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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 15:54 GMT
Fear over plans to cut red tape
Red tape
Critics say the red tape laws have constitutional dangers
New laws on red tape would give ministers free rein to change laws without consulting Parliament, opponents have claimed.

Critics of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill want new safeguards to prevent abuse.

The bill aims to speed up the process by which redundant laws are changed and allows them to be amended on ministers' orders, without parliamentary scrutiny.

Ministers will next week discuss giving MPs' committees a veto.

Cabinet Office Minister Jim Murphy will meet the chairmen of the Commons regulatory reform and procedure committees to discuss writing the veto into the bill.

Habeas corpus risk?

The bill is designed to make it easier to remove burdensome red tape which causes problems for businesses.

But opponents argue it will allow ministers to go much further and say the safeguards offered by the government do not go far enough.

At a Hansard Society meeting in the Commons, Conservative former Chancellor Ken Clarke said assurances from current ministers would not bind future governments.

Mr Clarke accepted the plans were well-intentioned.

But they appeared to give ministers the right to change practically any feature of laws without any regard for normal parliamentary processes.

"In theory you could abolish habeas corpus, you could bring back the religious hatred bill without any proper parliamentary debate," he warned.

He said certain laws, such as human rights legislation, should be exempt from the scope of the bill.

And any 50 MPs should be able to sign a motion demanding changes to the laws go through the whole parliamentary process, he suggested.

'Unfit for purpose'

Mr Murphy argued against producing an "arbitrary" number of MPs to provide the check. That would give the Lib Dems a veto on any issue.

Instead, it was better to give the relevant parliamentary select committee power to prevent laws being changed.

And use of the bill would be open to scrutiny by judges, he said.

Previous attempts to cut the burden of regulation had proved "unfit for purpose", said Mr Murphy, and such mistakes should not be repeated.

John Walker, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was up to Parliament to tackle the constitutional issues.

"We support any measure that is going to help reduce regulation," he said.

"But if there are constitutional implications we would encourage the politicians to ensure that if there are difficulties that the legislation does not have the effect of increasing regulation on small businesses."

Lords hurdle

Former rail regulator Tom Winsor warned that the current bill gave ministers "breathtaking powers".

He claimed that in the run-up to the collapse of Railtrack then Transport Secretary Stephen Byers had threatened to introduce a bill to curb his independence.

Only the time needed for parliamentary scrutiny was a protection against such moves - something the current plans would remove, said Mr Winsor.

MPs are currently undertaking detailed scrutiny of the bill.

Opponents of the current plans say they have no chance of getting agreement in the House of Lords unless there are stronger safeguards.

Red tape law 'must not be abused'
06 Feb 06 |  Politics

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