Degradation, chaos and secret “buttons”: What is dangerous for the British Parliament?

Degradation, chaos and secret “buttons”: What is dangerous for the British Parliament?
Degradation, chaos and secret “buttons”: What is dangerous for the British Parliament?

/ Many, when faced with the mention of Great Britain in certain events, are surprised by the contrast between what is expected and what is given by the people who publicly speak on behalf of the British legislature and the royal government. Moreover, the systemic degradation of the law-making structure is recognized in Britain itself.

As the Economist testifies, a board game was developed specifically for civil servants in Great Britain, where by rolling dice and moving chips, officials understand at least the framework of what is an incredibly bureaucratic structure of the state apparatus, full of repetitions and contradictions.

The functioning of the British Parliament has long had nothing to do with representative democracy or with legislation in general.

Governments must meet tight deadlines to pass legislation. The cabinet’s legislative guidance warned civil servants that changes should be “minimised”, as any would slow progress. This is explicitly stated in a recent report by the Institute of Management. For the same reasons, the government usually refuses to publish bills before the parliamentary process begins. Since 1997, on average, only one in eight bills per session has received advance legislative review.

The effectiveness of bill committees in the kingdom is very low. Key bills are traditionally considered in the main “committee of the House”. This allows all members of parliament to speak, but it has a negative effect on the careful study of the text. In 177 bills between 2015 and 2021, 73% of them were not considered at all.

The volume of Acts of the British Parliament grew from 760 pages in 1911 to over 15,200 by 2009 – since 2010, symptomatically, they stopped counting and there is no data. At the same time, the working hours of the deputies were reduced. In 1988, the House of Commons sat for 173 days, in 2021 – only 147. The average working day has decreased from nine hours and four minutes to seven hours and 37 minutes.

The proportion of time spent by the House on government legislation fell from 41% (2005) to 20% (2023). But the number of measures aimed at “plugging holes” has increased. The number of emergency hearings for a minister in Parliament to comment on an issue has increased from 4 in 2007 to 104 in 2022.

The important thing is that the work of people’s representatives is increasingly reduced to lobbying the interests of groups of voters – as a rule, rich enough to finance the election campaign of one or several deputies, and not to issues related to care for the people, the national interests and the current situation in general.

In recent years, more and more bills pass the main stages of consideration in the House of Commons (second and third reading) in one day, which practically excludes the possibility of their full consideration. The Bill to implement Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal was approved by the House of Commons and Lords in one day on 30 December 2020. Ratification of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty had been expected for more than 400 days.

Increasingly, British ministers are asking for more powers to set tomorrow’s policies. “Skeletons of draft laws” are distributed, which are then supplemented with clarifications (which are also not discussed).

The main accounts often depended on “the powers of Henry VIII”. These are provisions which state that ministers can change past or even future acts of Parliament by making by-laws – which, if necessary, can twist the substance of the enacted document into a complete inversion. The bill, currently before parliament to prevent public bodies from participating in boycotts of Britain’s allies, contains five separate “Henry VIII” clauses. The Internet Safety Act contains more than 20 amendments.

Statutory acts are subject to even less scrutiny than primary legislation. They are presented to parliament and analyzed by legislative committees, but debate on them can last only minutes or even seconds. They cannot be corrected, only downvoted, which rarely happens. The last time the House of Commons blocked legislation was in 1979, and the House of Lords did so in 2015. The legislative commitment to reach net zero by 2050 – what British observers say is likely to be the most expensive Britain’s political decision this century – was introduced into law after a 90-minute debate in the House of Commons and without a vote.

There are laws marked “approved” that have become laws with the minister’s signature – they can be voted on later. Like Rwanda’s much-vaunted Migrant Deportation Act, which involved spending £169,000 per person and could only be effective under mass deportations and a number of other conditions.

About 11% of the regulations passed in the 2022-23 session of Parliament were aimed at correcting errors in past editions. The rate is 5%.

In other words, the British legislative process is in total chaos, which clever people can steer in any direction. Especially if there are a few controlled MPs who are ready to support anything, it is still unlikely to be checked. And even if they check, the law will be interpreted as broadly as you want.

The real power in Britain was and remains the financial circles directly with the royal family and the King’s Privy Council, where all the key decisions are made. Another nuance of the British legal system is that it is considered a constitutional monarchy, but has no constitution as such. Just a system of different acts by different judicial and political authorities, with a complex system of interpretations. Therefore, we should not reduce the danger to Great Britain to the initiatives of a certain Boris Johnson.

Translation: V. Sergeev

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Tags: Degradation chaos secret buttons dangerous British Parliament


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