Action: a Powers and Bodies Bill

When we have a functioning Parliament, it must sweep away the encrusted chaos into which petty bureaucracy has descended. It threatens to overwhelm the state. Parliament is to blame; Parliament must sort it out (but Parliament is itself now is just as dysfunctional).

In July we published Our plan for the new Prime Minister, but he has had a lot on his plate.  One action could begin to clear the Augean Stables of Whitehall: a Powers and Bodies Act.

Initial heads of action for a Powers and Bodies Bill should include:

  • Register the Quangocracy;
  • Rationalise the birth and dissolution of quangos;
  • Codify judicial review;
  • Limit the abuse of power by privileged professional associations;
  • Restore the separation of powers.

In a series of articles I and others will look at each one of these aims, and maybe add more.

Register the Quangocracy

If we do not know what public bodies there are, how they are appointed and what money they receive, and how they overlap, then it is not possible sensibly to monitor them or reform them.

Private companies have to provide, on the public register, a registered office, their constitution and their accounts, and are given a unique identifying company number: that way, anyone doing business with them knows with whom they were dealing and where notices can be served. Public bodies, which get large wads of taxpayers’ money, should be no less transparent. A register would show who they are, how many there are, where they overlap (and so where there is redundancy) and who is responsible.

All public bodies derive their authority from elsewhere and must submit to Tony Benn’s questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?”

Rationalise the birth and dissolution of quangos;

  • (Future article to follow)

To rationalise the process of creating, managing and dissolving public bodies, look at what is done these days. It is typical for an Act of Parliament which decrees the creation of a new body to set out in detail its legal form, name, legal personality and such detail as the MPs passing it are unlikely to be bothered with, and Parliament does this time after time. It is not beyond the wit of draftsmen to lay down, in a Powers and Bodies Act, a standard constitution for any new public body, with variations and options perhaps, so that the next time an Act creates yet another quango it can do so in one line.

An advantage of standardisation, apart from saving reams of paper, is to make such bodies comprehensible and, when the time comes, abolishable.

This is the second strand then: a standard procedure for winding old quangos up, or merging or transforming them. If it is made easier, it will be less trouble to clear the detritus of old enthusiasms.

Codify judicial review

  • (Future article to follow)

Judicial review has expanded wildly since the Wednesbury decision, to beyond what any could then have imagined.  Once a rare occurrence, judicial review of administrative decisions is now commonplace.  We need judicial review as a remedy, to ensure the rule of law. The rules applied though are all judge-made law, never reviewed by Parliament, and so judges are free to expand their remit at will.

The astounding judgment of the Supreme Court yesterday claimed to uphold the constitution but in reality smashes through it, inventing rules where there were none.  That has been the case through throughout the development of judicial review.  In that case, rules must be laid down to bring certainty and an end to judicial adventurism.

There is no guarantee that the Miller / Cherry case is the high water mark of judicial intervention. They can go further.  Sir Stephen Laws speculated yesterday that a court might interfere even with the giving of royal assent in future: it would be but a small step of logic from Miller/Cherry. Foreign treaties and declarations of peace and war are now open to challenge.

Therefore it is for Parliament to supply what they have hitherto omitted to do: to define the law.

Limit the abuse of power by privileged professional associations

  • (Future article to follow)

Several professional associations have powers granted to them by Act of Parliament, and they may pretend that they are private organisations with whom the state may not interfere, but where they are exercising legal powers over their members and sometime over others, then they are acting as state bodies and must be accountable for any abuse of the power entrusted to them.

A body such as the Law Society or the Institute of Chartered Accountants has immense power, impose rules on their professions and to ban anyone from practising, or to impose a fine. Hitherto they have been trusted to act like gentlemen, and for the most part they do. However there is nothing to prevent those learned bodies from adopting wayward rules, for example to ban from practice those who belong to a particular political party. They may be coming close to excluding those who will not subscribe to certain minority social ideas. That would be an abuse of powers granted by Parliament, but there is nothing to prevent it.

