The Government is ruling by diktat and denying democracy by avoiding proper Parliamentary scrutiny of new legislation according to two hard-hitting reports published today by senior members of the House of Lords.
Two House of Lords select committees – composed of 21 peers with 520 years of Parliamentary experience between them – say the Government is routinely passing “skeleton” bills which give ministers wide-ranging powers to change the law – alongside secondary legislation, in the form of statutory instruments, without detailed explanation of the impact of the measures.
The Government had originally used skeleton bills to pass urgent legislation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and “get Brexit done” but the peers now say the practice has been extended to other areas by Boris Johnson’s Government.
The peers cite six skeleton bills since 2019 that had nothing to do with the pandemic or Brexit, covering areas like:
- Medical devices
- Road haulage
- Cross border taxation
All these contain measures giving ministers wide powers to change the law without consulting Parliament.
The peers say the Government is finding more inventive ways to take powers away from Parliament in addition to the well known Henry VIII clauses – where ministers take power to act without consulting Parliament.
These are slipped into legislation, as well as making law by “public notice”. They cite powers given to the Treasury as an example.
The report says:
“Treasury’s says that such notices will only make provision that is purely technical or administrative in nature… For Ministers and others to make law by ‘public notice’, without any recourse to Parliament, is highly unusual and such provisions should attract strict surveillance by Parliament.”
This revives on a limited scale the right abolished in 1547 to make law by Royal proclamation, at least for the Treasury and HMRC, the peers say.
A Blunt Warning
“These reports from our two committees are a blunt warning, that hundreds of laws are being imposed on all of us, in effect by government diktat, with no effective scrutiny and control by Parliament,” Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said.