Thursday, February 23, 2006

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill: tyranny by the back door

One of my law school professors was very passionate about the doctrine of separation of powers. Rarely did a lecture on Constitutional and Administrative law take place without his musing on this subject. Shortly stated, separation of powers is good for democracy, because it acts as a check against autocratic rule by any of the three arms of Government.

This is the way the thing is supposed to work: the legislature (ie Parliament) makes law, the judiciary interprets the law, and the Executive enforces it. In my mind’s eye, I still see my professor pacing about the podium as he quoted Locke: it is a recipe for corruption for "the same persons who have the powers of making laws to have also in their hands the power to execute them". He told us that separation of powers was not a clear-cut thing; there is a bit of overlap, but nothing dangerous. For example, the Lord Chancellor, who is the head of the judiciary, sat in the House of Lords.

In some cases, legislative power may be delegated to the Executive. For example, in the United Kingdom, an Act of Parliament may state that statutory instruments may be made by the Executive (eg the Treasury, or a relevant Secretary of State) to deal with particular issues. However, these statutory instruments are not meant to provide for significant changes in the law. That remains the work of Parliament. The most a statutory instrument can do is to flesh out details for a skeletal framework of law already provided for in an Act of Parliament. It should never be the means of changing a law, or introducing substantive law. That is what our Members of Parliament, who are elected by, and therefore accountable to, the public, are supposed to do. A situation where a statutory instrument can change the law, and therefore alter our rights and duties, is a dangerous one. It amounts, in effect, to the seizing of power from the Legislature by the Executive. In crude terms, it means that our rights can be determined (or removed) by an unelected, and therefore, unaccountable Government body or minister, without Parliament having the opportunity to debate the issue.

It is against this backdrop that we must view the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. One of the aims of the Bill is to enable Government ministers to 'amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act might'. As a liberal, I fear that some of our rights could thus be curtailed by ministerial fiat. As a taxpayer and a tax professional, I worry whether this Bill might give power to the Treasury to impose new taxes. As a citizen, I am alarmed at this brazen assault on our constitution by a Government with no sense of history.

Rightlinks have launched a campaign to raise public awareness about this Bill. They have also prepared some questions which we can put to our MPs and other useful people. I reproduce below a few of the questions, but for a full list, please see their website.

1) What guarantees are there that the Bill could not be used to bring in the EU Constitution by the back door?

2) If the Bill is just a simplifying measure for deregulation, why does it contain no requirement for any orders to actually reduce the amounts of red tape and regulation?

3) Why does the Bill give the power to create new law, including new criminal offences, to the Law Commissions, which are unelected quangos appointed by Ministers?

4) If the Bill allows Ministers to 'amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act might', does this not give them an unlimited power to ignore a democratic Parliament and legislate by decree?

4) If the Bill is so sensible, why has Parliament used a different way of making laws for 700 years?

5) If the Bill gives Ministers powers to charge fees by decree, is that not a charter to bring in unlimited stealth taxes?

6) As the Bill permits an order to be made by a Minister under the Bill provided its effect is "proportionate" to his "policy objective", since when in our history as a democratic country has a Government Minister’s "policy objective" directly received the force of law?

7) What guarantees are there that the Bill could not be used to bring in ID Cards by the back door?

8) Why does the Bill give the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly a veto over Ministers’ power to change the law which it denies to English MPs?
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bird flu bypasses the UK

The H5N1 bird flu virus is merrily winging its way around the continent, and our ministers have grimly informed us that it will soon be arriving here. My guess is that it is here already. After the Government’s disastrous handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis a few years ago, who could blame the UK’s poultry farmers if they failed to alert the Government about any suspicious dead chickens on their land? They will probably surmise that the best thing to do would be to say nothing and dispose of their dodgy fowls in secret.
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Saturday, February 18, 2006

A day out at the weekly muslim demo

Today I shall be observing at close quarters the now-weekly muslim demonstrations in Central London. Somewhere by the crowd of ranting sheikhs, you will find me doing my bit for Danish industry. I will be taking along a packed lunch of Danish bacon sandwiches and Carlsberg. To alleviate the boredom (during George Galloway's speech?), I will either be reading the latest issue of Jyllands-Posten or building a Lego church. I will be doing all this in the pleasing environs of Hyde Park, as is my right as a member of the public. I expect neither to be attacked by demonstrators nor moved on by police. And rather than me provoking anyone, it is I who have been provoked by the constant stream of noise, complaint and abuse from one particular section of society. Here's hoping we all have a good day exercising our civil and political rights.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lock up the mother and leave nothing to chance

I read an amusing story in the Daily Telegraph today. Somewhere in Berkshire, a mother has been placed on curfew and tagged. Her crime? She failed to stop her daughter’s persistent truancy. As a result, the fun-loving mum will not be allowed out at night. Before I tell you what amused me so much, a few side issues:

1) why should she be held responsible for her daughter’s truancy when she has no right even to be told if the selfsame underage daughter was seeking an abortion?

