Tag Archives: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

The Lawyer on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

The Lawyer has an article on the LRRB. The Legislative and Regulatory reform bill is supposed to reduce legislative burdern upon business, but it allows for law to be past without the oversight of parliament.

Giving ministers powers to cut regulation sounds good. But when you have a government for which the answer to everything is to introduce new legislation, you are left with even more red tape for ministers.

In its rush to push through the bill without pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government failed to recognise the constitutional impact of its plans.

Legislation exists for a reason and a balance has to be found to boost UK business while at the same time protecting the consumer.

A lot of analysis and consultation is needed to get that balance. But it will definitely not be achieved by passing ill-considered acts of legislation.

Excellent Independent Article

There is a well written article in the Independent today. I would advice everyone to read it.

… And what is remarkable – in fact almost a historic phenomenon – is the harm his government has done to the unwritten British constitution in those nine years, without anyone really noticing, without the press objecting or the public mounting mass protests.

Britain is not a police state – the fact that Tony Blair felt it necessary to answer me by e-mail proves that – but it is becoming a very different place under his rule, and all sides of the House of Commons agree.

Chakrabarti, who once worked as a lawyer in the Home Office, explains: "If you throw live frogs into a pan of boiling water, they will sensibly jump out and save themselves. If you put them in a pan of cold water and gently apply heat until the water boils they will lie in the pan and boil to death. It’s like that."

This leads to my favourite quote:

In Blair you see the champion frog boiler of modern times

The article goes on to discuss the Civil Contingencies bill, as well as The Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill:

I realise that it would be testing your patience to go too deeply into the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the Government has been trying to smuggle through Parliament this year, but let me just say that its original draft would have allowed ministers to make laws without reference to elected representatives.

Imagine the President of the United States trying to neuter the Congress in this manner, so flagrantly robbing it of its power. Yet until recently all this has occurred in Britain with barely a whisper of coverage in the British media.

ID cards also get a mention:

George Churchill-Coleman described it to me as an absolute waste of time. “You and I will carry them because we are upright citizens. But a terrorist isn’t going to carry [his own]. He will be carrying yours.”

Save Parliament – report following the debate

After initial optimism following an apparent climbdown on the ‘Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill’. The ‘Save Parliament‘ group have been discussing our response to the amended bill.

The response has been published today

After pushing the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill through the Committee Stage without changes in March, the government conceded that this was a very important bill. They made significant changes, and allowed two days for debate. This was still not enough time to air all the objections.

After our initial optimism, we have gone over it carefully, and decided that it’s not much better than before. For example, the Bill still allows the government to rewrite any law, provided they can claim that at least one of the things they are doing will ‘remove a burden’. It would still be possible for jury service or Habeus Corpus to be removed by order. Many of our complaints still haven’t been dealt with.
[Source]

The report goes into some detail as to what the next stages are likely to be. As part of this the report encourages us to examine how our own MP did.

There is no way this Bill will get through the House of Lords in its present state, since it appears that members of the upper chamber tend to read what’s before them, and take as much time as they like. The Lords will make changes to this Bill. This Bill will return to the Commons. The MPs will be asked to revert these changes by voting.
[Source]

The changes are likely to be similar to what had been proposed and rejected during this two day debate of the Bill. Your MP may have voted for or against those changes. We have a list of the votes that were made by MPs on the Bill so far, and the direction they would have voted had they wished to save Parliamentary scrutiny.

To see how your MP voted, you can go to the report stage page of the Save Parliament website and enter your postcode. My MP, Michael Gove, got near 100%, so he’ll get a ‘pat on the back” letter.

The interesting ones to consider are Division 232, where your MP could have voted against the requirement that ministers act “reasonably”; Division 234, where your MP could have voted against the requirement that ministers had to implement law commission reports “without changes”, so they couldn’t cherry-pick them; Division 238, mentioned above; and Division 240, where your MP could have voted against giving the committee overseeing an order complete freedom to reject it.
[Source]

Of course, being a Tory I’d expect him to oppose the government, the real interest comes if you’re in a Labour held seat. I’d be interested to hear of any replies received from Labour MPs (especially Labour MPs that vote as SaveParliament would wish!)

A forum has been created on the save parliament site for discussion (you could also comment directly on murky.org)

The LRRB in parliament

In Parliament, we see the following exchange upon the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Gordon Banks (Labour)

I thank my hon. Friend for that response and welcome him to his new position, in which I am sure that he has experienced great joy in the past few days. In my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire in Scotland, a number of businesses are creaking under the burden of regulation. Is he being bold enough in his attempts to address that?

Bold enough? Under this guise they are trying to introduce the broad sweeping Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is passed in the form the government wants is much broader than deregulation.

… or are they already thinking of the next step?

Patrick McFadden (Labour) replies:

I thank my hon. Friend for his question.