Interim conclusion

These look like petty matters: a register, or how to create and dismiss bodies, or stopping privileged bodies from acting as they have not acted anyway, and for that reason they have not been addressed by Parliament. However the neglect of such petty matters has allowed for aggregation of inefficiency. Bring all this together, pass a Powers and Bodies Act with all these aspects, and both Government and Parliament will be able to bring back control of their creations and even achieve the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ which is constantly promised and never achieved.

Books

Housing: courting injustice – 1

One thing is consistent through every change of government:  the rules about renting homes will be messed about, to harm both tenants and landlords

Housing rules are currently within the tender mercies of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose declared task is to make things better for tenants. Studies showing that every intervention has been a failure and usually counter-productive do not appear to have informed a change in direction. Obvious problems have produced reactions, but rarely wise ones.

Two initiatives are current.  Both were initiated under James Brokenshire, and since he has been unceremoniously booted out of his seat it is possible that his successor, Robert Jenrick, will change direction but until we hear that he has brought authoritative common sense to bear, we must assume that the political capital invested in the two principal ideas proposed will keep them alive.

  • Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies
  • A new Housing Court

As background assured shorthold tenancy were introduced during Margaret Thatcher’s time gradually to replace Labour’s Rent Acts. An ‘AST’ is a fixed term tenancy which, if not brought to an end by two months’ notice, will continue indefinitely until the landlord serves a notice (known in the jargon as a “Section 20 Notice’).  The new proposal is to abolish Section 20 notices, so a landlord could not get his property back unless he can prove, in court, one of a number of listed grounds for possession.  It is unlikely that these grounds will include ‘The rent is too low: I want to improve it and let it to richer tenants’.

Landlord groups have pointed out that these proposals will eliminate the possibility of short-term or interim lets, remove he opportunity for flats to be improved for anything short of a major rebuilding, and will result in numerous properties being removed from the market causing a housing shortage and higher rents overall due to supply and demand.  It also means that landlords who remain in the market will have to command higher rents in order to cushion themselves against the court costs of removing a troublesome tenant, and for the loss of capital value. One might add that tenants will stop worrying about their behaviour: they will really have to trash the place or stop paying rent before the landlord can do anything about them, and even then he has to be a landlord with the spare cash to go to court – and without rent coming in, he may not.

If a tenant refuses to move out, having received a Section 20 Notice, the court procedure should be quick: there is no defence, so the order is made, and after six months with no rent paid the bailiff (yet more cost) may throw them out.  If grounds have to be proven, then that requires a full court hearing, evidence, adjournments, a suspended order while the court gives the tenant a last chance, a new hearing when he defaults again, more evidence, and then and only then can a bailiff be engaged; and if it has got that far the tenant will not go quietly and may be enraged to trash the flat as he goes.

The result is high rents, impoverished landlords and an ever-declining quality of housing stock. Yet the proposal is championed as being for the protection of tenants. Tell that to the next tenant who moves into the trashed flat his landlord cannot afford to repair, paying through the nose to cushion the landlord’s loss and the future risks, and with no alternative because there are few flats left on the market.

The proposals did not come from the Ministry; they came from Shelter, once an honourable charity but which can now join the ranks of the fake charities, funded from our pockets to pump socialist ideas into government.  Their care for the homeless is not doubted, but the ideas they propose to help are the equivalent of helping a drowning man by pushing him deeper into the sea.

Shelter has a strong influence because it can play upon its worthiness of intent, and because it does supply advice for tenants genuinely needing help with the law. Well, I am pleased with the plumber when he does a good job, but I do not then let him and his wet hands play with the electrics too.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king:  another grip that a lobbying group like this can have is that no one else is as familiar with the Byzantine laws governing housing, and so by ensuring the continued complexity of the law, the lobbyists stay in control.

This though, and the second proposal, the Housing Court, must be the subject of a separate article.

Our plan for the new Prime Minister

Everyone else is doing it, so why not here?

