Secondary legislation is undemocratic and should go
It’s time to abolish secondary legislation – urgently. It is nothing more than an undemocratic anomaly.
During the second reading of the Defamation Bill, Lord McNally (Minister of State, Justice) said
As your Lordships know, technology develops apace, and rather quicker than primary legislation. Had we sought to specify the detail of the system that we propose for the internet, we would have risked it being out of date before noble Lords had concluded their considerations. Rather, we propose that much of the detail will be set out in regulations.
Let’s be clear about these ‘regulations’. They are better known as ‘secondary legislation’. Secondary legislation is legislation that has been delegated by parliament to another body. Usually, as in this case, it is delegated to the relevant Minister or Secretary of State. That minister can subsequently and simply say, “I am changing this law because I want to and I can.”
Much of this Defamation Bill will never be debated nor voted by parliament – it will simply be the Ministry of Justice enacting the will of el Presidente Cameron (or whoever occupies that position at the time), enacting the will of whichever unelected pressure group (GCHQ/MI5, Hollywood, Pharma, Banks, whatever) holds him in thrall at the time. This is not democracy, this isn’t even autocracy; it is plain and simple government by vested interests via dictatorship.
The prime minister chooses the ministers. If he doesn’t like any or all of them, he dumps them and installs more malleable careerists in their place. Parliament is full of careerists, where the increased salary from promotion is far more attractive than following the will of constituents or even their own conscience. The prime minister will never have difficulty in finding MPs willing to do his bidding.
Such secondary legislation isn’t a new device. It is frequently employed. And the more contentious the issue, the more likely it will be used. It is nothing more than a way to avoid the inconvenience of democracy. Much of the Defamation Bill is contentious because it limits freedom of speech – and in the UK we have no constitution able to protect our freedom of speech (nor any other of what we instinctively feel to be our rights).
If we can’t have constitutional rights to protect us, we should at least abolish this undemocratic anachronism.