Civil Contingencies Bill
Emphasis added by poons.
I was made aware of Clause 21 (3) (j) today by a letter (see next post) in the Worcester Evening News.
"Emergency regulations may make provision of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament or by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, in particular, regulations may..."
The Joint Committee was extremely concerned about this provision. Indeed so concerned were they that they listed twenty-two fundamental constitutional laws which should not, under any circumstances, be amended or removed (eg: the Magna Carta 1297 and the Bill of Rights 1688). Their report commented that this clause as set out in 21.3.j:
"allows regulations to disapply any Act of Parliament. In the wrong hands, this could be used to remove all past legislation which makes up the statutory patchwork of the British Constitution".
The government's response was to reject the need for a list of constitutional laws that should be protected from amendment or revocation under this Bill. Their rejection simply relies on a convoluted argument from Parliamentary Counsel namely that:
"each proposed exercise of such a power must be assessed by reference to whether or not it is within the class of action that Parliament must have contemplated when conferring the power"
The Parliamentary Counsel goes on to advise that "in the unlikely event of needing to use this power Parliament will not permit interference either with a general presumption or with a "constitutional" enactment". This leads the government to conclude:
"we cannot presently envisage circumstances in which this power would lawfully enable us to make a substantial amendment to a constitutional enactment".
The Joint Committee argued that if the government wished to even have the possibility of such a sweeping power then it should be subject to separate legislation. The government refusal to remove this clause leaves a hostage to fortune. As the Joint Committee observed:
"In the wrong hands, it could be used to undermine or even remove legislation underpinning the British Constitution and infringe human rights"
This is the most dangerous sweeping power ever contemplated in the entire history of democracy in the United Kingdom. The power would be used by a Secretary of State (probably the Home Secretary) and would not require any consultation with the Monarch or the Privy Council.
It would allow any Government to dismantle ALL PREVIOUS ACTS OF PARLIAMENT
should they feel the need. This is equivalent of the US patriot acts ability to suspend the Constitution.
It must not be allowed to happen.