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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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