Totalitarianism Bill

Comment is Free - Government Property, your Identity

Over on Comment is Free, Henry Porter writes in a piece entitled 'Government Property: Your Identity'.

People are beginning to see that ID cards are not being introduced so that they can identify themselves but rather so that the government can identify them and keep track of every important transaction in their lives. It is understood that even if you have nothing to hide, you may still have something to fear from a government that lies about its intentions, to say nothing of the governments that may follow in its authoritarian slipstream.

The comments on the comment is free website have broadened to include the legislative and regulatory reform bill.

Telegraph Opinion Piece

There is an opinion piece in The Telegraph today, entitled Labour isn't wicked - but it's doing just what the Nazis did.

Here are some select quotes from the piece:

Tyranny is sidling in. It is entering with face averted, under cover of a host of laws whose ostensible purpose is the reverse of their actual effect....

.....The same inverted logic applies to the ID card scheme. The Home Office minister Andy Burnham, in a letter to the Observer yesterday, asserted that the cards are there "as a protection", to stop "identity theft".

Never mind that the system will use cheap chip-and-pin technology, which has already shown itself vulnerable to fraud. Ministers evidently believe our identities can be protected only if they are owned by ministers themselves....

....And then there is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is presented as a means of repealing red tape and therefore restricting the reach of the state.

But the Bill, quite simply, gives any minister of the Crown the power to "make provision amending, repealing or replacing any legislation", meaning "any public general Act", or indeed "any rule of law".....

....The Regulatory Reform Bill is an Enabling Act, identical in spirit to the one the Nazis passed in 1933. On that occasion, Hitler promised that "the government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...

The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is a limited one." Our Government says much the same about the legislation it is passing today.

But our concern should not be with today or tomorrow, but with the day after tomorrow, when different, nastier politicians might be in power, and the habits of decency and common sense have been even further eroded.

Ultimately, this is why so many of us are worried about the bill. The legislative and regulatory reform bill could well be our enabling act, maybe not the day after it's passed, but at some point down the line. It's not inconceivable that after some tragedy the government would use these powers to their full extent 'for the duration'....

An enabling act? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck....?

Save Parliament Squidoo Lens

I've been playing with a site called 'Squidoo'. This lets users pull together a range of resources on one topic and present them as one page (called a 'lens'). There is now a 'Save Parliament' lens, dedicated to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

I will happily add more feeds - as long as they are specific to the LRRB (i.e. on a general website, a category feed would be good).

Links can be sent by commenting here or via email (details are on the lens itself)

Join the Save Parliament Campaign

You can now join the SaveParliament campaign, a copy of the form is below. Entering your postcode will allow a map of support across the country to be created - this will be published soon (I'd give you the link, but I'd have to shoot you). I've seen the map already and it's encouragingly filled in, and the site has only been going for some 12 days.

In order to stop the "Abolition of Parliament Bill", we need your help!

Give us your details, and we'll keep you posted with what's happening, and what you can do to stop it. We'll also let you know when there are things going on in your local area that you can get involved in.

We promise not to send you any spam, and we will of course not pass your details on to any other organisation. Your data will be kept strictly private.

If this form doesn't work, try the one on the site itself

Comment is Free: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

On the new Guardian Site, Caroline Lucas (a Green MEP, if I correctly recall) posts on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

This is my comment:

This is a potentially horrendous bill which gets not nearly enough coverage.

It should be front page news.

I suspect that the reason why it isn't is that, due to clever politicing, it's been given a 'soporifically boring' name (to borrow a phrase from John Spencer QC.

On 'Law in Action' on Radio 4 this tuesday, it was put to Professor John Spencer QC that the bill would undermine the Magna Carta. He was asked if he agreed with that interpretation. He replied:

'Absolutely not! It goes far beyond that.'

On this page there are links to (the few) newspaper articles, to legal resources, and to other websites:

http://www.saveparliament.org.uk/information.html

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act - discussed on Law in Action, Radio 4

On the 21st at 4pm, on Radio 4, 'Law in Action' discussed the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which I have written a lot about in recent weeks. To clarify, this is a bill with a boring name, but it is worth knowing about - and writing to your MP about.

