Critics force climbdown on Bill for a ‘British dictatorship’

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2006-04-14 12:53:10

The summary at the end still gives cause for concern about how this bill may end up even when revised.…,,174-2133349,00.html   Critics force climbdown on Bill for a ‘British dictatorship’By Sam Coates, Political Correspondent THE Government has backed down over the so-called “dictatorship Bill”, which would have allowed ministers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny. This comes after trenchant criticism from a cross-party group of MPs, peers and senior lawyers, including six Cambridge law professors, who gave warning in a letter to The Times that it would allow the Government to rewrite almost any Act. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the Government said would help to cut red tape, also provoked a grassroots revolt when nearly 2,000 people signed up to a Save Parliament campaign. Jim Murphy, the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for the Bill, has now indicated that he will amend the legislation to make clear “beyond doubt” that it will be used only to tackle red tape, known as better regulation. The Bill was drawn up to give ministers the power to reform legislation or introduce recommendations of the Law Commission, which suggests updates to the law, “by order”. Select committees would be allowed to scrutinise the orders and suggest changes, but they would not go to the floor of the Commons. Ministers would have the final say in deciding whether the order became law. Mr Murphy promised yesterday to give a statutory veto to the regulatory reform select committees in the Commons and Lords, allowing them to block fast-track changes. Some critics say that this does not go far enough. Tony Blair had been warned by Lord Grocott, the Government’s Chief Whip in the Lords, that he had serious doubts that the Bill would get through. In a letter, sent to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and copied to the Prime Minister, he said: “I am concerned that by failing to consider further changes we are missing our last opportunity to avoid likely defeats.” The Commons Procedure Committee, which makes recommendations on parliamentary practice, was scathing about the Bill. It said: “This Bill, as currently drafted, tips the balance between the Executive and Parliament too far in the Government’s favour.” In a letter to Andrew Miller, the Labour MP who chaired a committee that raised concerns about the legislation, Mr Murphy said he wanted to remove any cause for concern. “In its current form, the Bill has caused some people to voice concern about the order making power of the Bill,” he wrote. “I am writing to you today to confirm my intention to move this debate on to the real agenda of better regulation and to remove any cause for concern that the Bill could ever be used for anything other than achieving our better-regulation objectives. Safeguards already in the Bill ensure that the order making power cannot be used to remove necessary protections, rights or freedoms.” Opponents said that the changes might not be enough. David Heath, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the Commons, said: “At the very least we need to see a drastic reduction in the scope of the Bill, measures to prevent ministers manipulating Law Commission proposals, and the safeguard of a genuine parliamentary veto that can be exercised by opposition parties to block fast-track procedures.” Jonathan Djanogly, the Conservative Shadow Solicitor-General, said: “We do still need to see the detail of the amendments, which the minister says he will be making. If the amendments do introduce the protections which Mr Murphy has promised, then this is a major victory for freedom and parliamentary democracy.” POWER BASE 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)

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