If this Bill becomes an Act it will mean that the Government will be able
(should this pernicious legislation ever make it onto the statute Book) to
amend or replace legislation of more or less any kind by Ministerial order,
without going through the troublesome procedure of presenting the changes as
proposals before Parliament and the even more troublesome procedure of
trying to get a majority there.
Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who was on the Pre-legislative Committee which considered the Bill says...
This bill must be scrutinised with particular care. Our report recognises
that there is widespread support for removing redundant regulation and
costly red tape. But the problem many people will have with part one of this
bill, as drafted, is that it provides ministers with a wide and general
power that could be used to repeal amend or replace almost any primary
legislation. That can't be right. We need extra safeguards.
Danny Finkelstein is even more graphic...
In my nightmare, Tony Blair finally decides that he is fed-up with putting Bills
before Parliament. He has so much to do and so little time. Don’t you realise
how busy he is? He’s had enough of close shaves and of having to cut short trips
abroad. He decides to put a Bill to End All Bills before the Commons, one that
gives him and his ministers power to introduce and amend any legislation in
future without going through all those boring stages in Parliament. That’s not
the end of my feverish fantasy. The new law is proposed and hardly anyone
notices. John Redwood complains, of course, and a couple of Liberal Democrats,
but by and large it is ignored. The Labour rebels are nowhere to be seen. The
business lobby announces that it is about time all those politicians streamlined
things, cutting out time-wasting debates. In a half empty Commons chamber, a
junior minister puts down any objections with a few partisan wisecracks. Then
the Bill to End All Bills is nodded through the Houses of Parliament, taking
with it a few hundred years of Parliamentary democracy. I wake up, sweating.
Only one thing persuades me that I’m not cracking up. When I have my nightmares
about the Bill to End All Bills, I am not dreaming about dastardly legislation
that I fear a cartoon Tony Blair, with an evil cackle, will introduce in some
terrible future. I am tossing and turning about a government Bill that was given
its second reading in the House of Commons last week and is heading into
committee. Now I know what I am about to tell you is difficult to believe
(Why isn’t this on the front pages? Where’s the big political row?) but I
promise you that it is true. The extraordinary Legislative and Regulatory Reform
Bill, currently before the House, gives ministers power to amend, repeal or
replace any legislation simply by making an order and without having to bring a
Bill before Parliament. The House of Lords Constitution Committee says the Bill
is “of first-class constitutional significance” and fears that it could
“markedly alter the respective and long standing roles of minister and
Parliament in the legislative process”.
It is an indictment that virtually the only place you will ever read anything about this is on a few blogs. As far as I know it has hardly been mentioned in the national media (but no doubt you will correct me!), let alone on the Daily Politics, This Week, The Politics Show etc. As far as I can tell, the only comment from the Conservatuves on the Bill has been by Alan Duncan on the deregulatory aspects of it, rather than the legislative side.
A final non-rhetorical thought from Danny Finkelstein...
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill isn’t just a dangerous proposal.
It is a flashing red light. Our legislative activism is endangering our
parliamentary democracy and we must stop before it’s too late. Or am I a nutter?