Every column inch in the dead-tree press will be filled for weeks with columnists’ own plans to save Britain / the World, and Boris Johnson knows this well, as a columnist.  To each, the only plan for success is their own and any failure to follow it is a scandalously wasted opportunity that will seem like a betrayal. The success of Team Boris came swiftly and the backlash will be quicker. 

In the meantime, it is my duty to see what plans can come from my febrile imaginings and those of my colleagues, which are, naturally, the only solution, the slightest failing in which is a criminal waste / betrayal / surrender to the Blob.

  • Leave the EU on or before Reformation Day, 31 October, with or without a deal;
  • If Brussels will not replace or amend the Withdrawal Agreement (see earlier post on that; “Fixing the Withdrawal Agreement“, then offer a unilateral post-withdrawal deal for continuing tariff-free trade.
  • Reduce taxes for all, especially the squeezed Middle Classes, or ‘customers’ as we are known in business.
  • Register the Establishment;
  • A reforming unionist agenda:
    • Do not buy nor publish maps which only show England and Wales, or only England.
    • Run through all the Acts, rules and guidance which bar Scots and Ulstermen by carelessness of wording I have a very long list by my elbow)
    • Close the Ulster Bypass, and use the government’s economies of scale to provide services equally in Ulster as such economies provide in Great Britain (another list by my elbow)
    • Root through the national curriculum to remove regional bias
  • A radical free speech initiative, inside and outside government, and inside government:
    • Sack all diversity officers and cancel all equality and diversity training;
    • Discipline or dismiss public servants who try to get colleagues sacked for transgressing codes of PC speech and behaviour;
  • Order the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stop taking orders from Shelter, and remove any civil servants who act as conduits for that charity’s political ideas.  Instead, support private landlords: they are the ones who provide homes and they will not if they are punished.
  • Abolish inheritance tax.
  • Delete the word “county” from local government terminology: those flags in the Square today are what counties are really about – community not bureaucracy
  • Drive back the Long March:
    • Stop advertising government jobs in the Guardian;
    • Stop handing cash to ex-Labour politicians under the guise of research grants
    • Other things that need doing you know perfectly well, but such deeds can only be named in the dark.
  • And while you are about it: Land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.

Well that’s for the first week. Going into August there is more to be done.

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The doctor and the silent usurpers

Something struck me about the latest jeremiad for free speech.  The Archbishop Cranmer blog does an excellent job recounting the persecution of those who are open about their Christian beliefs, and I know it is difficult to say “persecution” when elsewhere in the world that word takes on its full horror, but in the genteel malevolence of the woke class there is a relentless attack which is aimed squarely at driving dissentient voices out of public life and Christians in particular.

Still, there was something that struck home in today’s post, “If a Christian doctor can be forced to deny biology, there is no hope for theology”.

– but also an opportunity to strike to resist

It was not the involvement of the egregious Piers Morgan – anyone who appears on his show must expect to be shouted at and insulted as that is his only approach. No, it is the ability to locate the enemy position.

In brief, Dr David Mackereth worked as a benefits assessor in the Department for Work and Pensions, and in the course of his employment he was required to attend a diversity training course.  Most of us in the course even of a long career have no occasion to encounter these courses but somehow Government departments have been persuaded that they are a requirement.  On the course the trainer asked Dr Mackereth ‘If you have a man, 6ft tall with a beard, who says he wants to be addressed as “she” and “Mrs”, would you do that?’, and he replied in all honesty “No”.  We has sacked at once. He had not actually encountered a six-foot bearded man insisting on being called ‘Miss’, but the hypothetical approach was a sacking offence.  Never mind that Dr Mackereth is a doctor who presumably knows more about biology that the whole DWP personnel department put together.

There is no Act of Parliament that refuses employment to those who disagree with a set of doctrinal formulae, not since the repeal of the Test Acts in 1828. Someone though is exercising power over the livelihoods of a great many men and women as if they had authority to impose such a statute.

