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Secondary legislation and the role of the House of Lords

Posted by on November 17, 2016.

Secondary legislation is an abomination. It allows the government – usually just the relevant Secretary of State – to alter, amend and expand an existing law without any reference to Parliament. It is described as a necessary means for ensuring laws remain relevant and pertinent to our fast-moving society. In reality, it is simply a means for government to obtain controversial laws that it would otherwise not get through the elected body. A relatively non-controversial law is passed with an additional clause authorizing secondary legislation. It is anathema to the concept of democracy.

There is just one brake on what would could otherwise be a runaway rush into tyranny: secondary legislation still needs the nod of approval from the unelected (almost always Conservative) House of Lords. But when the House of Lords last year rejected cuts to the tax credits system, Cameron’s government announced its intention to bring in a new law to curb the power of the Lords.

Today, Theresa May’s government announced that it had abandoned such plans. This is a Good Thing. But lest you fear that May has suffered a democratic and liberal rush to the head, consider the comment from her representative, the leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Evans. She said that the Lords would need to show ‘discipline and self regulation’. “Should that break down,” she said, “we would have to reflect on this decision.”

Translated, this means: “We will allow you the right to veto secondary legislation, provided that you never use this right. If you do veto secondary legislation, we will remove your right to veto secondary legislation.”

This is what they call democracy in the UK.

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