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Critics Force Climbdown on Bill for a ‘British Dictatorship’ April 14, 2006

Posted by bill111 in Politics.
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Sam Coates writes in The Times,

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the Government said would help to cut red tape, also provoked a grass-roots revolt when nearly 2,000 people signed up to a Save Parliament campaign.

Six Cambridge law professors said in a letter to The Times that the Bill would have made it possible for the Government, by delegated legislation, to do the following:

  • Create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, punishable with two years' imprisonment
  • Curtail or abolish jury trial
  • Permit the Home Secretary to place citizens under house arrest
  • Allow the Prime Minister to sack judges
  • Rewrite the law on nationality and immigration
  • "Reform" Magna Carta (or what remains of it)

Although nice to get the mention, the article does use the past tense when talking about the bill which is still well and truly alive and until we know for sure what the reforms are, could still pose a great threat to democracy in Britain.

The timing of the article is slightly unfortunate. The figure Sam gave of "nearly 2,000" is now over 2,500 and still growing!

What can I do?

  • You can write to your MP, telling him/her you disapprove of the bill.
  • Tell your friends about the bill and this site.
  • Distribute leaflets around your school/college, place of work or even in your local town.


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Comments

1. Spy Blog - April 16, 2006

Financial Times reports a promised Government backdown over the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill 2006

If this Financial Times report about a promised backdown by the Government over the controversial Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is true, then there is cause for a litt bit of a celebration. Financial Times “Blair backs down over regulatory…

2. Terry Stokes - April 16, 2006

I have written to my MP and on 12th April received his standard reply plus a Briefing Paper dated 9th Feb from Jim Murphy. Of the 12 pages enclosed two relate to the proposed Bill, one is blank(!) and 9 are Labour rant against previous Tory administrations. The grammar and sentence composition is poor to say the least and reminds the reader of the “dodgy dossiers!”

3. kathleen bell - April 21, 2006

It’s really important to monitor the “concessions”, given what the Bill proposes. I would much rather see the Bill ditched in its entirety. A concession which says, for instance, that new laws can be passed by a packed committee instead of by parliament as a whole is unacceptable. Can anyone explain what the Bill offers that is so good that it’s worth keeping? I’ve read the Bill and I didn’t see anything so very valuable. If some reduction in red tape for business is necessary, let ministers put it in a new Bill for fresh debate so that we can all be sure that no anti-democratic measures are being smuggled into law. This Bill is so terrifying in its scope that the sensible response is rejection rather than amendment.

Incidentally, please can any lawyers reading this blog look at the Armed Forces Bill 2005 (sic – it is nearly through and may, I suspect, have originated in the Lords) since this also includes some dangerous anti-democratic measures in its later clauses. These are to do with evidence in civilian courts, the right to protest (again) and – perhaps most alarmingly – the dismantlement of the part of the 1689 Settlement which ensures that parliament meets at least annually (in order to maintain a standing army). There has been far too little discussion of its implications, and it should be read in conjunction with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

4. Chris CourageOne - April 21, 2006

I’ll have a look at this. The only GOOD thing I’ve seen while trawling the Parliament site is the Armed Forces (PArliamentary approval for Participation in Conflict) Bill – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmbills/016/06016.i-i.html#j002 – makes for nice reading.

5. Chris CourageOne - April 21, 2006

I’ve had a trawl through the actual Armed Forces Bill, and I can’t find any reference to the points you’ve made, sadly. 😦 What’s your source on them? I can’t find anything affecting, or making mention of Parliament, or the right to assemble, gather, protest, anything like that. There’s certainly no reference to annual, or years, with the exception of sentencing references.

The evidence part may have some grounding, but it only affects those subject to service law. s362 allows SoS to make provision by regulation abour the admissibility of evidence in civilian courts, but crucially, only regarding offences created under this Act, which, as I said, only affect those subject to service law.

Come back to me if that’s not alright, or if i’ve missed something obvious…

6. kathleen - April 21, 2006

I’m trying to do this from memory and notes as I’m using a computer which tends to crash when I look at texts of Bills. My notes which deal also with other matters (and were simply jottings for a friend) say that relevant clauses 8, 9 and 10, 328-342, 338-339 and 371 and that it might be important to see the contents of the Armed Forces Acts of 1955 and 57 which are repealed.

I think that sections 327 – 331 deal with the treatment of civilians who seek to dissuade soldiers from serving (given the contemporary context this could include, for instance, people protesting outside barracks etc) while section 371 concerns the scrapping of annual review.

The history of the annual review is as follows. In 1689 the settlement required that separate Army and Navy Acts were passed in full by parliament every year so that the army and navy could continue to exist. This meant that there was parliamentary oversight of the armed forces and no individual could establish a standing army. In. 1918 an Air Force Act was added with similar provisions. In 1955 parliament passed a new Army Act and Air Force Act. Henceforth parliament was given orders in council every year – but both had to be voted on positively. In 1957 a new Navy Act was passed with similar provisions. All Acts also had to be completely reviewed every 5 years. This New Bill proposes that there should be one Act every five years but no orders in council. I think it’s vital that we consider, in the context of contemporary events, why parliamentary scrutiny of the armed forces is to be reduced. Under the new procedures, parliament only scrutinises, debates and asks questions every 5 years.

Given that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is – quite rightly – being called an “Enabling Bill”, we need to consider it in relation to the armed forces, since these are the final means by which governments maintain and attain power at home and abroad. (It sounds alarmist, I know, but the implications of the LRRB are alarming).

7. Chris CourageOne - April 24, 2006

Had another look.

8-10 set out the definitions of desertion and being absent without leave. 328-340 just cover various penalties and forfeitures that courts martial can impose. 338 is interesting – as you suggested, it does imply that it is an offence to cause, by weight of argument or potentially protest, a serviceman to go AWOL or desert, and it will be punishable in civilian courts.

Having looked at it again – s 371 – that’s a *very* well hidden way to circumvent the previous arrangements; i can’t find the full text of the 1955 Army Act anywhere online and I don’t have access to a law lib at the moment. I’m also concerned about s370 which states that the SoS can make ‘transitory’ arrangements by order. s370(7) says, in a style to which we’ve become accustomed:
“An order under this section may modify, exclude, or apply (with or without modifications) any enactment or subordinate legislation, including –
a) any provision of or made under this Act
b) any provision repealed under this Act”

Again, we see the ‘clarification’ of legislation being used to centralise power and remove parliament from the process. My main caveat to this is that it doesn’t sit correctly with the legislation that’s going through which will mean we can’t go to war without the express consent of the House… even with a three line whip, that’s a lot of power to codify back to Parliament.

So yes. Worrying.

8. kathleen - April 27, 2006

Thanks for looking at this. I was worried about 8-10 for other reasons – the massively increased penalty for desertion from service overseas – from two years to life imprisonment. (This Bill is particularly concerned with soldiers who refuse to act as part of an army of occupation and it seems to me that the Bill also tried to end the defence that soldiers and others have advanced with varying degrees of success – that they are not obliged to obey illegal orders.

There may be some other elements concealed in this Bill that no-one has spotted Incidentally, since the Armed Forces Bill started in the Lords, am I right in believing that only a third reading in the Commons is necessary before the Bill becomes law or does it have to return to the Lords in any case? It’s amazing how much constitutional change is being effected with minimal debate in parliament or elsewhere.


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