Dr Mackereth’s case may be a rare example someone in a position to find out who is exercising the power. The diversity trainer exercised this pretended power, except that she or he did not effect the sacking as her formal authority does not go that far.  Presumably she, or he reported the incident to a diversity officer, who used his or her influence.  The personnel department actually issued the dismissal – either they agreed with the diversity officer or they were terrified of her: we ought to know.  We can be pretty sure that such actions were not authorised by the Secretary of State, notwithstanding that he takes ultimate responsibility for his department.

It has got more murky though:  first the Department seem to be saying that he was not sacked at all and simply disappeared from work, while in the middle is an agency, also being sued for discrimination.  Getting any truth out of these cases is well nigh impossible, it seems.  Somewhere though, in some corner there are names, names of those forcing their own opinions into the powers of the state, and someone with less integrity or intelligence than an experienced, Christian doctor.

Therefore who is in the frame: a diversity trainer and a diversity officer, a terrified agency clerk, but terrified of whom?  It would be useful to hear their testimony.  The personnel department too:  did they make a decision, or do what they were told and by whom? Names are needed: names.

Next: if this goes to court someone will have to advise the Government legal service to pursue it, when they could easy say “Our mistake, welcome back, Doctor.” so who makes that decision?

Books

The Curses of Caesarea

A Channel 4 documentary on Saturday night brought home an ancient controversy. Illustrated with a treasure-trove of material from Caesarea on the coast of Roman Judea, what was found is shocking.

The programme was on Roman chariot racing, but that is not what stuck in the mind – it was the physical evidence of life in a city which was not as it should have been.

Today Caesarea is a modern city, and its predecessor was modern in the Roman world too, founded by Herod the Great as his capital, named after Augustus and modelled on the cities of the Graeco-Roman world. This city had all the trappings of a Roman city, including a theatre, a temple dedicated to Roma and Augustus, and a hippodrome, for chariot racing. Around the circus were all those shady stalls found in every Roman arena – the temples, the taverns, the cauponae, the knocking-shops and magicians selling charms and curses.

The city attracted a large gentile community, though the majority of the city’s population were Jewish, until later centuries. What they could see around them in this new Hellenistic city was abomination: heathen temples, murders as entertainment in the theatre, soothsayers and magicians. A foreign culture was taking over and one which offended against every aspect of the Law.  In a well in the city Israeli archaeologists have found many curse tablets, rolled sheets of lead with curses written in Greek invoking Greek deities to bring death or ill-fortune on enemies, or on the opponents of favoured chariot racers.

The reaction of observant men must have been of horror that here within the Land of Israel there stood in stone the very antithesis of all the law and the prophets.  Further, it was modernity and seems to portray the inevitable future for all, and it was embraced by those who went to live within the city. We do not know if any of those curses invoking the Goddess were laid by Jewish inhabitants of the city, but the fact that pagan idols were being invoked and pagan magicians thriving in the land, seducing even Jewish men, must have looked like the evil that arose in the days of the prophets.

Unlike the days of the prophets though, no end could be imagined as all the civilised world was in the hands of the Romans and the Greeks and all modernity embraced their civilisation. To reject that culture was to reject modernity and to be “on the wrong side of history”. Therefore it could only grow: pagan temples, pagan culture, idols, orgies, indulgence, ritual murder, debauchery, astrologers and soothsayers and all that the Law forbids celebrated in the cities of Israel with official approval.

The men of Judea were strangers in their own land, mocked by those who had come among them for their old-fashioned, joyless religion and stale morality.

There were rebellions.  They were suppressed, with brutality: Roma triumphans.

However there may have been a memory of the prophecy of Daniel, the King’s dream in which “a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces”, and “the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” – this was a vision of the future Messianic kingdom, but for those in the land seeing everything ebbing away, this must have seemed a vain hope.

It was not a vain hope:  Roman culture was in time overthrown by “the stone the builders rejected”.

Our western culture, our world culture, has been built on religion and morality that King David would understand and Caesar Augustus would not. Now that foundational culture is under relentless attack we are urged to give up, to accept an inevitability of modernity which claims eternal truth, as did Rome. I hope that the ruins of Caesarea can provide us with a lesson for today.