Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Yay – more laws!

As if it wasn’t enough to have spent the last nine years under the most legislation-happy government in forever (who love the idea of new laws so much they want to bypass parliament through the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to enable them to make new ones on a whim), now they’re giving yet more people the power to make us criminals, this time local councils.

Unsurprisingly, one of the major planks of these proposals is the lovely idea of giving councils the power to impose yet more “on-the-spot fines” – also known as “summary justice”, but better described as “arbitrary injustice” thanks to the insane difficulty and expense of getting such impositions overturned on appeal.

This has been one of the on-going themes of Blair’s domestic policy throughout his time in office, be it ASBOs creating laws that can apply to individuals alone to the repeated attempts to bring in instant fines for drunkards causing trouble, with Bobbies marching the piss-heads to the nearest cash-point to exact their pay-offs (rather than target the non-uniformed muggers who used to have a monopoly on such actions of a Friday night).

And, of course, the great thing about giving councils law-making powers is that there is no second chamber in the council system, so any party with a majority at the Town Hall will be able to bring in pretty much whatever new laws it likes. This is, judging by Jack Straw’s recent proposals for House of Lords reform, is what our dear government would rather like at Westminster as well, as

“According to the leak, the proposals envisage a Lords reduced from 741 members to 450”

This would, of course, take the number of peers below the number of MPs, and reduce even further the ability of the upper House to do its job of deliberating over and scrutinising legislation from the Commons – something it remains incapable of doing even now, with almost 300 more members than Straw would like.

In turn, if the Lords’ ability to do its job is even further restricted, yet more legislation will start building up, yet more bad laws will make it through parliament intact, and the government’s calls for measures like the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to “cut through the red tape” and “speed up the work of government” will seem ever more appealing. Plus, of course, there will be far fewer people in Westminster to raise concerns.

Until the White Paper detailing these new proposals to give councils the ability to make laws emerges – and is dissected by someone with a far greater knowledge of the legal system than I posess – it is hard precisely to say what the effect will be. The only thing that is certain is that, at a time when our jails are full to bursting and our criminal justice system so overburdened with cases that tabloid reports of criminals going free are a daily occurance, the last thing we need is yet more criminal offences.

But, of course, the major reason for these new laws will not be to make the average citizen’s life easier, but to top up the failing Council Tax system with yet more sources of non-tax revenue, just like parking tickets, “environmentally friendly” surcharges*, fines for not recycling, and proposals to turn off streetlighting to save cash while spying on householders in a bid to charge extra for collecting rubbish – making one wonder precisely what the DO spend our Council Tax money on if it’s not on essential, long taken for granted services like waste disposal and making roads navigable at night.

But hey, if we expected government – be it local or national – to actually do things to the benefit of the citizens, then the vast amounts of money pumped into the NHS over the last few years would have produced definite improvements, rather than yet more ward closures and redundancies of medical staff. The billions spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would instead have been spent on increasing the budgets of MI5 and MI6, allowing for better prevention rather than mere provocation. The vast sums lined up to be spent on the ID card system (another revenue-raiser through the charges we’ll all have to pay not only when we’re first issued with our pieces of plastic but also every time our details change) would be spent on teacher training and improving school infrastructure. The ridiculous amounts spent on devolving power to Cardiff and Edinburgh would have gone on improving rail and other transport links between the UK’s three captials, making travelling around the country faster, easier and cheaper. The ridiculous amounts lined up to pay for the 2012 London Olympics would instead go on finally building Crossrail. The billions wasted on the failed NHS IT system would go on new wards, new hospitals, and training frontline staff.

As it is, our country – hell, probably pretty much every country – is, at all levels, being run by people more interested in personal profit than the benefit of the people. MPs award themselves ever more pay rises and allowances (current basic package, including average expenses, is c.£175,500) above the rate of inflation while the rest of us struggle by on an average national wage that makes it impossible to buy an averagely-priced home on a standard mortgage, while taxes rise and rise and additional charges spring up left, right and centre.

Gah. The whole thing irritates so much I could end up ranting on for ever and never reach a conclusion. So here endeth the lesson.

(* As much as I approve of charging people who drive 4x4s in cities more money, it’s not for any environmental reason, but because a) they take up more space, making roads narrower and more dangerous, and b) they’re generally speaking owned by people who can’t drive, certainly don’t need anything that large to ferry Tarquin and Jocasta half a mile to Prep School, and seem determined to knock me off my bike every time I cycle within a mile’s radius of a school. The bastards.)


