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....
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
Law Faculty,
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.

Dear Jack,

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.

Yours sincerely,

David Howarth MP


8 comments:

Adrian Yalland said...

very frightening! We are slipping towards and elected dictatorship. How long before elections are abolished!

Penfold said...

No different from the power, that Hans-Gert Poettering has demanded and been given in the EU Parliament, that got one Tory MEP ejected from the EPP when he raised this issue.

jean shaw said...

Hope we see the reply

hatfield girl said...

In the immediate post War constitutions were drafted and put into effect for much of continental Europe. Our lawyers and academic advisers contributed a great deal to analysing and formulating institutional and binding responses to various expressions of authoritarianism; they ensured many rights and freedoms were enshrined in these constitutions so that the decade long slide into ditatorship, war and the Holocaust could not happen again.

It did not cross any minds that our own constitution might need reinforcement and safeguarding for democracy. After all, we, with our Commonwealth and American allies had just defeated the Axis authoritarian states.

Until the New Labour Project, with its over riding goal of permanence in power, our constitution served us as it always had.

Now it is disabled and we are vulnerable, in ways other European Union countries are not, to arbitrary power.

C Powell said...

I wouldn't trust anything that Jack Straw or any other Government member said on this topic. The only way is to get rid of this utterly objectionable clause altogether and I would hope that we get an unequivocal statement by the Tories that they will oppose it and repeal it if it's ever passed.

Peter Harrison said...

As has been pointed out on the previous thread, there is no need to oppose or appeal this. Clauses like this are common in existing legislation. This is very limited. Ministers cannot take random actions using this clause. They can only do things that are necessary as a result of this act. They certainly cannot repeal Magna Carta, whatever Spyblog thinks.

I thoroughly despise NuLab and all they stand for, but we do ourselves no good at all by kicking up a fuss about an ordinary piece of legislative language which appears in lots of existing Acts passed by governments of both major parties.

It isn't even as if the language is particularly obscure. It says "as the Minister or Ministers consider appropriate IN CONSEQUENCE OF THIS ACT" (my capitals). If they attempt to use this to do something which is not "in consequence of this Act", all that is necessary is for someone to ask for a judicial review and the Minister's actions will be overruled.

tory boys never grow up said...

Why don't you just apologise for not getting your facts right in the first place?

I have yet to hear anyone with any reasonable understanding of legislation and who has bothered to read the draft Bill properly copme to the same conclusions as you, Guido, Dizzy or Spy Blog.

Anonymous said...

As spring breaks through the winter storms, and the economic deficit shows it's unmamagable medusa heads, the Gordon Brownus emerges from its chrysalis, no longer the lumbering poisonous caterpillar, but a broad winged demonic dictator hell bent on the destruction of the United Kingdom and all it once was. With the overstratch on the armed forces who is there to stand against the beast...THE ELECTORATE...destroy him now before he drains the life blood of our nation.