The decision of the government of Boris Johnson “by diktat”, according to his peers
THE Tory government has at times ruled “by diktat” during the coronavirus and Brexit, with power moving away from Parliament, peers have warned.
Peers say our political system has now reached a “critical juncture.”
In damning reports from two multi-party House of Lords committees, peers have found that ministers have adopted procedures that “effectively circumvent the role of parliament in the legislative process”.
And they warn that the shift to the use of secondary legislation and other technical measures has allowed the UK government to craft detailed laws without proper oversight.
The sweeping changes to UK law after Brexit and the need to respond quickly to the emerging threat of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen the use of secondary legislation – powers given to ministers that require less input from MPs and peers on legal changes – increasing in recent years.
But the Secondary Legislation Review Committee (SLSC) and the Delegated Authority and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC) issued a “stern warning” in their two respective reports released on the practice today.
READ MORE: ‘Cash for peerages’: Wishart threatens legal action against Met Police
They claim that “the balance of power between parliament and government has been moving away from parliament for some time.”
And they both said: “A critical moment has now been reached when that balance must be reset: not restored as it was just before these exceptional recent events, but reset again.”
Lord Hodgson, chairman of the SLSC, said that while it was understandable that the Covid epidemic meant speed was needed to introduce restrictions, “government by diktat must not become the norm.”
Referring to the government of his committee by Ditkat: a call to return power to Parliament and to the democracy of DPRRC denied? The urgent need to rebalance the power between parliament and the executive, he said: “These reports from our two committees are a stark warning, that hundreds of laws are being imposed on all of us, in fact by the diktat government, without effective oversight and without parliamentary oversight.
“Increasingly, the government has resorted to secondary legislation, regulations and ordinances which are subject to a much lower level of control than primary legislation.
“Given this, it’s no surprise that the executive might be tempted to put as much law as possible into regulations.
READ MORE: Scottish Tories don’t specify how many hours Douglas Ross works as MSP
“In times of national crisis, such as during the pandemic, when urgent action is required, it may be necessary to pass laws quickly with minimal parliamentary process.
“However, government by diktat must not become the norm.”
The chairman of delegated powers, Lord Blencathra, said: “It is imperative that the substantial transfer of power from Parliament to ministers that has occurred in the years even before Brexit and Covid be rebalanced.”
Reports condemn the growing use of so-called skeletal bills that give ministers sweeping powers to craft secondary legislation that can be passed with “little or no consideration” by both houses.
They recommend that in future framework invoices should only be used in “the most exceptional circumstances”, accompanied by a published justification for their use.
The peers also want the Cabinet Office Guide to Drafting Law to be amended to emphasize that when ministers choose to use these delegated legislative powers, their decision is based on “the principles of parliamentary democracy and not on the ‘political opportunity’.