Sir, Clause one of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (Comment, Feb 15) provides that: "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."
This has been presented as a simple measure "streamlining" the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, by which, to help industry, the Government can reduce red tape by amending the Acts of Parliament that wove it. But it goes much further: if passed, the Government could rewrite almost any Act and, in some cases, enact new laws that at present only Parliament can make.
The Bill subjects this drastic power to limits, but these are few and weak. If enacted as it stands, we believe the Bill would make it possible for the Government, by delegated legislation, to do (inter alia) the following:
# create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, punishable with two years' imprisonment;
# curtail or abolish jury trial;
# permit the Home Secretary to place citizens under house arrest;
# allow the Prime Minister to sack judges;
# rewrite the law on nationality and immigration;
# "reform" Magna Carta (or what remains of it).
It would, in short, create a major shift of power within the state, which in other countries would require an amendment to the constitution; and one in which the winner would be the executive, and the loser Parliament.
David Howarth, MP for Cambridge, made this point at the Second Reading of the Bill last week. We hope that other MPs, on all sides of the House, will recognise the dangers of what is being proposed before it is too late.
PROFESSOR J. R. SPENCER, QC
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN BAKER, QC
PROFESSOR DAVID FELDMAN
PROFESSOR CHRISTOPHER FORSYTH
PROFESSOR DAVID IBBETSON
PROFESSOR SIR DAVID WILLIAMS, QC
University of Cambridge
UPDATE 4pm: David Howarth just got in touch to tell me he has written to Jack Straw on this issue. He has read the comments on this thread and is seeking clarification about the intention of this clause.
Constitutional Renewal Bill Clause 43
You may have seen the reports, largely on the internet, that express concern about clause 43 of the Constitutional Renewal Bill. The concern centres on the point that the clause allows ministers to alter primary legislation by statutory instrument. Comparisons are being made to the original version of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, which granted ministers sweeping legislative powers.
My own reading of the clause is that it could only be used for matters that are consequential on the other provisions of the Bill, and that the issue of what counts as consequential will be for the courts, not ministers, to decide, and so the potential of the clause to be used in a constitutionally abusive way will be limited. If that is your interpretation too, it might be useful for you to put that point on the public record.
I dislike Henry VIII clauses on principle, and would much prefer ministerial powers to be confined to altering secondary legislation, especially in bills about constitutional matters, but I am sure that in this particular case, much anxiety would be allayed if you could confirm the limited scope of the clause.
David Howarth MP
Thursday, March 27, 2008
More on the Parliament (Abolition of) Act
Further to the post below, the Ministry of Truth has recalled a letter to The Times, the last time the government tried this one on....