Thursday, February 23, 2006
The Abolition of Democracy. posted by Richard SeymourNot my recommendation, but that of the government:
The boring title of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill hides an astonishing proposal. It gives ministers power to alter any law passed by Parliament. The only limitations are that new crimes cannot be created if the penalty is greater than two years in prison and that it cannot increase taxation. But any other law can be changed, no matter how important. All ministers will have to do is propose an order, wait a few weeks and, voilà, the law is changed.
For ministers the advantages are obvious: no more tedious debates in which they have to answer awkward questions. Instead of a full day’s debate on the principle of the proposal, detailed line-by-line examination in committee, a second chance at specific amendment in the Commons and a final debate and vote, ministers will have to face at most a short debate in a committee and a one-and-a-half hour debate on the floor. Frequently the Government will face less than that. No amendments will be allowed. The legislative process will be reduced to a game of take-it-or-leave-it.
Looking back at last week’s business in the Commons, the Bill makes a mockery of the decisions MPs took. Carrying ID cards could be made compulsory, smoking in one’s own home could be outlawed and the definition of terrorism altered to make ordinary political protest punishable by life imprisonment. Nor will the Human Rights Act save us since the Bill makes no exception for it.
The Bill, bizarrely, even applies to itself, so that ministers could propose orders to remove the limitations about two-year sentences and taxation. It also includes a few desultory questions (along the lines of “am I satisfied that I am doing the right thing?”) that ministers have to ask themselves before proceeding, all drafted subjectively so that court challenges will fail, no matter how preposterous the minister’s answer. Even these questions can be removed using the Bill’s own procedure. Indeed, at its most extreme, in a manoeuvre akin to a legislative Indian rope trick, ministers could use it to transfer all legislative power permanently to themselves.
Many Angry Gerbils has more:
This all sounds relatively anodyne until one considers the ‘wider law reform power’ that the Bill proposes. According to the Explanatory Notes that accompany the Bill, Ministers will be able to make orders that can ‘amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act of Parliament may do.’
Let’s go over the main points of that again. Ministers will be able to make orders amending, repealing or replacing any legislation. This includes ‘reforming’ or abolishing any body created by statute, including local authorities, the courts, private companies and, since its powers are defined by Acts of Parliament, even the House of Lords. Just think about all of that for a moment.
There are, of course, some restrictions but don’t imagine you’ll be able to take much comfort from them. Clause 5 of the Bill stipulates that Ministers cannot make an order which imposes or raises taxation unless the order is merely restating previous legislation. Clause 6 prohibits a Minister from creating a new offence that is punishable with more than two years in prison. Even here there are caveats, since Clause 6 (6a) states that this restriction does not apply if the provision ‘implements recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions.’ Clause 7 prohibits any order that allows search and seizure, forcible entry or compelling someone to give evidence unless, once again, the provision implements the recommendations of the Law Commissions.
They're really trying it on, this government. Terrorism Acts left, right and centre, detention without trial, suspension of habeus corpus, ASBOs, ID cards, withdrawal of juries from certain court cases, refugee-bashing, protesters nicked for wearing t-shirts that contain "anti-Blair info", police murder with impunity, and now the reduction of parliament to a Rubber Stamp. Presumably, this is the government readying itself for Anarchy. You can't do to people what successive governments in this country have done for decades without some kind of backlash. You can't batter the trade unions, make people work longer, and harder, for less, sell of property that belongs to the public, squander taxpayers money and send young men off on imperialist adventures without somebody doing something about it. Hence: a law that legalises everything, from - say - banning strikes to pointing guns at protesters.