Tag Archives: Parliamentary Democracy

Ban on reporting the proceedings of Parliament

The Grauniad reports that it is currently under a ban from reporting the proceedings of parliament – and they’re not allowed to say why.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

Obviously, I don’t know the details of the case – but the general principle is that if something goes in in parliament, that it’s fair game for reporters is an important one in a parliamentary democracy. It is true that MPs operate under parliamentary privilege, and so may say something which, if said outside the chamber, would then be libellous – however, it should still be possible to report that they said it.

I can’t help thinking that ultimately the muzzle will come off, and that in the end more will be made of whatever-it-was than would have been the case without muzzle.

For parliament, on the day following the re-emergence of the expenses row, this is not a good story.

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.

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.

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.

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).