I’ll bet you do, pal

The strong and stable economy that we have enjoyed in recent years is of course essential to business growth and business health. In addition, all Government Departments have been asked to produce a plan to cut unnecessary red tape by the time of the pre-Budget report later this year. However, businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, throughout the country will want to know why the Conservative party voted against the Third Reading of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill yesterday. Conservative Members say that they want to reduce the burden of regulation, but when it came to action, they voted against the Bill.

Perhaps as the LRRB wasn’t LIMITED in any way to deregulation, and indeed could lead to many new regulations without parliamentary oversight (such that it is in these days of blackberry and pagers).

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in Parliament, and a letter reply.

Parliament has been debating the vital bill with the comatosing name, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Yesterday, Bliar made a speech to the CBI which included this bill, presenting it as a purely deregulatory bill

Smarter regulation means doing away with regulations that are outdated or inefficient; fewer regulatory bodies; and it means risk-based enforcement by all regulators, not enforcement by rote.

Our intention is then to measure existing burdens and to set stretching, public targets for de-regulation, to be announced later in the year.

Tonight, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is in its final stages in the House of Commons. This Bill will give us powers to amend legislation to reduce burdens. We need your support.

Deregulation, laudable. It’s a shame that this isn’t, despite proposed amendments, the only possible affect of the bill. Several of the promised amendments did not make it through the debate due to ‘guillotine’ reasons. How ‘unfortunate’. I would have thought that the sensible thing would be to table the most important amendments first.

Over on 24 dash, a website focussing on public sector news, we see the following:

The legislation – dubbed the Abolition of Parliament Bill for allowing ministers to side-step parliamentary scrutiny – is designed to speed up the process by which redundant laws are changed and cut the burden of regulations.

….

Shadow Corporate Governance minister Jonathon Djanogly accused ministers of failing to fulfil a promise to include a parliamentary veto in the Bill and called for the Houses of Parliament to be given the power to intervene without relying on a select committee.

"Why will the Government simply not accept that this is a matter of great concern to opposition parties … and deal with the matter now, here, and within the Bill?

"There is an accepted fact in most quarters that the Bill requires adequate safeguards so it is not used in future years as a tool for the executive’s abuse of power and the discarding of Parliament.

"The amendments fall far short of the robust and firm veto we would have expected to see in such an important and constitutionally significant piece of legislation."

I’ve also come across this wider article upon Blair’s Legacy:

Since Tony Blair took office in 1997 he has presided over the complete implosion of every fundamental human right in Britain that one would expect to hold in a free society.

The article then enumerates the changes that Blair and co have made. Even if some of the powers are rarely used, the cumulative effect leaves a situation where the powers are open to future abuse – not a good place to be.

Back on the current issue of the LRRB, Bloomberg has an article which starts by discussing how the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill could affect the murder laws (an odd place to begin, to my mind)

Without safeguards on the bill now before Parliament, Heald said government ministers would be able to push through changes to legal definitions without Parliament’s approval. While the government maintains the rules will be used to strip away regulations that stifle business, Heald said another administration would be able to abuse the powers to change the definitions of criminal acts including murder and theft, something the bill doesn’t intend.

A few days ago I received a reply to my letter upon this bill:

Thank you for your letter of 5 April 2006, to Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, regarding the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

I’m forced to wonder if ‘Good old Jim’ ever saw the letter… he was, at the time, saying that hardly anyone had written to him on the topic.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to make a real impact on reducing burdensome regulation.

It’s a shame that the aim was lousy, missing by a mile.

This Bill is the third attempt by governments since 1994 to have an Act that can improve the way we regulate the public sector, businesses, charities and the voluntary sector.

You’d think they’d have got good at it by now.

Although the World Bank in September 2005 ranked the UK second in the EU (behind Denmark) and ninth in the world for the best business conditions, we must get this Bill right if we are to further strengthen the UK’s position.

Unfortunately, the bill is drafted in loose and wideranging terms, and amendments to tighten up the terms are opposed by the government. This isn’t ‘getting it right’.

Debate about the Bill during its passage through Parliament so far has served to confirm the general consensus that the 2001 Act is not up to the job of delivering the reductions in red tape that businesses, public servants and voluntary workers tell us they need. That’s because the 2001 Act is too narrowly defined and too complicated to use. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to deal with these shortcomings.

By having a simplistic and broad bill?

However in its current form, the order-making power in the Bill has caused some concern.

You might say that….

Wilder claims have ranged from government being able to use the power to abolish trial by jury to repealing the Magna Carta.

Wilder claims? ‘Anyone who disagrees is making a ‘wilder claim’? Besides unless protected on the face of the bill, such changes are possible. Why is this then a wild claim? The claim isn’t that these changes are desired, only that they’re possible. The implication of refusing to recognise this leads to the conclusion that perhaps this is the purpose of the bill.

