Lawyers have expressed concern that the new Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill will give the Government unprecedented powers to make and change UK laws at will.
The powers in the bill allow a minister to amend legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. The idea is to reduce red tape, but the lack of safeguards has lawyers worried.
Peter Keith-Lucas, a public law specialist at Bevan Brittan, said: “There’s no doubt that the bill has been proposed with the best intentions, but the actual measure is pretty breathtaking.”
Under the bill, a minister can suggest a change to the legislation if they are satisfied that certain criteria are met. These include that the change is proportional, that it is in the public interest and that it does not curtail human rights. However, it is for the minister to decide that the change meets these criteria. Other restrictions mean that ministers cannot use the powers to increase taxation, cannot create criminal offences that carry sentences of more than two years or make a law to force entry to property.
Michael Smyth, head of Clifford Chance‘s public policy unit, told The Lawyer: “The concern here is that the parliamentary element of the law-making process is being dismissed, and that’s why these proposals are generating a certain amount of attention.”
The Government has given assurances that it will not use the power to introduce controversial policies, but as one lawyer said: “Who decides what’s controversial? Any succeeding government will not be held to this promise.” ‘We’re concentrating our firepower in London as a gateway to increase our international activity.’
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