The programme should be available on the BBC Radio 4 website for the next 6 days or so (a shame there is no version to save to the hard drive). Here's the direct link to the audio (but it will no longer be correct after the 28th March 2006. A brief overview may be seen here.

I wanted to be sure that I had a record of this conversation, so I trust that the wonderfully marvellous 'Law in Action' team (Radio 4, 4pm, tuesdays) will look kindly upon the following transcript. Of course, it's not a substitute for listening to the programme itself.

Time into program: 21:50

PRESENTER: Like almost everything else Parliamentary Democracy has it's knockers. Most people do seem rather attached to the principle that if the government want to change the law they have to put their proposals before parliament and have them scrutinised. But that could be under threat from the little noticed 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill'. One of those who thinks so is Daniel Finkelstein, the comment editor of 'The Times', and it's been keeping him awake at night.

DANIEL FINKELSTEIN: No-one wants to be thought of as a nutter, so it's best to keep quiet about your nightmares. But I have to admit, I've been having a nightmare in which the government of the country decides one day that it's fed up with passing legislation. It can't be bothered to put its bills through the house of commons. So one day when no-one's looking it passes a piece of legislation that allows it to just to change any bill it likes without consulting parliament through the normal bill process. And it does that without anyone really objecting, it sails through the house of commons by a whip system, and before we know it the house of commons has given away its power to the executive to change laws at will. The problem with this nightmare is actually true. I wake up sweating to discover that the government has actually introduced a legislative and regulatory reform bill which does, almost unbelievably, abolish the Magna Carta rights and make it possible for the government to change any law it likes at will.

PRESENTER: Daniel Finkelstein. But is it really so drastic?After all, the government says the bill simply streamlines the regulatory reform act of 2001. Does Cambridge Professor of Law, John Spencer QC, agree with that interpretation?

PROFESSOR JOHN SPENCER QC: Absolutely not! It goes far beyond that. (and I still don't see this issue in the evening news... Murk) If enacted in the form in which they introduced it it would give the government the power to rewrote almost any legislation on almost anything with hardly any limits.

PRESENTER: Give me some examples. What sort of things could the Government do, theoretically, if this bill becomes law?

JOHN SPENCER QC: Well, theoretically it could, for example, rewrite the legislative and regulatory reform itself to remove all the safeguards written into the bill for the exercise by the ministers of the powers contained in the bill. Or it could rewrite all the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 so as to give itself the power to do the things that parliament wouldn't let it do in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

PRESENTER: And just to be absolutely clear about this it could do any or all of that without bringing those proposals before parliament?

JOHN SPENCER QC: Without bringing them before parliament in a bill which would then have to be voted through as an act. They'd have to proceed by way of an order, and there isn't the possibility for debate and amendment, of course, when you proceed by order rather than by an act of parliament.

PRESENTER: What the government would say, of course, is look yes, okay, but there are so many safeguards built into this bill that there aren't going to be any abuses.

JOHN SPENCER QC: If they say there aren't going to be any abuses, why have they written the powers in such wide terms? It wouldn't be difficult to amend this legislation to give themselves just the powers they claim that they actually need. If that's all they need why don't they reframe the powers which they propose to give themselves in such a way that it couldn't do, even theoretically, the sort of things they say they don't want to do?

PRESENTER: Is this another example of us not having a written constitution and therefore the government being able to, effectively, to tinker with the constitution?

JOHN SPENCER QC: It's exactly what the problem is. It's high time we had a written constitution in which the basic structure of legislative powers of the country were laid down in a document which can't be altered by parliament itself under the ordinary procedure.

PRESENTER: I presume that what you would like, if this bill is going to go through in any form similar to the one in which it's presented, is that you would like a parliamentary veto added to it.

JOHN SPENCER QC: I absolutely would. I would like something added to this under which any 50 MPs, preferably drawn from different parties would have the right to veto the use of this procedure and put the proposed legislative change along the normal track of bill leading to an act.

PRESENTER: Why haven't we heard opposition parties on the news and over the news media beating their drum, and why aren't people marching in the streets about it?

