By Richard Denton
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill currently going through Parliament hides an alarming proposal. It gives government 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 ministers cannot increase taxation. But any other law can be changed, no matter how important.
New Labour introduced this bill to “enable ministers to scrap red tape” and help big business. Cambridge University law experts say the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill would give ministers the power to do things such as scrap jury trials.
The Observer comments, “The legislation will allow a minister to use the ancient feudal device of executive decree to amend, repeal or replace any law, regulation or official if the minister considers it necessary to do so. The consultation process proposed is derisory, the parliamentary accountability close to non-existent. A regulator or judge felt to be creating anti-business regulation could be dismissed. An environmental law could be repealed by decree.”
This is a continuation of the Blair government’s contempt for democratic rights.
Acts passed since 1997 include:
• The Protection From Harassment Act, which was drafted so loosely that any repeated form of conduct — demonstrating with anti-Bush signs outside a US Air Force base, for example — could be deemed a crime.
• The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 states that during an emergency — which can be declared by Ministers orally and without parliament being consulted — the government can make special legislation in a seven-day period which allows the forced evacuation of people, the seizing of property without compensation, the banning of any assembly (which conceivably might include parliament itself) and the conferring of jurisdiction on any new court or tribunal that it wishes. The Minister only has to believe that an emergency is about to occur to grant himself or herself these powers.
• The freedom to communicate privately without surveillance is removed in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) and its further order in 2002.
• The freedom to protest is removed in certain circumstances in the Terrorism Act (2000). The freedom to go about your business without being questioned and harassed by the police is also removed.
• The freedom to demonstrate outside parliament was taken in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005).
• The right to trial by jury was removed in certain cases by the Criminal Justice Act (2003), as was the right of silence and the rule of double jeopardy.
• The right not to be punished unless a court decides that there has been a breach of law is removed in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), as it may be in the Police and Justice Bill.
• The right to privacy and freedom to move without surveillance is jeopardised in the Identity Cards Bill.
• The freedom of association was eroded in the Terrorism Act (2000) as was the presumption of innocence.