‘A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, “Huh. It works. It makes sense”.’ Wise words from presidential candidate Barack Obama in an interview with staff writer William Finnegan of The New Yorker, published in 2004.
Which suggests that not all legislation is ‘good’ legislation. Governments, at least in the United Kingdom, seem obsessed with introducing new legislation—sometimes (often perhaps), it seems to me, without thinking through all the social consequences. The parliamentary agenda is crammed with this measure or that, introducing new rules to govern us (not necessarily good?) or repealing legislation no longer in line with the current mores of society (mostly good?).
Now that the 2015 General Election is over and done with, and Cameron’s Tories have a workable majority in the House of Commons without having to be propped up by the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) in coalition, the fetters are removed from the Conservatives following their increasingly (and frighteningly) right-wing agenda.
As usual, I was lying in bed this morning, drinking my cup of tea and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, my daily ritual. The headline was the proposed legislation that will, apparently, be in the Queen’s Speech** in two weeks time, to tackle Islamic extremism and radicalization. Introduction of such legislation was apparently blocked by the Lib Dems during the term of the 2010-2015 coalition government. In a commentary I read earlier today, such an anti-extremism bill will address ‘the symptoms not the causes’. And, therefore, I wonder (naïvely perhaps) what other changes could be made to how we are governed without always having to resort to new legislation.
In my younger years, I had, admittedly, limited knowledge of or interest in the legislative agenda of consecutive Conservative or Labour governments since the 1950s. But I did recognize the groundbreaking legislation that changed British society forever at the end of the 1950s and throughout the more liberal 1960s, such as the ‘Lady Chatterley trial’ and reform of the Obscene Publications Act (1959), the abolition of the death penalty for murder (1965), the decriminalization of homosexuality (1967) and subsequent amendments, the legalization of abortion (1967), and recently same-sex marriages (2013).
Another forthcoming bone of contention will be the promised repeal of the Human Rights Act (1998)—under which the death penalty was finally abolished for all offences—and its replacement by a ‘British Bill of Rights’. Admittedly the legal basis of some of the successful appeals under this Act have seemed ludicrous to many. But I believe there are considerable grounds for concern that incoming Justice Secretary Michael Gove will endeavor to turn the clock back. And perhaps the same can be said for much of the expected legislation that only about 35% of those who voted in last week’s General Election actually supported.
I’m sure my lawyer friends will put me straight if I have misinterpreted any of the issues here.
Based on what one of them told me yesterday, the government could do to look at some ancient laws that are (or could still be) on the ‘Statute Book’. I put this photo on my Facebook page, showing the work being carried out to repair the roof of my home.
‘Nice crenalations,’ commented one Facebook friend. Whereupon, a lawyer friend replied: ‘ In Henry II’s time, you needed a royal licence to crenelate. The law is probably still in force!’ Time for a smiley!
*Interestingly, William Howard Taft, who served just a single term as President from 1909 to 2013, later became the tenth Chief Justice of the United States from 1920 to 1930.
** The Queen’s Speech is delivered by HM The Queen (as Head of State) at the beginning of each parliamentary session in which the government’s legislative agenda for the coming year is spelled out.