Tuesday, April 04, 2006

With a Whimper, Not a Bang: The Silent, Deadly Threat to British Democracy

A barely-discussed legislative reform law is working its way through the British Parliament, and its provisions threaten the fundamental nature of British democracy. It sends an ominous warning to anyone, anywhere, who values liberty.

The law is question, innocently titled the “Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill,” would alter the very nature of lawmaking in Britain. This bill, supposedly designed to mitigate the onerous regulatory state in Britain, would allow any royal minister in government to make “provision[s] amending, repealing or replacing any legislation.” Disturbingly, its provisions empower ministers to delegate or transfer legislative powers to any other U.K. official, whether high or petty. Furthermore, this law would be self-applicable, meaning that a future minister could opportunistically decide to remove any or all of the few restrictive provisions, with only cursory oversight by Parliament. The only powers this Bill does not grant these ministers are the rights to enact or modify taxation, criminal offenses with punishments greater than 2 years, and forcible search and seizure or self-incrimination.

Indeed, given the unwritten and ultimately nonbinding status of the British constitutional regime, Parliament itself could be abolished quite easily, with the right combination of pro-ministerial power Members of Parliament in office. The unwritten British Constitution, in contrast to the written American Constitution, is composed of a host of traditions, parliamentary acts, legal precedents, and other changeable components. All of the principles of a free society, and particularly those principles of limited government, could be thrown out for the “reform”, “efficiency”, and “modernisation” bandwagon. After all, democratic regimes are not known for efficient or streamlined lawmaking. But are the fruits of “efficiency” worth sacrificing power to independent, executive royal ministers with independent agendas?
Major members of the ideologically diverse British media have united in opposition to this radical legislation. Newspapers as varied as the Daily Telegraph, The Times of London, the Financial Times, and the Guardian have all resoundingly condemned this legislation. While there has been limited Parliamentary opposition to this bill, the New Labour Government has so far successfully pushed a fundamentally unamended bill through the necessary committees and hearings. It is now at the critical phase: one scheduled hour of Parliamentary debate, before MPs go to vote on this issue.

The New Labour Party Government, furthermore, has also pushed through sweeping anti-terrorism legislation after the 7/7 terrorist bombings of London’s subway system. Highly Orwellian national ID card legislation would require fingerprint, photo, and retinal identification marks, in addition to the bearer’s address, religion, and 47 other personal traits. In order to get a passport, to use any government agency or services, or to do business with any government-licensed business, one would need one of these cards.

Additionally, other signs of a nanny state include a bill creating “children’s centres” for those under 5, and a recently enacted uniform public smoking ban. The real problem with all of this legislation and the regulatory reform act is that the reform act’s provisions could, for instance, be used to make the “children’s centres” mandatory state youth camps for all children under the age of 5, or it could make not having the government ID a crime punishable for 2 years. Additionally, given the delegation powers, a local prosecutor could, potentially, rewrite a criminal law in order to “fix loopholes” for the sole purpose of effecting retribution on some political rival.

Perhaps most disturbingly of all, this bill contains powers and provisions eerily similar to the Enabling Act of 1933, which, like this bill, granted executive branch officials with essentially full legislative powers over even the Constitutional framework of the nation. Although it's unlikely that the framers of the bill have mal-intent in mind, passing this bill would be the first step down a dangerous path.

So what is a concerned individual of any nationality to do? A citizen should consider writing letters of concern to Congressmen, Senators, and the Bush Administration insisting that they exert political pressure on the Blair Government to stop this dangerous legislation from being passed by Parliament. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party opposition, and Sir Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party are also major political leaders of importance in this controversy. U.K. citizens should contact their home MPs and party leaders in order to stop this legislation.

This obstacle is not insurmountable for those of any political stripes who value liberty. Britain, the nation whose principles form the foundation of our own government, is our closest friend, and we should not let this friend be destroyed by power-hungry ministers seeking to replace democratic government with an efficient yet potentially dictatorial ministerial state. Out of love for our fellow free nation, I urge everyone reading this article to work to help remove the seeds of totalitarianism from a wayward government, before they take root.

A list of major articles and legal information about this dangerous proposed law can be found at Save Parliament!