Britain's deregulation


Ken Clarke - author of the Deregulation Bill

The Government has released the text of the Deregulation Bill, which seeks to simplify regulation across a wide range of industries and professions – everything from driving instructors to sellers of knitting yarn to insolvency practitioners.  Hidden away at section 51 of the Bill is a provision allowing a Minister of the Crown to order that “legislation shall cease to apply if the Minister considers that it is no longer of practical use.”

I suspect that this is probably the most significant power a Minister has ever sought to take for himself in British history.

Currently, if the Government wish to dis-apply a piece of legislation they must pass an Act of Parliament that abolishes the previous law.  This is because Parliament is the supreme law maker so if Parliament makes a law then only Parliament can unmake that law.

As the anti-Europe brigade in the Conservative party regularly reminds us their problem with Europe is that it undermines the supremacy of Parliament, which they say is of utmost importance to our democracy.  So it is surprising that the same Tory party now seeks to undermine the supremacy of Parliament by allowing a Minister to override Parliament and dis-apply a piece of primary legislation.

I’m sure it would never be used say to benefit political donors of course.

A few years ago the Government sought to increase the time a terror suspect could be held by police before charge from 14-days to 90-days.  There was outcry and Parliament defeated that attempt.  Had clause 51 of the Deregulation Bill been in force at the time a Minister of the Crown could have chosen to unilaterally dis-apply the parts of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that deal with the time a suspect can be held leaving a situation where there is no time-limit at all!  Had they not been totally crazy they could have then amended the Police Codes of Conduct, which is already within the Minister’s power, to impose their 90-day limit, all against the will of the supreme law maker that is Parliament.

I grant you that this sounds far-fetched but civilised nations turned into barbaric dictatorships within living memory!  While laws alone won’t stop an armed group taking power and replacing those laws; a strong set of laws can help people who oppose the barbaric regimes coming to power in the first place.  I can’t help thinking that had ordinary Germans paid more attention to the plans of Hitler before he took complete control of Germany then his rise could have been averted.

Leaving that aside, what’s the next logical step once this law is passed?  After a couple of years why would the Government of the day not suggest that since Ministers can be trusted to dis-apply laws then why not let them apply new laws?  Obviously, they’d only be allowed to do it when necessary and they’d have to tell Parliament about it before making the law and Parliament could vote against it… if they notice it… assuming there’s Parliamentary time for debate before the time-limit for objection expires – that’s okay isn’t it?

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