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Constitutional Renewal Bill is safe after all March 31, 2008

Posted by James in Politics.
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There have been recent reports, originating on Spy Blog, but spreading as far as the House of Commons chamber and this very blog that a new Bill has a clause as dangerous as the old Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

It’s not true.

The scary-looking provisions in the Constitutional Renewal Bill don’t let ministers make arbitary law, they just let them make “consequential amendments”.

A court is unlikely to accept the use of the power in a surprising way. Despite its short title, the Constitutional Renewal Bill is pretty narrow and pedestrian in character, so any consequential regulations are unlikely to be very exciting.

Provisions like these are relatively common in modern acts of Parliament. Its usual to have a rather more limited set of powers – but legislative drafting becomes ever more lazy and so its no surprise that a simple general provision is present.

Clause 3(6) of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 is a recent example. It is more limiting than the clause in the Constitutional Renewal Bill. Clause 90 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 is an example much more like that in the Constitutional Renewal Bill. The blogger Head of Legal gives more examples and details.

We should worry about the general trend of pushing more and more law into regulations and having less and less of it debated in Parliament (or anywhere), but thats a trend that has been long building. The amendments in the Constitutional Renewal Bill are hardly unusual or controversial and certainly not a place to make a stand.

P.S. If you’d like to help make it easier to track Bills and Amendments, so it is more common and normal to have discussions about new legislation, join TheyWorkForYou’s new campaign to Free Our Bills.

Take 2: Draft Governance of Britain – Constitutional Renewal Bill March 27, 2008

Posted by James in Politics.
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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Westminster…

By the time it passed, the “Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act” was no longer a bill to abolish Parliament, thanks to a load of changes made during the parliamentary process. However, we aren’t safe yet. They are at it again, it seems.

The “Draft Governance of Britain – Constitutional Renewal Bill” has started going through the process, and some of the old abolition of parliament language is back. Part 6 appears to include the old language allowing minsters to “amend, repeal or revoke” any Act, without full debate in Parliament, once again. The “super-affirmative” procedure required to make such changes under the LRRA has disappeared, apparently.

We’ve not had time yet to do a full analysis of the implications of this new bill, but Spy Blog has a pretty good writeup in the meantime.

LRRB Passed by Commons November 8, 2006

Posted by James in Politics.
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It looks like it’s all done. The House of Commons debated the Lords amendments for 2 hours last night, agreed to them, and passed the Bill. One new amendment was debated, aimed at making the Scotland Act explicitly exempt from the Bill, but it was defeated.You can see the Hansard record of the Commons debate here, and the note in the Lords records here.

So, it looks like that’s it, it’s all over. The Bill has passed, but it’s much better than it was. In the words of David Heath (LD) in the Commons last night:

“(David Howarth) described the Bill in its earlier stages as the abolition of Parliament Bill,but now it is not. It has been filleted, dissected, deconstructed and reconstructed. It is now a better Bill because … lame-brained arguments … have been abandoned by the Government. … At that time, it was a thoroughly bad Bill that did things that were way beyond its stated scope. Now, it has been brought back under control.”

As he points out, the Bill is vastly better than it was when it was first proposed, and we have you to thank for that. This Bill was not just fixed by MPs discussing in Parliament, it was fixed by you, the general public, applying pressure to your representatives, and raising the profile of this Bill so that it could not be ignored. You should all be very pleased that we got as much fixed as we did.

In the debate, John Redwood (Con) stated:

“The problem is that, throughout the process, Ministers have refused to give us examples of how the very real powers under clause 1 would be used. They still seem to have no idea what they wish to deregulate.”
This is sadly true. The government have never shown a real need for this Bill, so it remains unnecessary legislation. However, it is at least no longer the “Abolition of Parliament Bill”.

Lords Third Reading November 6, 2006

Posted by James in Politics.
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As you might be aware, last Thursday saw the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill debated in the Lords again. This time it was Third Reading, the last debate on the Bill in the Lords.

In the few days before the debate, the House of Lords fax machine had to work overtime as hundreds of Save Parliament supporters wrote in to try to get the Lords to make a couple of final amendments to the Bill. Unfortunately, no really good amendments were tabled at Third Reading, and there weren’t any divisons (votes), so we don’t know how many Lords even turned up. Still, thanks to everyone who took the time to write to a Lord!

While we didn’t manage to get what we wanted on the Lords Third Reading, Save Parliament supporters can feel proud of the fact that the Bill as it stands now is no longer the “Abolition of Parliament Bill”, but instead is only slightly worse than existing legislation. We still think that the Bill is unnecessary, and that adding yet more bad legislation to the statute book is not a good thing to do, but at least we won’t be seeing the back of Parliament just yet!

