Orders in council

The emergency powers act 1920 and the civil contingencies act 2004 authorise legislation to be introduced in this way.

Authority for legislation to be introduced by an order in Council was first  granted by the Emergency Powers Act 1920 which was consequently amended by the Emergency Powers Act1964 and superseded by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.  This power is to be exercised in times of emergency and when Parliament is not sitting.

Under this power, draft legislation is drafted by a government department and approved by the Privy Council and signed by the Queen.  It could be argued that Orders in Council are undemocratic and to a large extent they are, in that the power rests with a small group and is far removed from the close scrutiny and debate reserved for legislation passing through Parliament.

However, it could be argued that as such emergency legislation is drafted by government departments, the legislation is likely to achieve what it set out to do, and therefore be more effective.  It could also be said that as the members of the Privy Council are made up of the Prime Minister and leading members of the government there is accountability, as those individuals are ultimately answerable to Parliament.

This form of delegated legislation effectively allows the government to introduce legislation without the approval of Parliament.

Examples of Orders in council and their use include the giving effect to European Directives.  Directives are binding upon the national country as to the result to be achieved but it is left to the individual member state to implement the directive within a set time-scale. 

It has been used at times of emergency such as the fuel crisis in September 2000 when, on September 11th, the Privy Council and the Queen sanctioned the use of emergency powers to control the distribution of fuel. It is also used in times of war as was the case with the Gulf War and subsequent invasion of Iraq.

Orders in Council are published in the London Gazette.

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