(Damned good question, it's something that's frustrating me no end - Murk)

JOHN SPENCER QC: I think first of all, the opposition hope they'll win the next election and may be thinking to themselves 'jolly good, we'll be able to use this when we're in power' (Edit: You cynic... I must admit to sharing similar thoughts - Murk). I think secondly people just haven't noticed. This is wrapped up in something soporifically boring, the removal of red tape around the regulation of business, and nobody's really noticed.

PRESENTER: So how dangerous a precedent is this for our parliamentary democracy?

JOHN SPENCER QC: It is unbelievably dangerous. It means potentially marginalising parliament. It moves us a big step toward the elected dictatorship every five years, it's a step toward a system under which the only break that we have on our ministers is the fact that there's a general election every five years. (He seems to overlook the fact that even this may not be guaranteed, as, if I recall correctly, the five years is set by the parliament act, which is itself changable by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act - Murk)

PRESENTER: Professor John Spencer QC. We asked for an interview with the minister piloting the bill through the commons, but he was unavailable. (Coward - Murk). We were given this statement by the Cabinet Office.

CABINET OFFICE: We will continue to listen to the views of parliament. It's vital that we get this bill right so that the government, in partnership with parliament, business, public sector and voluntary workers can get on with saving businesses time and money, and freeing up public and voluntary sector staff to deliver services of exceptional quality.

PRESENTER: And it you've got any statements of your own to make, do put them into an email and ping them over to us at lawinaction (that's one word) at bbc dot co dot uk.


To take action, please write to your MP, especially if they're a 'usual suspect', and kick up as much fuss as you can. If you have a website, refer to this bill. You can also link to the Save Parliament website, or to one of the posts on the site you're reading now!

According to Spyblog, Jim Murphy who is the one in charge of all this, has only had 50 representations on this matter. Let's put aside the issue that this is not a well known bill (despite the dangers it presents). Let's also put aside that it's not made clear what proportion of those representations are for or against the bill. Let's also ignore the issue that we do not have a sense of how many representations are usually received on a particular topic. Putting all of this aside, it's clear that he needs to get more mail.

Spyblog has helpfully done the research, which I'll present below

I sent this to 'Law in Action':

I was so pleased to finally here the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill discussed on the Radio (there was a brief mention on the Today program on something like the 22nd Feb).

I was very disappointed not to hear this picked up in later news programmes.

Please, keep up the good work.

Online, people have been campaigning against this bill, I first posted on it back in early feb, and have posted lots since then:
My first post on this topic

There have been several sites set up especially about this bill. Most notable are these:
Save Parliament
Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
Rightlinks

Spyblog is also very good:
(Link to Spyblog)

Coming back to how to contact Jim Murphy (the guy responsible), with thanks to Spyblog:

Send the Minister your views about this wretched Bill::

Jim Murphy MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall
London SW1A 2AS

Switchboard: 020 7276 1234

Astonishingly, the Cabinet Office does not seem to have a central email address for general enquiries from the public, or one for contacting the Ministers or their staff, unlike other Government Departments.

In theory Jim Murphy's email address is:

jim.murphy@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

It may also be worth sending a copy of you letter or email to:

Regulatory Reform Bill Team

Better Regulation Executive
4th Floor
22 Whitehall
London SW1A 2WH

Tel: 0207 276 2155
Fax: 0207 276 2138

regulatoryreformbill@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

Save Parliament Roundup

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Following the creation of Save Parliament and it's funky new logo (I wonder who came up with that? So elegant, so simple...) I thought I'd do a roundup of the sites which have (so far) linked to saveparliament.org.uk. At least, a roundup of those sites I could find!

For a quick introduction as to why this issue is important, see 'The Times' letter from six QCs

In other news, the Save Parliament site has an Opinions page, with a post from Oliver Heald.. I do hope that James works out an RSS feed soon, it'll get hard to keep track of!

I'm sure there are many more links out there, if I missed you, please accept my apologies and feel free to refer to your post (assuming you ever see this) in a comment!

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.

Anti LRRB meeting in a London Pub

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues) I don't think I will be able to go to this, but I hope someone who reads this will....

