Over the past week, Theresa May’s government has implemented two pieces of legislation. One aims to save the government £3.7bn by taking money from the most vulnerable. And the other promises to give one of the richest families in the UK an extra £360m.
But there is one thing both have in common. Both decisions make a mockery of democracy. They were implemented via ‘statutory instruments’ – an obscure loophole that allows the government to enact unpopular decisions without proper scrutiny.
As previously reported in The Canary, statutory instruments are a convenient way of bypassing parliament:
Statutory instruments allow ministers to fast-track changes to existing laws without the need for new acts of parliament. Introduced in the 1940s to free up parliamentary time, they were traditionally used for fairly limited purposes – like elaborating on complex technical details. But they’re extremely convenient for ministers: they (normally) can’t be amended, many of them are not scrutinised by parliament at all – and if they are, they can normally only be debated for a maximum of 90 minutes.
It is also very rare for a statutory instrument to be annulled. The House of Commons last overturned one in 1979. And the House of Lords last got rid of one in 2000. In order for MPs to challenge a statutory instrument, they have to issue an Early Day Motion (EDM) within 40 days. But:
The Government will typically find time to debate an EDM praying against an SI [statutory instrument] that has been signed by Shadow Ministers, but is not obliged to.
Personal Independence Payments
As previously reported at The Canary, the government announced emergency legislation to deny 160,000 people access to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
Two tribunal judgements found that the current criteria for claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were insufficient. But the government doesn’t want to pay the extra cost. And so, in an attempt to save £3.7bn, it introduced a statutory instrument to overrule the tribunal decision.
But the government is facing challenges in both houses with a combination of cross-party support and backbench rebellion. And if the government is defeated on a statutory instrument in the Commons, it will be a massive blow to the government. Especially since it hasn’t happened for nearly 40 years.
The royal family
But while the government was busy screwing over the most vulnerable, it took a small committee of MPs just 13 minutes to award the royal family an extra £360m. This effectively doubles their income.
A special committee was established just to raise the “Sovereign Grant”, funded through public money, from 15% to 25%. The committee argued that the extra money is needed to pay for refurbishments to Buckingham Palace.
But the SNP objected. MP Tommy Shepherd stated:
We cannot support this decision and this statutory instrument being passed in this way… It would be similar to saying the works that needed to be conduced at the Palace of Westminster should be funded by doubling the salary of MPs and asking them to make a contribution.
These objections will allow a vote on the matter. But that vote will take place without any debate or scrutiny.
A mockery of democracy
The way the government has used statutory instruments makes a mockery of democracy. Instead of using them as originally intended, it is using them for unpopular decisions. And using them to take money from the most vulnerable while at the same time giving money to one of the richest families is an utter disgrace.
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