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New Clause 19 — Power to remove or reduce burdens

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 15th May 2006.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 5:30 pm, 15th May 2006

I agree entirely. I am glad to know that when we return to the matter, my hon. Friend will press those points strongly, because he is right.

In expressing my reservations still, in spite of the need for as flexible a deregulatory measure as possible, let me make it clear to the Minister that I do not fear that we will suddenly go to extreme government. I realise that some of the examples that have been cited by opponents, including David Howarth in his article, were fairly preposterous in the context of today's politicians. Those examples would never happen. We no longer need to argue whether the right to jury trial would be taken away. There are those in the Government who would like to take it away in a wide range of cases, but in the modern state that is today's Britain, they would never have dared to suggest that that should be done without any proper parliamentary process.

As I have said, I do not think that we are going straight away to extreme government. However, over 50 years we have seen a steady nibbling at the edges of the parliamentary process. Those of us who have been in this place for any length of time have seen a considerable nibble, almost always for the best of intentions in the mind of the Government of the time. I fear that for this Government, and perhaps for future Administrations for all I know, the pressure on the parliamentary timetable leads them to look for short cuts. I am not reassured by the Minister for the Cabinet Office—recently the Government Chief Whip—who is now in charge of the Bill. To get vast amounts of legislation through the House, the time made available for debate on any particular measure has been confined as never before.

We can hear the arguments already when the first of the proposed changes in legislation or in the criminal law comes up. We shall hear: "We have a mandate. We have just fought the election. The opinion polls are wholly in favour of what we propose. The people who are obstructing the process are unrepresentative. They are an irritating minority." Already, time and again, the Government keep making proposals, at present about the procedures of the upper House. Those proposals are designed to stop the time-wasting, the day-by-day discussion, which irritates the Government because it delays their ability to get their way. Secondly, it reduces the amount of legislation that they can introduce, and holds up other measures on Report.