Friday, June 26, 2015

This is getting out of hand

Your Freedom and Ours is what this blog is called and that is what it is. I am getting a little perturbed by the news that is coming over from the other side of the Pond where there is now war of cultural and historical vandalism going on in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina.

There is no need to rehearse what happened, which was terrible, or the dignified response of the city to the tragedy that struck them. Nor is there any need to go through the various articles, essays and analyses (the books are to come) that have followed the shooting. For one thing I have no space for all the links and for another anyone who is interested would have read a great deal and will probably do so in the coming days, weeks, months but not years because something else will happen to take people's attention away.

What caught my interest, inevitably, is the campaign against the Confederate Flag, which is now being taken off not just public buildings but private merchandise. In fact, it will soon be banned completely and not for the first time in American history. It came back last time and it will come back again but, in the meantime, a good deal of historical knowledge and understanding will be destroyed in the name of some spurious feeling of justice. The truth is that the events that led up to the Civil War or the War Between The States or the War For The Union, the actual war and the years after it are far too complicated to be reduced to this sort of simplistic rubbish. (Though I am rather enjoying the reminders that the Confederate Flag was the flag of the Democrat Party. Of course, it was. Don't believe me? Look it up, while you can.)

I hear stories of Civil War memorials being defaced with stupid slogans and suggestions that Confederate generals should be dug up (what's left of them) and put on trial or their bones thrown to the dogs or whatever. This is insane. All of it.

The killer of Charleston did not carry out his attack because of the Confederate Flag or the presence of Civil War memorials. And, let's face it, even on this side of the Pond we know that the greatest number of black lives wasted in many American cities are in gang fights and criminal attacks carried out by other black young men. The situation is appalling and something ought to be done because black lives do matter but not only when the killer is white.

The worst suggestion I have seen is that Gone With The Wind should now be "retired". Well, good luck with that - "retiring" one of the most popular films of all times is not going to be easy, not even for leftist, progressive journalists. I hope nobody is thinking of retiring Birth of a Nation, which I am due to see at the NFT on Sunday. I notice that there are several comments on the NY Post article that I have linked to, which compare this attitude to the destruction of historic and cultural sites by IS because they do not like the religion or ideology that motivated their building. Well, I cannot disagree too much.

Incidentally and completely off the topic, here is a conundrum: why is it that the best and most highly regarded films about the Civil War, Birth of a Nation, The General and Gone With The Wind are all from the point of view of the South? There have been films from the point of view of the North, not least several biopics of Abraham Lincoln (no, dear, he was not a Democrat either, but a Republican) but nothing of that calibre. Is it because like the Royalists, according to 1066 And All That, the Confederates were Wrong but Wromantic?

So, just because I hate what is happening I have decided to post two pictures: one of the Confederate Flag as it used to fly together with the Stars and Stripes and a photo of General Robert E. Lee, the man who not only fought in that War but, when that became hopeless, surrendered, refused to institute a guerrilla war and worked for the reconstruction of the shattered union.

Monday, June 22, 2015

More on that Bill

First things first: we have had the Second Committee Day of the EU Referendum Bill on Thursday and you can read the debate here. The date for the Report is to be announced but, meanwhile, here is the amended Bill as it is to go forward to the next stage.

Before that, however, Derek Thomas (also here), MP for St Ives asked:
If the Electoral Commission will commission a lay-person’s guide to the costs and benefits of UK membership of the EU before the EU referendum.
Not precisely the Electoral Commission's job, as the Minister pointed out, but then whose job is it, given that HMG, singly and collectively, has refused to provide such an analysis over a number of decades?

