Friday, May 19, 2006

Their widgets would bestride the globe

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

It's criminal

Governments increasingly resemble spoilt teenagers. Look at the state of this bedroom. New laws piled on top of each other. Some have not even been taken out of their boxes, but you will still demand the latest model next year.

That, at any rate, is Tony Blair’s approach. Since 1997 there have been more than 30 criminal justice bills. Before half the powers in one have been enacted, the next is on its way through the House.

Yet Blair’s reaction to the bad headlines of the past month has been to promise yet more new laws. The idea of enforcing the ones he already has does not occur to him.

Increasingly, Blair lives in a parallel universe. “We should not have to fight continual legal battles to deport people committing serious crimes,” he says. It may be like that on Planet Blair, but where the rest of us live the government does not even know where these people live.

Back on Earth, Monday saw the third reading of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. As we recently reported, this is better known as the Abolition of Parliament Bill. Since then the government has given ground. The consensus is that the bill is now less sinister but still gives the executive too much power to amend laws without involving parliament.

Why is it being brought in? The official reason is to free industry from red tape. British manufacturers have always been convinced that if it weren’t for the burden of legislation their widgets would bestride the globe.

The real reason has more to do with the volume of law these days. Bills churn through the parliamentary sausage machine at such a rate there is little chance for the Lords or committees to do their jobs properly, The result is bad laws that have to be revised.

In Blair’s early days no one would have worried about giving him these powers. He had only to open his arms, give a big, cheesy grin and say “Trust me” and his critics melted away.

Today only the ultra-loyalists are left to trust him. And when, after all those criminal justice bills, he still sees the need for a “profound rebalancing of the debate on civil liberties”, you can see why.

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