We welcome a number of aspects of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which has been introduced to implement some of the commitments made by the Prime Minister in his Governance of Britain statement in July 2007.
We note, however, that there are a number of significant omissions from the Bill, including in relation to judicial appointments, parliamentary scrutiny of security and intelligence matters, and the restrictive judicial interpretation of the meaning of "public function" in the Human Rights Act. We recommend amendments to the Bill relating to the latter two points.
Protest around Parliament
We welcome the proposal to repeal sections 132 to 138 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and introduce new provision for protest around Parliament based on the Public Order Act 1986, which we recommended in reports on policing and protest in 2009.We have some detailed concerns about the drafting and look forward to seeing the draft order which will specify the area to be covered by the new regime and the entrances to the parliamentary estate by which access to Parliament will be maintained.
Ratification of treaties
If enacted, the Bill will place the parliamentary scrutiny of treaties on a statutory basis. We welcome this but recommend that the Bill should be amended to:
- require the Government to lay before Parliament an explanatory memorandum about a treaty at the same time as the treaty is laid;
- require Ministers to explain why any request for an extension of the time allowed for parliamentary scrutiny of a treaty has been refused; and
- remove the ministerial power to disapply the new regime in exceptional cases.
Right to a fair hearing and access to a court in the determination of civil rights
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights relates to a fair hearing (including access to a court) in determination of a civil right. Provisions in the Bill relating to the removal from office of the Civil Service Commissioners; complaints about breaches of the Codes of Conduct by civil servants; complaints about selections for appointment to the civil service; and removal from office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the chair of the National Audit Office, all, in our view, engage Article 6. We call on the Government to introduce more stringent procedural safeguards in relation to the exercise of these powers, in order to avoid breaches of Article 6.