So, it goes back to the Commons now, where the Lords amendments will be accepted (or, less likely, rejected) before the Bill finally passes into law.

Write to your Lord to Save Parliament October 31, 2006

Posted by James in Politics.
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Remember the Abolition of Parliament Bill? The one back in the spring, which could have been used to end democracy as we know it?

It is still at large, and making its way through Parliament. Thanks to you, it is much less dangerous than it was. But it is still quite dangerous.

Yesterday the House of Lords voted to make the Bill safer. And lost. By just 13 votes. At first we growled and shouted in frustration! But then we realised that there’s another chance. There’ll be a final vote this Thursday.

And you can help.

We’d like you to write to a Member of the House of Lords. Here’s how to do it. It’ll only take you a moment, and this time we know it really can make a difference.

1. Go to http://www.writetothem.com/lords

2. Click “Random Lord” near the bottom of the page.

3. If you get a Labour peer, then click the back button and press “Random Lord” again. No point writing to Government peers on this one. Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Crossbench, Bishops etc. are all fine.

4. Write a letter making the following points in your own words:

* The Third Reading (that’s the last one in the House of Lords) of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is this coming Thursday, 2nd November.

* Explain to the Lord how important Parliament is to hold the Government’s power in balance, and how you would not like to see this Bill passed in a form which would weaken Parliament.

* In the first clause of the Bill, there is a section which says that the purpose of the Bill is to “reduce burdens”. Unfortunately, all it says that the *Minister* must consider whether the change in law he wants to make reduces burdens. This is better than the original Bill at the start of the year, but it is still not good enough.

* Say that you would like the phrase “he considers” to be removed from the Bill, so that any law changed under it must be considered burden reducing by any reasonable person. Rather than by a possibly unreasonable Minister.

(you can skip the last two points if it seems too complicated to explain; the next one is the key one)

* Ask the Lord to attend Parliament on Thursday, and vote for any opposition amendments which remove the phrase “he considers”, or otherwise make the Bill safer.

* Ask your Lord to vote *against* passing the Third Reading of the Bill if the phrase “he considers” is not removed.

* And thank them!

5. Send the letter. You’re done.

More detailed background information about what is going on:
http://bill111.wordpress.com/2006/10/27/house-of-lords-report-stage-debate/
Here is the part of the Bill with the “he considers” section in it:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldbills/161/06161.1-7.html#jNC19

There were just 13 votes in it yesterday. We really can win this one. Thanks to your help!

Please write to your Lord now.

Francis Irving
Campaigns Director
Save Parliament

House of Lords Report Stage Debate October 27, 2006

Posted by James in Politics.
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Yesterday, the House of Lords debated the Report Stage of the LRRB, the second to last debate on the Bill in that House. The full debate is available online at TheyWorkForYou.

An amendment was proposed by the Liberal Democrat Lord Goodhart to remove the wording “he considers” from the “power to remove or reduce burdens” section of the Bill. This amendment would mean that it is no longer enough for a Minister to “consider” that the order would remove a burden, it must actually be the case. This turns it from a subjective test into an objective test, which could be tested by a court of law. This amendment would make the whole Bill much safer and prevent abuse by “well-meaning” Ministers.

Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated by 116 votes to 103. The voting was entirely along party lines, with almost the entire House except for Labour Lords voting for the amendment.

Even more unfortunately, the turnout for the vote was lower than we might have hoped. This is especially true of the Conservative Lords, of whom only 24% turned up to vote. Who knows, with a few more in the House, this Bill might have been made safe. After all, only 14 votes were needed to pass the amendment!

With this in mind, we are hoping that the amendment will be tabled for the Third Reading, which is the last debate in the Lords on the Bill, and which takes place next Thursday. We’re hoping to get more Lords out to vote for it, so if you feel like writing to a Lord and asking them to support such an amendment, and indeed just to turn up, please do so at WriteToThem.

There was also some good news from the debate. An amendment was passed that required the Minister to be satisfied that the order is not of “constitutional significance” before making it. Obviously this is weakened by the “he considers” working discussed above, but is still a welcome addition.

You can see the full text of the Bill as amended in Report online here.

Lords Report Stage October 25, 2006

Posted by James in Politics.
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On Thursday 25th October, the House of Lords will hear the report of Lord Bassam of Brighton on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. This should include all the details of the amendments that have been made in the committee stage, which make the Bill much safer than it was when it arrived in the Lords. When the report is complete, we’ll have a report for you, so check back later!