The guy behind SaveParliament is having an informal meet in a London Pub on Saturday night to discuss a plan of action for opposing the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

If anyone does get to go, I'd be interested to hear how it turns out.

Meeting: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

If you're in London tomorrow lunchtime, you might consider attending a meeting at the House of Commons - details are below, or available via the link.

For more information, see SaveParliament or the Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

As part of our ongoing work into the legislative process, the Hansard Society has organised a seminar on:

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill:
Constitutional Outrage or Sensible Reform?
Thursday 16th March, 12.30 – 1.30pm
House of Commons, Westminster

  • Jim Murphy MP, Cabinet Office Minister responsible for the Bill
  • Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP, Chair of the Conservative Party’s Democracy Taskforce
  • David Howarth MP
  • A representative from Federation of Small Businesses

Chaired by Kate Jenkins, Vice-Chair of the Hansard Society.

Ahead of the seminar, the Hansard Society has also published a briefing paper on the bill.

To attend, email parliament@hansard.lse.ac.uk

Thanks to the Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill for pointing this out.

Jim Murphy Fails to Answer Question : The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

In a written reply, we see this:

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Peter Bottomley (Worthing West, Con): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for what reason the Government have not accepted requests to limit by legislation the power to deliver by the scope of Part 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill highly political measures.

Jim Murphy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Cabinet Office): The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (the Bill) has just completed its Committee stage where this issue was discussed. I have told the Standing Committee that the Government will consider the addition of further safeguards to the order making power in Part 1 of the Bill at Report stage.

It really is worrying that the powers that be can get away with not answering the question (even if the question was poorly put). The question was 'what reason?' and the answer said 'we'll consider' - and consider doesn't mean 'adopt'.

Save Parliament - Link code

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)Now that a graphic has been prepared for the Save Parliament website, here is the link code if you'd like a graphic:

<a href="http://www.saveparliament.org.uk"
title="Save Parliament: Legislative and
Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)"
><img
src="http://www.saveparliament.org.uk/images/sp_logo_menu.png"
width="80" height="150"
alt="Save Parliament: Legislative and
Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)" 
/></a>

Link to it far and wide! Please think about how you can include it on your website if you have one - even if it's just in one post. If you don't have a website, then you could add the website address to a signature.

See also my earlier post.

Lib Dems resolve to oppose the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)With thanks to the Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, I learn that the Lib Dems have voted to fight the 'Abolition of Parliament' bill. For more on this bill and why it's so troublesome, try this post on my site or Saveparliament.org.uk Everyone who is concerned about this bill should write a few letters - but what I'm really interested in is getting at least 35 labour MPs to rebel over this one, so if you've a labour MP, please be sure to write to them!

Article in the Telegraph: The Abolition of Parliament Bill

In the Telegraph today we see this article (thanks to 'Floppy' for adding it to del.icio.us with a for:murkee tag)

You have to admire the brass neck of this Government. After introducing more laws and regulations than you could shake a stick at, it is now trying to undo all the damage it has caused by foisting the legal equivalent of the Doomsday Machine upon Parliament and the country.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill completed its committee stages in the Commons last Thursday and, despite a spirited counter-offensive by Opposition MPs, remains largely intact as one of the most pernicious measures to have come before a British parliament.

Sent to the author of the piece:

Re: Link to article

Well said.

Some of us have been rattling the cage for some time

e.g. link to a response from the cabinet office

They just don't seem to get the idea that legislation isn't just a matter for trusting the current lot, but it's also a matter of trusting every future lot of politicos too.

Sometimes I despair.

This bill has sadly had little coverage in the mainstream - please continue with your efforts.

Totalitarianism Bill - another roundup

This is not another of my roundups of links for the ghastly legislative and regulatory reform bill. Instead it's a link to someone else who's done the job a little more recently, this one is from someone called nether-world.

All my writings on this topic are collected here.

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

Potential Reply to Cabinet Office

This is a draft reply to this letter which I got from the Cabinet office.

Comments, please (it is quite a fast response, so careful reads would be appreciated)

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. 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 won't 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.

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.

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.