These and other far-fetched statements about amending. by order our constitutional arrangements could never happen as a result of the safeguards already in the Bill. Similar wild accusations were made about the 2001 Act and have proved to be groundless.

A false argument. Just because a power in a bill has yet to be used to it’s full extent, it does not mean that the power does not exist.

However, the Government want to make it clear beyond doubt that the Bill could not be used to make such constitutional changes.

Yes. Good… on the face of the bill, please, that’s where it counts.

The Government have listened to more measured concerns…

Hang on, pointing out that the bill in the form as it then existed could be abused is not ‘measured’? … and the current executive wonder why people are going off them…

… as Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, said it would do at Second Reading and in Committee, about using the power for changes to legislation that would deliver no better regulation benefit. Government amendments have been tabled that will ensure that this Bill can deliver the Government’s better regulation agenda and nothing else. These amendments clearly focus the power in Part 1 of the Bill on better regulation objectives.

Now, did these amendments actually make it onto the bill, and are they sufficient? The fact that this was received a day or two before the parliamentary debate is interesting.

The changes to the order making power in Part 1 focus the power so that Ministers can only use orders for the purpose of furthering the better regulation agenda. This will be achieved through a power to remove or reduce burdens, and a power to bring regulatory activity in line with the Better Regulation Commission’s five principles of good regulation: that regulation should be proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted.

The definition of burdens proposed differs from that in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The 2001 Act described how legislation could be reformed – by removing legislative restrictions. The power in the proposed amendments focuses on why legislation should be reformed – for the purpose of removing administrative burdens or barriers to productivity etc. This will remove the need for onerous legal analysis when preparing orders which has proved such a constraint on the effective use of the 2001 Act.

Yes, who would want parliament to pass laws that have actually undergone legal analysis? Heaven forfend.

Concentrating the order-making power in this way will allow us to make real changes to the way we regulate. This includes the simplification measures that every department is currently putting together as well as our comprehensive programme to reduce overall administrative burdens for businesses, voluntary organisations and our public services.

Aims of a legislation mean little unless written into the face of the bill

Other better regulation initiatives which this order-making power will allow us to deliver include:

  • the consolidation of legislation to make it easier to understand and work with;
  • ensuring that inspection is risk-based to reduce the burden on those who comply with regulation and concentrate inspection on those who do not;
  • simplifying and making more transparent the ways in which people and businesses need to apply for consent from authorities; and
  • the exemption in certain key instances of Small and Medium Enterprises, charities and others from burdensome regulation to allow them to concentrate their effort where it is most needed.

Laudable aims, but this is one very blunt tool…. it’s interesting to consider how inspection might be focussed on those who do not follow regulation. It seems rather chicken and egg. (I know this is semantics, but…)

This Bill is all about driving forward the Government’s ambitious programme of better regulation and addressing the recognised weaknesses of the 2001 Regulatory Reform Act. Safeguards already in the Bill ensure that the order-making cannot be used to remove necessary protections, rights or freedoms.

Erm, where are these safeguards, exactly?

The amendments to focus the power on better regulation reinforce these safeguards and ensure that the order making power can only be used to achieve our better regulation objectives.

The safeguards in the Bill will be policed by the Regulatory Reform Committee and its equivalent in the House of Lords, but the Government is strengthening the role of Parliament further with other amendments. There will be a statutory veto to be exercised by the relevant Committee in either House. This means that the Committees will have a statutory power to block an order.

… and the committees are formed by what means?

A further related change is that the period which Parliament has to determine which scrutiny procedure should apply to any order is extended from 21 to 30 days. These two amendments follow commitments made to this effect at Committee stage by Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office.

30 days? <slightly facetious> Crikey. Almost impossible to imagine how the government could put out a clutch of laws at one time to swamp that time period!</slightly facetious>

The combination of an order-making power concentrated on better regulation objectives, the Bill’s existing safeguards as well as the statutory Parliamentary veto on the face of the Bill, will allow us all to focus on the substantial challenge that we face: how Government and Parliament can best tackle the burden of regulation placed on our businesses, public services and voluntary organisations.

Finally, the Government is proposing that orders implementing Law Commission recommendations will now be subject to the same restrictions on imposing criminal penalties and authorising forcible entry, search, seizure or compelling the giving of evidence as are applied to other orders.

This is the third attempt at legislation intended to lighten the regulatory load. The Government believe that it is vital to the continued competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the effectiveness of public services and voluntary sector that it delivers on the better regulation agenda – of which this Bill is an important part.

Why does he come back to ‘third attempt’ as if getting it wrong twice is a good thing. Presumably we’re being set up for the fourth attempt…?

Yours,

Sydney G. C. Nash

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill Team

Better Regulation Executive
Cabinet Office
22 Whitehall
Kirkland House
London
SW1 A 2WH

Now, should the man get a response… and if so, where should the response focus?

Any thoughts?