February 21, 2006

Parliamentary Reform Bill

Edward Cooper earlier linked to an article about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Here’s another piece from yesterday’s Times.

I don’t know enough to add anything worthwhile, though it’s easy to see why the proposals are causing concern. Theyworkforyou.com has a transcript of a very interesting though extremely long Commons debate on the issue. What comes out of it is the gains that could be had from easing the regulatory burden on businesses. Something the current system makes difficult, and the primary problem the Bill is intends to solve. Conservative MP Oliver Heald says the following

Other measures, such as the International Institute for Management Development's "World Competitiveness Yearbook", show that the UK has fallen from ninth to 22nd since 1997. The London School of Economics recently warned about "concerns that tougher competition could be undermined by increasing regulation".

The CBI has said: "Many businesses believe regulation is damaging the UK's attraction as a place to invest . . . the burden has grown and expect it to increase further."

The Library has shown that there are 3,887 regulations a year on average under this Government—15 every working day. That is a 50 per cent increase on what happened under the last Conservative Government.

Still, good intentions and economic benefits must be weight against ambiguous and lax safeguards as compared with the status quo. Lib Dem MP David Howarth says this

Obviously, I welcome, as we all do, the Minister's assurances that his test of whether something is controversial or highly controversial, and the mechanism of the Committee veto, will offer extra safeguards, but the problems are clear with those two safeguards. There is at the moment no definition of "controversy" in the Bill and the Committee majority mechanism does not deal with the controversy point. It is possible for a matter to be highly controversial with only a minority of members. A Committee could easily decide in favour of taking the order through the procedure introduced by the Bill, even though the matter was highly controversial in other parts of the House.

Read the whole debate here.

It may be ill-considered to boldly declare this Bill the end of parliamentary democracy. Nonetheless, it undoubtedly requires further delegating of authority, and increased trust on the part of MPs and constituents. One’s level of concern will vary with the extent ministers are deemed to be reactionary, self interested and overconfident about their opinions and abilities.


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