2) what would placing her under curfew at night achieve? Surely, if at all she were to be compelled to force her daughter to attend school, her efforts should be concentrated on the daylight hours. I assume the school her daughter attends operates during the day?

Anyway, what amused me greatly was the reaction of Carol Horne (for that is her name). She declared that she was not bothered about her daughter missing school, as in her view, getting a job was "a matter of luck, not exam results".

And she is right. Standards in education are falling despite increases in Government spending. To compensate for that, exams are now so easy to pass that an A-level certificate is hardly worth anything in the workplace. Late last year, the National Audit Office had the cheek to suggest that employers might want to invest in literacy and numeracy classes for their employees. And university tutors are finding that they have to offer remedial classes in essay writing and the like to first-year students.

I doubt that La Horne had these considerations in mind when she made her declaration, but that notwithstanding, her statement is uncomfortably close to the truth. How does a potential employer distinguish between today’s semi-literate school leavers, all of whom waving a a sheaf of Grade A* GCSE and A-Level certificates? Might as well toss a coin.
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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Five things we have learnt from the trial of Abu Hamza

That our existing laws on racial hatred and incitement to murder are more than enough to deal with these crimes.

That there is a clear divide between free speech and incitement, and it is one that juries are capable of recognising.

That an array of weapons and forged passports were found in the Finsbury Park mosque.
Let us remember that the next time someone tries to dissuade the Police from searching mosques on grounds of religious sensibilities.

That our security services have had an extremely relaxed approach to Islamic extremism.

That taking a softly-softly approach to dangerous people does not guarantee that they will not turn around and attack your way of life.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Where is the voice of 'moderate Islam'? We need to hear it now.

Here is something to consider: a child born in 2000 will have had no picture of Islam than that of a violent, extremist, bloodthirsty religion. The last six years have shown us an extremely wicked side of Islam. However, every time there is a terrorist attack, the so-called moderates come out and tell us that Islam is a religion of peace. That is as far as that rhetoric goes. Now we want to see more of this peaceful religion. If there is a peaceful side of Islam, please let us see it. This weekend, we all saw the picture of a little child holding up a placard calling for death for those who insult Mohammed. Is this what muslim children are being socialised to believe? Islam is tarnished in the eyes of many, and the only people who can put this right are its adherents. It is up to them to seize the podium from their hateful brethren and begin the hard task of depicting their religion in an acceptable light. The cartoon protests were sparked off because muslims felt that their prophet was being insulted. By showing themselves capable of some of the despicable acts they have engaged in over the past few years, they have insulted him far more than those cartoons could ever have managed.
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Friday, February 03, 2006

The Great Cartoon Riots MMVI: next stop London

Groups of aggrieved muslims are protesting in Central London over the cartoons. Rather predictably, they are calling for blood, bombs and beheadings. As I stated in a comment on Daily Propaganda's blog, why protest here in London when our newspapers have not even published the cartoons? They might as well publish them now. If we are going to get the protests, we might as well be shown the cartoons in all their irreverence. Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Incidentally, a Jordanian newspaper also published the cartoons. Can we also expect, in the interests of balance, that the protesters also organise something on the streets of Amman? What’s the betting that won’t happen?
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Turn, Mr Prescott ...