Scottish Parliament to Consider Abolition of Parliament Bill October 4, 2006

Posted by Philip John in Politics.
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The Scottish Parliament will, on Thursday 5th October, consider a legislative consent motion (also known as a sewell motion) on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (LRRB).

The Sewell motion has to be passed to allow legislation to pass at Westminster where the legislation affects the Scottish executive.

As a campaign, Save Parliament are opposed to part 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill because of the powers it gives UK ministers. The Sewel motion relates mainly to part 3, which we aren’t campaigning about. However, we would still like MSPs to speak and vote against the Sewel motion, to indicate their disapproval of the bill as a whole. Part 1 very much affects Scotland, even though it doesn’t directly affect powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage Scottish supporters of the campaign to write to their MSPs regarding this important issue and urge them to vote against passing the consent motion on the grounds that the bill would give too much power to MPs in Westminster.

You can write to your MSP using WriteToThem.com.

For more information please see the following sources:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Sewel/UnderConsideration
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Sewel/LegRegReform
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Sewel/LRRBillsupplemental

House of Lords July 5, 2006

Posted by Philip John in Politics.
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As SpyBlog reports, the House of Lords has been debated the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. We are not exactly certain yet as to what amendments have been tabled or made but it does appear as though the Labour lord at the forefront has tabled for clause 3 to be removed with allows the implementation of law commission recommendations with or without changes – one of our primary concerns.

This could be a sign that the Government is attempting to make the much needed changes to make this bill safe.

Guest Article, House of Lords Debate June 13, 2006

Posted by Philip John in Politics.
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The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (aka the Abolition of Parliament Bill) is being debated in the House of Lords today and we have a guest article to coincide with the debate. If you'd like to follow the debate you can watch the House of Lords live at www.parliamentlive.tv.

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There’s something fishy about the progress of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is getting its second reading in the House of Lords tomorrow, and by fishy, I mean an old, putrid fish, rotten to the point where you reel back in disgust, obviously. The Chairman of the House of Lords Committee currently dealing with the Bill said it first. "They (the government) wanted to give themselves power to change any law with the minimum of parliamentary involvement, thus gold-plating their powers," Lord Holme reported. The government, he then added “got it badly wrong this time”.

Well no, anyone still possessing logic, which this Bill tends to destroy, must be thinking at this juxtaposition.  The government have surely not “got it badly wrong”. They have so far managed to get this Bill through all three readings in the House of Commons. “They” wanted to “gold-plate” their powers, and “they” have almost managed to do so. All that remains between us and a virtual dictatorship now is the House of Lords, whose sterling dissection of the amended Bill managed to hit precisely one headline last week, and whose own existence is under permanent threat. You could, rather more convincingly, argue that the government have got it very right, if the stench wasn’t threatening to overwhelm you.

One supposes that Lord Holme, having looked with clear eyes at the truth of the Bill, and dared to speak that truth through the miasma of lies, diversions and empty promises with which the government have managed to get to this stage, was overwhelmed.  And the Bill really is too much, even for people who have become used to it. The amendments, as the Lords’ report points out, do not do what the government assured people they would do. So where are the wild cries of horror which originally greeted the Bill’s contents, once those contents became understood? Where are the lawyers, the commentators, the bloggers and the campaigners whose passionate defence of our democracy meant that the government had at least to make a pretence of amending the Bill? Exhausted, dispirited, and hoping that the Lords will somehow get it right, one suspects. Not to mention taken entirely by surprise, yet again, by the government’s impeccable timing.

The government’s tactics so far have been simple, and effective. First they tried to get the Bill through without any publicity at all. When its contents were finally exposed, they delayed a response, then grudgingly announced that they would consider changing the contents. Once the cheers of delight and relief had died down, and the Bill’s opponents, believing they had won a victory, took their eye off things, the government struck. The third reading came out of nowhere. MP’s were given three days to study the last set of amendments before voting on them. Now the Bill is in the Lords. "Already? No!" was the common reponse from the lawyers I spoke to, including the commercial lawyers Olswangs, who had described it as “unnecessary, sinister and undesirable”, and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship who, along with other faith groups, had been campaigning against it.

“It’s nothing to worry about” a minor civil servant was telling me yesterday. “All that will have happened is that they tried to give themselves as much power as possible. There’s nothing sinister in that. It’s just a practical matter”.  And in the meantime the government – or the executive, rather, since this Bill is generated and backed by both Blair and Brown  – have lied, and lied again to get this Bill through; lied about everything from its overall purpose to its fine detail. "They should have known that was constitutionally questionable" said Lord Holme. He had just accused the government of wanting to seize legislative power; of course they must have known it was “constitutionally questionable”. We all need to face up to facts, it seems, and instead here we are, still holding our noses in denial.

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