The Sketch: Now we can all make laws (if our faces fit)

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The Independent Online

We mustn't overstate these things because they're quite important enough as they are. Suffice it to say that the entire British constitutional settlement is being overturned in Standing Committee A by one of the most junior and inexperienced ministers, the stand-in for the Duchy of Lancaster.

Jim Murphy's probably a nice young fellow but by no means, in the language of the day, fit for purpose.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill going through its stages is a New Labour masterpiece. It was conceived to "remove burdens" from over-regulated citizens. Towards the end of the drafting process, some brilliant Whitehall Olly reasoned thus: "Why should ministers have fewer rights than ordinary citizens? Don't ministers deserve to have their burdens relieved too?" No contrary argument could be found. As a result, ministers are now being given powers to amend any laws they like without the burden of parliamentary approval.

In the most perverse of consequences, the Bill to remove regulations has made it infinitely easier for ministers to pass them.

I've been along to three of these committee meetings over the past week and am more and more surprised at each outing. Jim Murphy offers long and detailed assurances about how the Act will and won't be used. When asked to put these assurances into the Bill, he refuses. Ministerial assurances at the despatch box have the legal status of intestinal afflatus so you would be wrong to be reassured.

Jim Murphy buries himself ostentatiously in his brief, frequently refuses to take interventions ("I want to make progress"), and dismisses fundamental arguments against the Bill as "debating points".

As a result of his approach, ministers will be empowered to amend any and every sort of law from habeas corpus to what they are going to put on your ID card.

"A person" is to get legislative powers. Anyone. If you are in the circle. The minister will be able to offer you the power to make laws. Maybe they'll be outsourcing to Bangalore. Maybe they'll let the TUC write employment regulations. Maybe the incoming government will let Rupert Murdoch write the takeover code.

There are safeguards. "Controversial" legislation won't be eligible for the "abbreviated procedure". But who decides if it's controversial? The minister. But there will be public consultation? The minister will assess, interpret and present the responses and doesn't have to abide by the result anyway. Certain select committees may (that's not a will) have a power of veto - but select committees are appointed by the whips and they have government majorities.

And for any talk of safeguards, the Bill can be used to amend itself, abolishing anything in it the minister wishes.

Turn your face to the wall, oh you democrats, and say goodnight nicely.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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