John Prescott has had an about-turn on the Education White Paper. He says he has been given assurances over his concerns on selection and local authority control. If so, this must mean that the White Paper has been severely watered down. We cannot be sure until we see the Bill, but if the reforms are now being enthusiastically embraced by Prescott, it is fairly certain that Tony Blair has made a compromise too far. This would be a great pity, and a missed opportunity. Either that or Tony Blair is deceiving Prescott, and the reforms are still intact. I would prefer the latter, as I would be uneasy about any educational reforms that had the whole-hearted backing of Prescott and Old Labour.
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Shell, the darling of the Left

Another year, and more ‘record profits’ for Shell. This year, Shell has posted profits of around £13bn and our leftie friends are all a-tizz. Never mind that (as the BBC acknowledges) the bulk of the profits derive from finding and extracting oil, and not from the filling stations. However, that fact hasn't stopped BBC journalists perching outside filling stations across the realm and quizzing motorists for their ‘reaction’. The subliminal message is that the profits are linked to the pump price. Motorists are being asked, in the light of Shell’s happy news, whom they ‘blame’ for the high price of fuel.

As far as the pump price is concerned, there is only one man to be blamed for the high price, and that is Mr G. Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of the 90-odd pence per litre charged, about 60p goes in taxes, leaving a narrow profit margin after allowable deductions.

The Transport and General Union Secretary has called for a windfall tax on Shell. Is that in addition to the heavy duties Shell already pays, plus corporation tax at the main rate of 30 per cent? And let’s not forget the extra 10 per cent surcharge on North Sea oil imposed by our darling Gordon in the pre-Budget Report. Surely Shell’s ‘pips’ are ‘squeaking’ enough?

From watching the news today, the prevalent message appeared to be that making a profit of that size was a bad thing, and Shell must somehow explain how it came to do so. I would urge my leftie friends to pipe down and consider one thing: ‘record profits’ for Shell mean record taxes to fund New Labour’s client state. That is the sort of thing you like, not so? So enough of your envious bleating and however much it pains you, offer your warmest congratulations to Shell.
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Here's one I found earlier ...

Gunmen in Gaza are deeply offended, I hear. Poor lambs. I wonder what they think about some anti-Semitic cartoons from Arab newspapers that I came across*. See here.

*Hat tip to sterlingti on RightLinks.
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The Cartoon Saga Part II

Following on from my post yesterday, today brings news that the editor of France Soir, one of the newspapers that printed the Mohammed cartoons, has been sacked for offending muslims. Since when was that a sackable offence, I ask. What, by the way, is wrong with causing offence? There are a lot of things that a newspaper should worry about, for example, unwarranted breach of privacy, libel and slander. Causing offence is not one of them. If a newspaper cannot publish something like this, for fear of offending muslims, where does that leave the rest of us? I am surprised at France Soir, especially given that France is supposed to be a secular country. What are we all afraid of, I wonder. One question: was the editor sacked because the owner of the paper is a sensitive man, who wouldn't want to cause offence to anyone? Or was it because of fear of the possible repercussions to the newspaper from angry muslims? I have a fair idea which it is, and if that is the case, things have come to a sorry pass. We should all be afraid, not only of angry muslims, but also because of the damage this is doing to our society. One of the major differences between a democracy and a dictatorship is the existence of a free press. This insidious dictatorship is not that of one man, but rather that of an alien culture that we are all too frightened to confront.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The cartoons are almost here!

Newspapers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain have republished the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that caused so much trouble for the Danish press last year. How long before the death threats come flooding in? Denmark has already received its share. I also wonder which newspaper in the UK will be the first to show us these cartoons. I notice that in reporting the story, the lily-livered BBC showed us only part of the France Soir newspaper, deftly obscuring the cartoons. I wonder how much agonising went into that decision. Will republishing the cartoons in the UK fall foul of the notorious religious hatred Bill? If so, better to publish them now, before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
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I hate your religion, whachu gonna do?

Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Government suffered a double defeat on its Religious Hatred Bill. The House of Lords had made a few amendments to tone down some of its harsher provisions, and these were put to the vote in the Commons. The Government lost the first by ten votes. Mirabile dictu, the Prime Minister was allowed to leave before the second vote took place, and the Government lost that by one vote. The finger of blame is being pointed at the Chief Whip for miscalculating – about 40 Labour MPs were absent from the House. This, however, is missing the point. As far as anyone is to blame, it is the Government. In the teeth of opposition from all sides, it obstinately pressed on with a law that no decent society should even countenance. There were protests against the Bill yesterday from many sections of society; evangelical Christians, comedians, members of the public, and even some muslim groups, the so-called intended beneficiaries of this new law. Today we have been told that ministers are ‘picking over the entrails’ of the defeat. I would advise them to leave that carcass alone. They would be better served by reacquainting themselves with the values of a civilised society: the basic principle of freedom of speech would be a good place to start.
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