Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sneaky authoritarianism?

Now I know I'm meant to be doing a dissertation but this really does take the biscuit. This bill actually proposes that 'Ministers of the Crown' can make changes to the law without parliamentary approval. Ostensibly the plan is to save past legislative clutter, but there seems to be little to safeguard fiddling behind the scenes in quite serious areas. Read Spybot's post for a full run down of why we should be so scared.

I'm having trouble believing this is actually happening. According to Consider Phlebas it isn't:

So that power presumably only applies to statutory instruments, which are bits of legislation granting the Crown discretionary powers. Since the discretionary powers granted through statutory instruments are already limited by the primary legislation they are a part of, which the bill would not grant the power to alter, this wouldn't, if I am right, grant huge powers it doesn'talready possess to the Crown.
...which is very reassuring. A commons select committee, however, gave a directly opposing view:

"[The bill] provides ministers with a wide and general power that could be used to repeal amend or replace almost any primary legislation"

says Andrew Miller MP. It is heartening that the political machinery is picking up on this one - hopefully it'll fizzle into a harmless bit of misdirected drafting. Nonetheless, it's one to keep an eye on.


The blogosphere is coating itself in glory on this one. Tim Worstall at ASI less optimistic than Phlebas's tempered view; he quotes a Telegraph article:
"Clifford Chance, the world's largest law firm, points out that the Bill "usurps the power of Parliament". In a briefing to clients, it says the only red tape that the Bill would remove is "the red tape of Parliamentary scrutiny for primary legislation".The Bill - to be debated in the Commons today - would give the Government so-called "Henry VIII powers" to amend primary legislation by ministerial order without Parliamentary debate, the firm says."
Top marks to Consider Phlebas for actually reading the bill and not joining the hysteria but it does seem that the best place for this bill is the dustbin. Hopefully the level of scrutiny it is receiving will consign it to the archives and Parliament's powers will remain intact.

That still begs the question: why did they even try to push it throuigh in the first place? Even the most brainless of gibbons would have known that giving Ministers carte blanche to change laws needs adequate restrictions, while these were anything but. "Think of this as one of those little moments when you might want to gasp at the audacity of our rulers." says Tim Worstall, and rightly.

Read more intelligent comments here and here.

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