  1. WOW! What a rant. I agree with every word.

  2. Hang on, the ‘J’ in J. Clive Matthews is for Jocasta, isn’t it?

    (Great post by the way.)

  3. Fabulous though your rant is, and much as I agree with the principle of opposing useless extra laws, the LGWP, as I understand it, is proposing that councils no longer have to submit every change in bye-laws to the secretary of state. They never went through parliament anyway.

    Also, the people I know in local government are more excited about rolling back stupid, ancient, irrelevant bye-laws like “no beating of rugs in parks” and “it’s ok to shoot a scotsman as long as you use a bow and arrow.”

    However, the fact that the SoS thinks that framing this announcment as “councils being given the power to make laws” shows, depressingly, how the current government thinks the british public loves lots of new laws, and therefore requires instant rebuttal through rants like yours. Well said.

  4. The NHS IT project hasn’t yet come to fruition. Calling it ‘failed’ is rather daily mail sensationalist of you.
    It will, eventually, bring huge benefits, such as hospitals having access to your records immediately, thus knowing what your pre-existing problems are and being able to treat you properly, no matter how many hospitals you’ve been in.
    Also, it’ll help enormously in identifying the true level of the problems caused by adverse drug reactions.
    I agree with pretty much everything else though

  5. Tom – I don’t doubt for a second the need for some kind of database for the NHS to speed up the work of doctors and nurses (unlike my doubts over the proposed ID database). But – silly though this may be – I trust Private Eye on this, and this week’s issue (page 17) gives yet more reasons to believe that the implementation is failing and going massively over both budget and deadlines, even if the finished product does end up top-notch (which, based on the few hospitals that have seen the new system introduced to date, seems unlikely).

    Katie – let’s face it, by-laws/bye-laws are so confusing there’s not even a standardised spelling – very hard to keep track of the buggers. Making new ones is the last thing we need (and I doubt very much they’ll scrap any of the outdated old one – they all add to the local charm, are no longer enforced, and would probably cost too much to get rid of).

    Still, assuming you’re the Katie I think you are, you know rather more about local government than I do…

  6. Some thoughts:

    The US Senate has 100 members, two for each of the fifty States, whereas the House has 435 representatives. It’s a rather good check on the executive and the lower house though. (Theoretically speaking and – here’s hoping – perhaps also in practice, midterms allowing.)

    One of the major problems of the House of Lords is that there are far too many of the buggers. This is one of the unforeseen outcomes of the introduction of life peers. Without the worry that you’re giving a title to an ongoing line of aristos but rather just one person, it’s a whole lot easier to dole them out. How many creations are there these days? Two, three a year? Historically speaking, they’ve become as cheap as dirt.

    Also, if you’re in favour of devolving power away from the centre, possibly the best way is to give councils actual powers over regulation and taxation. More people might bother to vote if councils are to be more than training centres for wannabe Labour / Lib Dem MPs. Better quality people might stand if they actually had something they could, y’know, do. And if they foul up, they can be voted out.

    (Though I agree, councils need reform. A two-tier county assembly might be better. Also, recent proposals for a return to parish – sorry, ‘community’ – councils in London are a Good Thing; perhaps we could also get rid of the monstrous mega-boroughs of the seventies at the same time.)

    Also, given your stand on individual liberties against an overmighty state, do you really want MI5 and MI6 to get even more money than they do already? Especially considering that you think throwing money at things, like the NHS say, generally makes matters worse not better.

  7. yes, it’s me, hello. But you’re right, most councils will just create more and not do away with old ones. A chum from a very efficient LA said he reckoned that the limit on councils for creating new by(e)laws should be that they have to do away with an old one for every new one they create.

    But even if, by some miracle, that were to be put in the legislation enacting the white paper, the better regulation commission in the cabinet office says Parliament should do that for all regulation and look how well that turned out.

  8. I agree with everything, apart from the bit about Crossrail; Superlink’s a much better idea…

  9. I was at a Shami Chakrabarti speech a few months ago where she was talking about councils’ powers to impose ASBOs and wondered just what might happen if the BNP ever got control of a council and gave them what would effectively be their own little ASBO producing machine. Just imagine how much more fun Nick Griffin could have if you allowed him to make his own by-laws for a town…

  10. No mention of the undemocratic and unelected Regional Assemblies!

    Shouldn’t they be in the loop here?

    clocks back tomorrow night