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The scope of orders issued under Blair’s latest enabling bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:09 pm on 5 March, 2006.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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Following on from my earlier overview of the Abolition of Parliamentary Scrutiny Bill Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, I consider here the scope of the orders that can be issued under the bill.

Essentially, the bill provides a fast-track procedure for passing almost any legislation.The preconditions listed in section 3 are all down to the Minister’s judgement and therefore what they claim to be the case. For this reason, it seems to me that they will not stop a Minister making whatever provision he deems fit to make via this process.

The other non-procedural restrictions are more meaty, but they only restrict the powers to impose or raise taxes, the sentences one can place on newly created offences and the ability to legislate on devolved matters or to create new powers of forced entry. They do not, for example, prevent the Scotland Act being rewritten (thus redefining what matters are devolved!) or changes being made to the Human Rights Act. Even with the restrictions on powers of forced entry, apparently the extending of such powers is allowed if it is done for similar purposes as the original powers were brought in for — I predict the use of highly creative interpretations of the word “similar” here.

As far as I can tell therefore, none of the following would be prohibited by the non-procedural restrictions or anything else in the Bill:

  • altering the procedure used under this bill so that e.g. only the negative resolution procedure is used.
  • “reforming” section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to give a new definition of terrorism.
  • “reforming” the Civil Contingencies Act to make it easier to invoke and removing its protections from modification for the Human Rights Act and the Civil Contingencies Act itself.
  • “reforming” the Human Rights Act.
  • “reforming” the Parliament Acts which set out the procedure by which the House of Commons can override the will of the House of Lords.
  • conferring powers on Ministers to appoint and sack judges at will.
  • “reforming” the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 to allow the Home Secretary to impose control orders on his own authority, without the courts intervening, as was originally intended when the bill was first published.
  • removing awkward amendments forced on the government during the passage of any contentious bills.
  • creating an offence of displeasing the government, carrying a sentence of up to 2 years in jail.
  • rewriting the laws relating to just about any matter.

Clearly with such a broad scope for legislating via these orders, it is crucial for there to be adequate Parliamentary scrutiny of them, which leads us on to the procedure by which such procedures are pushed through Parliament, which is the topic of the next article in this series.

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