We do have a volunteer in the person of the Wellingborough MP, Peter Bone (also here):
If they [the Electoral Commission] are not the people to do it, I am quite happy to take on that task. It would be pointless having such a document because it will have pages and pages and pages of costs; I doubt that we would find a page on the benefits.
Mr Streeter's response was dry:
I will certainly put that offer back to the Electoral Commission. I am sure that it will be as enthusiastic as I am.
However, he did not produce an alternative suggestion. Incidentally, the Member for South-West Devon was replying to questions on the subject of the referendum because he was representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

First Day of Committee

The Referendum Bill has reached Committee stage (yes, I fear, there are a number of stages in this process) and it can be watched directly here. Not a particularly well attended House but then Committee stages rarely are, since debates are about various, often minutely detailed amendments.

Some of today's (unedited) record can be read here. The edited version will be published tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 15, 2015

This anniversary has to be noted

Magna Carta, a crucial and still controversial document was signed on June 15, 1215 and a great deal of time is being spent this year on discussions about its importance and relevance.

It seems to me that there is a case to be made for reading the text, though few of us can do that in the original but here is a seemingly reliable English translation.

Here is a good summary of the history of the document and of its subsequent fate, an analysis of the Clauses and the text of the three still in English law:
I. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
There are some excellent pieces on the History Today site and on spiked-online. So, are we right to be celebrating the signing of the Great Charter? Is it really relevant today and if not should it be made more relevant? Are all clauses to be rescued and if not (I can think of a few that ought to be buried) then which ones. As they say: Discuss.

Friday, June 12, 2015

HMG replied to Lord Pearson

As readers of this blog recall, Lord Pearson's first Written Question in the new Parliament was covered by it and it concerned security at a putative Mohammed drawing competition. To my surprise HMG did not obfuscate too much in its reply.

The Question was:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to support a contest in the United Kingdom between artists depicting the prophet Mohammed, and if so, whether they will provide security protection for such an event.
The reply was:
The Government is not aware of any plans. The safety and security of an event is an issue for the event organisers in consultation with the police.
Could have been worse. Could have been stronger in support of law and order, as well, of course, but we cannot have everything.

Next stages of the Bill

I must admit that I have not managed to read through the whole of the debate on the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill but did note that only the SNP voted against it, which puts them into a slightly odd position. Do they or do they not believe in the right of a country to vote in a referendum about its independence? That is a separate question about whether they think the UK should stay in the EU or not.

The next stage is Committee and it is scheduled for June 16 and here are the notices of Amendments already put down.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

More from the House of Lords

Tomorrow or whenever I can get through the turgid stuff they spout in Another Place, will be the turn of that place, to wit the House of Commons. Today, however, I concentrate on the House of Lords. Well, for one more posting.

One of the procedures in the House at the start of a session is the appointment of Select Committees who will then spend a good deal of time (for which the members do not get paid) studying various subjects and producing reports, which are almost invariably informative and well argued. Indeed, more attention ought to be paid to them. This blog has tried to do so but has failed miserably. Perhaps, a new resolution to that effect is in order.

The one Select Committee over which there was a debate was the European Union one and that is because Lord Pearson of Rannoch has rightly raised an objection or two, which he does every time simply because these things need to be put on record.

The following peers were named as members of the Committee but they do have the right both in full and in sub-Committees to co-opt others: B Armstrong of Hill Top, L Blair of Boughton, L Borwick, L Boswell of Aynho (Chairman), E Caithness, B Falkner of Margravine, L Green of Hurstpierpoint, L Jay of Ewelme, B Kennedy of The Shaws, L Liddle, L Mawson, B Prashar, B Scott of Needham Market, B Suttie, L Trees, L Tugendhat, L Whitty, B Wilcox.

They can all be looked up but I have to admit that on immediate perusal I can see two peers whose attitude to the European Union is mildly sceptical, a subject that both Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart raised in the subsequent debate.

