Labour views the British people with considerable contempt – its refusal to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution and its reaction to the road-pricing petition being two glaring examples – but its contempt for Parliament becomes all the more evident with each passing day. But when Parliament’s power is being reduced to that of a Parish Council, why should we be surprised?
It started with Tony Blair who made no secret of his distaste for Parliament, which made the nauseating spectacle of his being applauded by all and sundry as he made his longed-for escape from the building last June all the more ironic. He, of course, took the view that, with huge Parliamentary majorities, he could play the role of Lord Protector with impunity and could safely ignore dissent, whether it came from the so-called opposition or from his own awkward squad.
He thus gave a Parliamentary Labour Party that had largely never known Government before (by 1997 most who had been in Parliament in 1979 had long disappeared) a whole series of ‘reforms’ to the way in which Parliament did its business almost all of which were designed to reduce the amount of time Parliament spent discussing things, under the cloak of ‘modernization’. In addition there was a wholesale resort to the use of the ‘guillotine’, measures by which discussion on any given bill was to be specifically curtailed.
There once was a time when the use of this device was a matter for anxious comment on the radio and the television and was as rare as hen’s teeth. Now it evokes no interest at all save in the minds of those of us who have the quaint old-fashioned notion that legislation ought to be examined carefully before being inflicted upon us.
That this present Government is enamoured of its use is all too clear. Some might think that the first nationalization of a retail bank since who knows when (following on the first run on a retail bank since the time of Queen Victoria) that involves, it is said, the risking of £110 billion of Taxpayer’s money was a matter for some careful though by our legislators. Gordon Brown does not agree and so last night the second reading of the bill to nationalize not just Northern Rock but any bank should the government so choose (and did you not see just how brightly shone the eyes of Labour backbenchers at that prospect?) was curtailed at twelve midnight sharp, just as Ken Clarke, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was quite literally in mid-sentence:
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con)………..We have been reassured that it is an asset that is to be taken into public ownership and well managed, under the Government’s wise direction, by the new managers that they have put in place. I would advise the Minister—
And that, people, was the end of that.
We have meandered along for months with this crisis remaining unresolved. One is bound to ask therefore, why now the haste with which this process is being undertaken? And why, pray, is Alistair Darling exempting the whole Northern Rock saga from prying eyes by placing Northern Rock and its attendant problems outwith the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act? This last is to be effected by an obscure provision in a draft order, Clause 18 of something called the ‘Northern Rock plc Transfer Order 2008’.
There is another disturbing feature of this bill which is contained in Section 11 of the Bill which is designed to permit the Treasury to modify primary legislation – Acts of Parliament – without having to go through the inconvenience of getting Parliament to agree:
11 Modification of legislation applying in relation to building societies
(1) The Treasury may by order make such modifications of any enactment as they consider appropriate for or in connection with facilitating the provision of relevant financial assistance by the Bank of England to building societies.
This is a new trend in legislation whereby this Government, effectively, is giving itself power to rule by decree, whereby primary law will in future be made by civil servants and not by the elected representatives of the British people.
But why be surprised at that? After all, in future almost every bit of important legislation which applies to this country will soon be imposed upon us by another body of unelected civil servants, those in the Berlaymont Building in Brussels. This is, therefore, merely getting us used to a process which will shortly become the norm. And if this is how law is in future to be made, then one can see why going to all that expense of having hours and hours of Parliamentary discussion on the mere matter of the odd £110 billion here or there might be thought otiose.