Coalition wants powers to weaken Parliament


by Sunder Katwala    
3:38 pm - November 17th 2010

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The Coalition government has made much of its commitment to strengthen Parliament.

So one would think it would want as little as possible to do any massive extension of “Henry VIII” clauses – introducing powers to enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by ministers, with or without further Parliamentary discussion. (Keen historians may know that this relates to Henry VIII’s Statute of Proclamations of 1539).

Think again.

The Public Bodies Bill – which abolishes as many quangos as possible – gives ministers astonishingly leeway to amend all legislation.

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee could not be clearer in its latest report that this goes much too far, and would be an important weakening of Parliament.

This Committee was established by the House as a result of “considerable disquiet over the problem of wide and sometimes ill-defined order-making powers which give Ministers unlimited discretion”.[1] The powers in this Bill as it is currently drafted fall into that category. The Committee is instructed by the House in its terms of reference “to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power”.

The Committee considers that the powers contained in clauses 1 to 5 and 11 as they are currently drafted are not appropriate delegations of legislative power. They would grant to Ministers unacceptable discretion to rewrite the statute book, with inadequate parliamentary scrutiny of, and control over, the process

The Bill confers powers on Ministers to make very significant changes. All orders under the Bill may amend or repeal any Act of Parliament and are thus Henry VIII powers. Orders under the Bill may even amend or repeal Acts of Parliament which have not yet been passed by Parliament (clause 27(2)).

The exercise of those powers is in each case made subject to the affirmative procedure. But that procedure cannot in any circumstances be regarded as a substitute for a bill, for two reasons in particular. First, as is normal with secondary legislation, the orders are considered only once and are unamendable, however much material the order contains. Second, in practice, it is very rare for either House to vote down subordinate legislation, whatever its concerns about them.

Indeed, no such instrument has been voted down by the Commons since 1969 – over forty years – as Stephen Gummer reported on LabourList.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


Surely the principle should be that there should be no changes to statutes without explicit parlimentary approval (and that any authority under statute should be subject to periodic review)?

Dors the Public Bodies Bill have anything to do with Page 3?

Just another example of the lies from the tory party that they want govt to be more accountable.

And the idiot Lie dems will support this because they have no spine.

That’s pretty strongly worded stuff from a Committee.

It should be noted they also said “there is general agreement that the Bill requires amendment”.

Here is the Second Reading debate and the vote.

I would say Baroness Scotland makes a good point but it does sound a little hollow coming from her.

It does indeed sound awfully familiar.

As I dubbed it (and yes it was me) back in 2006 when it was last tried, this is the abolition of parliament bill.

The way it got from blogs to national attention was:

Owen Barder writes about Henry VIII powers. I pick that up and write about it. Danny Finkelstein reads my blog piece, writes Times column. Law Professors write to The Times and the whole thing snowballs.

Timelines here:

http://www.barder.com/442

And, yes, just like last time, we need to tell them to fuck right off good and proper.

And yes, this is vastly more important than student fees, housing benefit, the cuts or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s the overturning of the settlement of the English Civil War, that the Crown in Parliament is sovereign, not the executive.

I’m sure Danny Finkelstein will get right on it.

Oh wait….

sally,

I hope you will be surprised here – the right and left are generally united in their hatred for those trying to take on dictatorial (literally) powers.

So could I suggest on this we don’t try to score cheap political points and actually agree that these measures, which seem common to all governments, should be stopped? Or would you like those behind this attack on parliament (I’m guessing that it is civil servants as much as ministers, since it is the same proposal again) to watch us bickering away on tribal lines and get away with reducing the legislature’s right to represent us?

9. Chaise Guevara

What Watchman said.

10. Mike Killingworth

[6] I think Tim is 100% right. What is particularly disturbing is that this means that all three main parties, when in government, have attempted a “Henry VIII” Bill.

Perhaps the idea that Parliament can or should scrutinise the Executive is what’s out of date. Perhaps we need to elect the Executive directly…

10

“Perhaps we need to elect the Executive directly…”

President Blair. President Thatcher.

Yeah..that’d be a great solution.

12. Mike Killingworth

[11] I hope Sunny will make space on the site for Galen’s essay on why Italy is a preferable democratic model to France.

By the way.

(note: a copy has yet to be placed in the House Library)

12

Errrrmmmm…. except that’s not what I said.

This is very worrying. With five year fixed terms we are losing yet more of the already diminished influence the public can have on how this country is run.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

13 – Blimey!

As you know, a Henry VIII clause is a power in a Bill which enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by secondary legislation. Such provisions are included in legislation for a variety of reasons.

Due to the diverse nature of this type of power, we cannot be sure that we have captured every instance. However we estimate that there are around 70 such powers contained within legislation enacted so far this Session.

At least 70 Henry VIII clauses enacted in a single session of Parliament!

At least 70 Henry VIII clauses enacted in a single session of Parliament!

And those are just the ones that were given Royal Assent – others were proposed.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  2. Steve Gardiner

    RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  3. Aegir Hallmundur

    Coalition carries on where Labour left off. RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  4. Unity

    RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  5. Allan Siegel

    RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  6. James Smith

    Oh dear. The Public Bodies Bill looks like it might be the LRRA all over again… http://is.gd/hiaIZ.

  7. Tim Duckett

    RT @Floppy: Oh dear. Looks like it might be the LRRA all over again… http://is.gd/hiaIZ <– Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…

  8. Paul Evans

    Coalition wants powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/bA8FB2 Another incredibly odd thing for #libdems to be relaxed about

  9. Luke Walter

    RT @aegirthor: Coalition carries on where Labour left off. RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  10. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  11. conspiracy theo

    Coalition wants powers to weaken Parliament | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/dBjN4j

  12. Nick H.

    RT @libcon: Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  13. Wendy Maddox

    They're up to something!! : RT @libcon: Coalition wants powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5

  14. English Cynic

    Coalition wants powers to weaken Parliament | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/cL8TDr1 via @libcon

  15. George Wilson

    RT: @libcon Coalition wants new powers to weaken Parliament http://bit.ly/92VZp5 – v interesting – will read up what others think about this

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  17. The Abolition of Parliament Bill - PPRuNe Forums

    [...] [...]

  18. Abolition of Parliament: it was wrong then and it’s wrong now

    [...] heavily criticised by a Lords committee and the issue picked up by some bloggers so far, including Liberal Conspiracy: The Public Bodies Bill – which abolishes as many quangos as possible – gives ministers [...]





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