It all started with the following proposed amendment:
Leave out the sections relating to the membership of the Committee, and the power to appoint sub-committees and refer to them any matters within its terms of reference, and insert: “That the Committee have power to appoint up to two sub-committees, one of which shall deal with European Union constitutional affairs and one of which shall deal with European Union economic matters; that the membership of the Committee and its sub-committees be balanced between members who favour the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and those who favour staying in it.
Setting aside the question as to how many sub-committees there ought to be, which is a somewhat esoteric point, let us look at what Lord Pearson said about the membership:
Noble Lords appear to be aware that in recent years I have regularly raised the balance, effectiveness and number of our European Union Select Committees before we agreed their appointment. For students of this important but perhaps refined subject, I last raised it on 16 May 2013 at col. 544 and on 12 June 2014 at col. 528.

As to balance, this proposed new committee appears to be just as Europhile as its predecessors. I do not pretend to know all their views, but of its 16 members I can detect only three who I would describe as mildly Eurosceptic and six who are among the most ardent Europhiles in your Lordships’ House. This is more important than usual in a year when we are approaching an EU referendum. Your Lordships’ other Select Committee reports are widely respected, and if our EU reports suffer from a Europhile slant, that will not be helpful to any fair outcome. I want to put the public on alert now, and I hope that I do not have to come back to this point too often in future.

I admit that the second part of my amendment, that our committees should be balanced between those who want to leave the EU and those who want to stay in, will not be easy to achieve. I put it down to underline what a Europhile place your Lordships’ House is when compared to public sentiment on this matter. In fact I can think of only perhaps a dozen of your Lordships who would be prepared to say publicly that we should leave the European Union whatever the outcome of the current negotiations. However, we should at least try to make our committees as balanced as we can, and at the moment we do not.
He is not wrong about the membership though I have always found that the Committee's and the various Sub-Committees' reports rather more critical of HMG and of the EU than the membership of those bodies would suggest. In fact, I seem to recall being asked on the BBC Russian Service how it was possible for a Parliamentary Committee to produce quite such a hard-hitting and critical report as the one on HMG's and the EU's preparedness to the Ukraine crisis was.

Lord Pearson's other point about the usefulness of those discussions and reports is sadly true. In the first place, as I have pointed out too many times to count, scrutinizing legislation is not quite the same thing as legislating or being able to reverse legislation.

Going on from there:
Our committees are there to hold the Government to account on the legislation that emerges from Brussels—that is what I am constantly told by noble Lords who favour the present arrangements. However, the trouble remains that that is all that these committees can do: they can only scrutinise, and the Government regularly ignore their findings.

I remind your Lordships of the scrutiny reserve, whereby successive Governments have promised not to sign up to any piece of legislation in Brussels if it is still being scrutinised by the Select Committee of either House of Parliament. Yet since July 2010, the Government have broken that promise 303 times in the Commons and 266 times in your Lordships’ House. Some 238 of those overrides were on measures being considered by both Houses. Each override means that a new EU law is being forced upon us without the consent of Parliament, because the EU juggernaut rolls on regardless. I hope the respected chairman of our EU Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, will not mind if I remind your Lordships of his disappointed interventions on that subject on 4 December 2014 at col. 1400 and on 17 December 2014 at col. 95. I do not know if he can reassure us now that, as a result, the scrutiny reserve is no longer broken.

I fear that our EU Select Committees do not and cannot hold the Government to account in Brussels. Since 1996, up to last year, the Government themselves have objected to and forced to a vote in the Council of Ministers 55 new measures, and they lost the vote on every single one of them. I add that the situation is just as depressing in that democratic fig-leaf, the European Parliament. Of its 1,936 most-recent Motions, a majority of all UK MEPs voted against 576 of them, but 485 still passed—a failure rate of some 84%. So it does not seem that our Select Committee reports carry much weight there either. None of that should surprise us. The big idea behind the EU has always been that member states should be diminished in favour of the unelected bureaucracy, under the pretence that that would maintain peace in Europe, which was of course, in fact, always sustained by NATO, not Brussels—but that is still at the root of our powerlessness in the EU.
I may add that though Lord Pearson's other points were debated, this highly important one, about powerlessness was not discussed.