Wednesday, 13 April 2011

One default man's red tape is another person's necessity.

I've criticised the Equality Act 2010 on several occasions, but, flawed as it is, it still provides more protection than not having anything at all.

So, the government has included it in its "red tape" review, which is currently open for public comment. Heg at Feminist Philosophers has more information.

If you've got a moment, and are a UK citizen or resident, you might want to leave a comment yourself (remember to keep it free of cursing and apolitical, or it will be moderated out). The responses so far are overwhelmingly supportive of keeping the Act, which is good.

On the rest of the regulations, which do appear to be secondary1 legislation, they say in their FAQ:

Ministers will then have three months to decide which regulations they will scrap, with the presumption that all burdensome regulations will go unless the government departments can justify why they are needed.

It's a rigged consultation. There are a lot of regulations. The vast majority of the population of the country don't need to know about the vast majority of them.

The people who do need to know are the people who - for everyone's good - need to follow them. They, of course, are the mostly likely to think them burdensome and unfair.

The chances of members of the general public being able to look through most of the regulations, find the ones that have affected them, and make a comment is pretty low. I'm fairly experienced at reading government documentation, and I certainly don't have time to look through them all to see what's there.

It's not that there aren't bad regulations in there, and there are certainly plenty that could be simplified, merged, or clarified, but this is a terrible way to gather public opinion on which they are.

Despite this weighting, the balance of comments on a lot of the regulations - for now - is that the regulations are a good thing and should be kept. That's probably not what they're expecting, so Plan B - ignore the comments they disagree with - is likely to be next.


Primary legislation is laws passed by Parliament, which can only be amended or repealed by Parliament. Secondary legislation is different - Parliament will pass a law giving Ministers the right to make laws in a particular area.

Major advantages:

  • More flexible than primary legislation, since it can be changed without taking up valuable parliamentary time
  • More scope for detail about implementation of an Act than could usually be placed in legislation

Major disadvantages:

  • Less accountability - Parliament can in theory scrutinise secondary legislation, but the process is very strongly biased towards the changes going ahead.
  • Less publicity - primary legislation and planned primary legislation is fairly easily accessible to the public and interested groups. Secondary legislation, again, is easier to sneak in.
  • Too easy to reverse - if anything actually important is only in secondary legislation, when the government changes hands, it can be scrapped almost instantly, and without much mention - did you know about these? I'd only heard of a few.