Delegated legislation

8 August 2008

How are laws passed? The government proposes them, parliament votes on them, the queen signs them – right?

But what if parliament votes through a law that says government ministers can make or amend future laws by order, without a vote in parliament? Can they do that?

Yes, they can, and they have. It’s called “delegated legislation”. As the House of Commons website explains, “Delegated legislation allows the Government to make changes to a law without needing to push through a completely new Act of Parliament.”1 They’ve been doing it for years – at least since the 1940s.

Normally, parliament has delegated the power to pass laws to non-parliamentary bodies or individuals only in narrow, technical areas where parliament is not considered to have the necessary expertise. And until 2006, power was only delegated to amend existing laws, not to create new ones.

In 2006, New Labour passed the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act. This act gives government ministers to amend, repeal or replace any primary or secondary legislation – primary being laws passed by a vote in parliament, secondary being laws passed by delegated powers – including itself.

There are a few exceptions. The LRRA can’t be used to pass laws that are the province of the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. Ministers can’t use it to raise taxes or impose a new tax – those laws still have to go through parliament, as do laws creating new criminal offences punishable by two years or more in prison, authorising forcible entry, search or seizure, or complelling the giving of evidence. Oh, and a minister who passes a new law using this Act has to satisfy himself he’s doing the right thing.2

That’s right. The law says a minister can make laws by decree, so long as he believes what he’s doing is right. Only New Labour could put a clause like that into law.

And the exceptions included in the Act can be removed by ministers using the powers granted to ministers by the Act itself!

Those proposals Harriet Harman announced the other week to reform the law on murder? There’s nothing in those proposals that would preclude them being passed into law on her say-so under the LRRA.

New Labour has given ministers arbitrary power. Our supine and spineless parliament allowed this act to be passed. Will David Cameron repeal it, or enjoy the power it gives him?

  1. “UK Parliament – Delegated legislation”
  2. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) on Wikipedia

2 Responses to “Delegated legislation”

  1. […] the Disillusioned Liberal takes on the issue of delegated legislation, which gives government ministers the power to pass […]

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