just slide past the notice of most people. I do hope that the News Quiz have noticed it...

I feel a new series of pointed sabre rattling letters coming on.

See also: SpyBlog and qwghlm

Update, 10th Feb 2006: I passed some of the above links on to Melissa at BorisBlog. She has said that it's a 'Good one for Boris', and is printing everything out for his attention.

Update: 11th Feb 2006 See this later post on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill