Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Friday, 22 January 2010

Law of intended consequence?

Linked to one of my blog posts lurking in the drafts folder is this
In total, between 1997 and 2009, 4,289 new criminal offences were created - approximately one for every day ministers have been in office.
Brand new laws include
the ban on the sale of game birds shot on a Sunday-or Christmas Day.

This stems from the fact it is illegal, for ancient religious reasons, to shoot the birds on a Sunday - so the Government felt the need to also make it illegal to sell birds shot on a Sunday, to reinforce the point.
Logical sort of rule wouldn't you think? Closed a bit of a loophole? Just tidying up - making sure there's a double whammy for the enforcers who would, of course, know precisely when a game bird has been killed.

But let's face it, country people know the relevant laws and don't tend to break them without a very good reason - they would kill a "game bird" on a Sunday or Christmas Day if it had been ravaged by a fox or a stray dog, because they'd want to put it out of its' misery. Would they be likely to try to sell on the carcass?

This law's even better.
the crime of 'disturbing a pack of eggs',
Would this 'disturbing' of packs of eggs include frightening them, moving them from their comfortable home, making a loud noise close to them, causing them to suffer mental trauma because they were looked at the wrong way or they heard the wrong words being used?
Mr Straw said: 'Egg marketing inspectors must be able to ensure that eggs suspected of being marketed in contravention of EU regulations are not tampered with.'
It's badly worded, unnecessary legislation Mr Straw. Somebody is going to end up in court, wasting time and money, for doing nothing more than checking a box of eggs for breakages. To stop that happening maybe they could be given a 'fixed penalty notice'?

Ah, I see - money.

Mr Straw, currently Secretary of State for Justice and Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, isn't happy about the criticism of his, and his party's, lovely new laws.
He added: 'I am sorry that you regard these offences as unnecessary. In their different ways they are important pieces of legislation.'
Neat twist there, these are 'offences' - things there have to be a law against.

And, you see. There's always a reason.
Many of the new laws are backed by powers to enter people's home without a warrant to check they are not being breached.
Traumatise an egg box, terrify a yolk - get your home searched.

Law of intended consequences?



The exchange between Mr Huhne and Mr Straw can be seen in Hansard 4 Dec 2008 : Column 171. 1.28 pm
Our reaction to the Home Secretary’s speech and to the proposals is that this is another example of what the Home Office is extremely adept at: using legislation as a glorified press release. We are to have the 26th criminal justice Bill and the seventh immigration Bill from this Government since 1997. Various of those Bills have been shovelled through this House so hastily that whole sections and clauses have not been considered at all and have had to be reviewed in the other place. We now know from parliamentary answers to questions tabled by Liberal Democrats that no fewer than 3,600 new criminal offences have been introduced by this Government since 1997, yet extraordinarily, the Home Secretary—who, sadly, is no longer in her place—assures us that one of her key priorities is to reduce the need for police paperwork and bureaucracy. The extraordinary creation of offences by the Government is massively complicating the job of law enforcement and of the whole criminal justice system.

Some of these offences are completely bizarre—for example, the offence of causing a nuclear explosion. The idea that anyone might cause a nuclear explosion without killing anybody, and therefore being subject to a possible charge of murder, is extremely far-fetched. It is perhaps reassuring for some on the Government Benches that were there to be a nuclear explosion that did not kill anyone, the perpetrator could, indeed, be charged. Other of the new offences include: wilfully pretending to be a barrister; disturbing a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officer; obstructing workers carrying out repairs to the docklands light
4 Dec 2008 : Column 172
railway; offering for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas day; attaching an ear tag to an animal where it has previously been used to identify another animal; landing at a harbour without permission a catch that includes unsorted fish. I could continue that extraordinary list of new offences.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned only one or two offences, from this list of 3,600, that he wishes to remove. On reflection, he may not really wish to remove the protections against the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, to which he made cavalier reference a moment ago. As he is so concerned, and as he has obviously done a huge amount of research on these 3,600 offences, he should make public a full list of all the ones that he would like repealed.

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the Justice Secretary for intervening in that way. When he wrote to me in those terms, challenging me to come up with a complete list, I replied offering him the chance to repeal certain of the more absurd offences that have been put on the statute book. I have still not received a reply to that letter, in which I assured him that as soon as those offences, such as causing a nuclear explosion, had been repealed, I would provide him with a new list of further offences that he could then work on repealing.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is either making a trivial debating point or a serious point. The point that he makes all the time is that there are 3,600 new offences. I may question him on a number of those, but he says that he has culled his information from various parliamentary answers. The only conclusion to be drawn from his making that point repeatedly is that he does not think that these 3,600 offences should be on the statute book. He has mentioned about five of the offences. As it is his point, he should be responsible for providing us with a full list of the offences that he thinks should be repealed.

Chris Huhne: The Justice Secretary accuses me of making a trivial point, but I just wish he knew the difficulties we had in getting Departments even to list the new criminal offences that they have created. If he can assure me that, when we follow up those questions by asking those Departments for a full list of every new criminal offence, he will instruct his colleagues not to rule our request out of order on the grounds that it involves disproportionate cost, I will be delighted to give him a full list. If the Government can be less obstructionist in how they answer parliamentary questions, perhaps Opposition parties will be able to do that. He knows perfectly well that I have given him very good clear examples of absolutely absurd offences that have been put on the statute book, and he has done nothing to repeal them. I can give him chapter and verse and can continue through this list. Frankly, it is not good enough for the Justice Secretary to ask the Opposition to do something that he, in government, ought to be able to do.
There's a bit more to the debate that's worth reading, and other MPs are involved.

Why doesn't Mr Straw know which offences are new? He's the Justice Secretary and has staff who should at least keep him up to date - or doesn't he get told either?

One point made is the same as something John Redwood** has said several times and it's basically - under the current Government Parliament is not allowed enough time for robust debate, which lets new laws to slip onto the statute books without scrutiny.

** For example :-


Captain Nice said...

In answer to the Question, "Which came first?" I reckon it was them pesky lawmakers. They were just sittin around waitin for somethin's to come along soes they kin make a law agin it.

418 said...

They must be off their heggs!

More seriously, does this mean that Mrs Rigby as a diligent housewife isn't allowed to check the eggs in the supermarket to make sure they're not broken before she buys?

Mrs R said...

@ Capt Nice - archaeopteryx was first, or was it?

@ 418
I can't find anything about the egg law on HMSO so it looks as if it might have been brought in via a departmental statutory instrument.
It was mentioned in Parliament last year, which I'll edit into the post, so it wasn't a complete figment of the imagination.

What does it mean to ordinary people? I've no idea, but there's sure to be an "authorised officer" who quickly enforce the rules.

JuliaM said...

"This stems from the fact it is illegal, for ancient religious reasons, to shoot the birds on a Sunday - so the Government felt the need to also make it illegal to sell birds shot on a Sunday, to reinforce the point."

Most game birds require hanging to be palatable, don't they? So unless they were worried about them selling it the following Sunday...