Friday, January 28, 2005

Hunting foxes through the House of Lords

I was going to write something on Brash and his attacks on welfare - but everyone else has and I don't want to give him any more of the oxygen of publicity.

So I thought I'd comment on the UK fox-hunting lobby's attempt to defeat the soon to be implemented ban on their sport through court action.

To start at the beginning:
  • In 1910, the Liberal government of HH Asquith was being thwarted in their attempts to introduce a number of measures, including Irish Home Rule and various taxes, by the veto power of the Tory dominated House of Lords (acting as a parliamentary chamber rather than a court).
  • The Liberals made the blocking power of the HoL an election issue. Following their re-election, they introduced what became the 1911 Parliament Act. Unsurprisingly, the Lords tried to block this - they finally passed the bill under threat of King George V creating a large number of Liberal peers to overturn the Tory majority. Interestingly, George V had been unwilling to do this prior to the 1910 election - it seems that in England 95 years ago, the King did not feel bound to always act on the advice of ministers.
  • The 1911 Parliament Act required that non-money bills could only be delayed for two years (and three parliamentary sessions) by the HoL. (Money bills could only be delayed by one month). In addition, a parliament could not pass a law to prolong itself without Lords approval.
  • The Labour government of Clement Attlee wished to reduce this to one year and two sessions. They introduced the 1949 Parliament Act to enact this. This Act was also opposed in the HoL and was passed under the provisions of the 1911 Act.
  • The Blair government was committed to a ban on fox-hunting at both the 1997 and 2001 elections. An Act to effect such a ban has been passed by the House of Commons but voted down in the HoL. The requisite time having elapsed, it has now been passed into law under the Parliament Act and is due to be implemented next month.

The fox-hunters are now taking action in the High Court, asserting that the 1949 Parliament Act was itself invalidly passed. Their justification for this is somewhat tenuous: they argue that the 1911 Act, in preventing a Parliament from prologing itself, also prevented the Act itself from being amended without consent of the HoL. Because Parliament did not entrench the ban on prolongation from repeal by the HoC alone, they made the ban ineffective against a Commons determined to repeal the ban and then prolong itself - the argument is that they would not reasonably do this and hence intended to make the entire 1911 Act entrenched from single-chamber amendment.

I doubt this will hold water, frankly. The case will no doubt move rapidly to the Appeal Court and House of Lords - in view of the emotions stirred up I assume that leave to appeal will be allowed. The fox-hunters also plan an appeal on Human Rights grounds - the exact nature of this will be interesting.

Reference: Wikipedia on Parliament Act
House of Commons Research Note on Parliament Act
George Dangerfield - The Strange Death of Liberal England

Monday, January 24, 2005

Alleged torturer

A former Peruvian policeman has won a review of the decision of the Refugee Status Authority to deport him. He had (apparently) previously admitted to torturing suspects when a policeman in the late 1980's, and left Peru after being attacked by Shining Path guerrillas.

Independently of his claim for asylum, which would seem to be well founded, there would seem to be a case for his prosecution under the Crimes Of Torture Act 1989. This obviously wouldn't apply if his (alleged) crimes were commited prior to the act coming into effect.

What should happen in this case? I'd argue that if appropriate the man should be prosecuted - otherwise we should be told why not. A judge could show clemency - the man may well have been coerced into his acts and one could argue that he has already suffered punishment by being injured and forced to leave his country. He should probably be allowed to remain here - sending him back would expose him to a serious risk of murder.

This is really where we are governed by two international obligations - to prosecute torturers and to provide asylum to victims - in this unusual case both obligations may well apply.

Big Day Out

Russell Brown went to Big Day Out (I didn't - I went to a very good gig by Carl Cox at the Met the night before, and will hopefully see Trinity Roots at Raglan in two weeks). The Streets turned out to be Not Very Good - I didn't think the whole Brummie geezer angst thing would work well live.

Russell used the fact that "there were two ambulance cases as a result of party pill overdoses" to suggest that "our binge culture is still with us". Two out of 38,000 doesn't sound that bad to me - I don't think you'd get many less in more sensible nations. (if you look at the overall NZ death rate, you would expect someone to peg out at BDO every couple of years - the crowd must be particularly young and healthy!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Brits read on..

We won the test match and lead South Africa 2:1 in the series.

Having got your attention, may I suggest reading Charles Kennedy's speech . A UK election is anticipated this year - while I don't hold out too much hope, it is vaguely possible that the Lib Dems may get enough seats to overturn Blair's majority. (No UK government has had a majority of the popular vote for many years, but FPP generally leads to large majorities regardless).

If you happen to be a UK expat, and haven't registered as an overseas voter, you can do so by sending a form to the local council where you last lived in the UK (see the Electoral Commission FAQ) for details, you can look your council up here. You need to get a fellow Brit to countersign the form.

If of course you support Blair, you need do nothing - your vote will be automatically registered (joke!).

Monday, January 17, 2005

Harry: "You wouldn't wanna shag my nana, wouldya"

That noted journal of record, the (London) News Of The World reports that "Prince" Harry has been making off-colour jokes again. To quote the vile remark:
"But it's a bit like being offered sex with the Queen—while one would be honoured, who would want to do it."
(Translation above)

Apparently the lad's behaviour has got to his Dad, who has "grounded" him from visiting his girlfriend (presumably some sort of Eva Braun figure) in Zimbabwe. Strikes me that if, as Johann Hari believes he has an independent fortune (left to him by Diana) things might be headed for a big breakup. Fortunately for the royals William seems to be resisting the temptations of a life of chicks, coke and Nazi uniforms, at least for the moment.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A New Electoral System

Reading Brash's witterings and various comments on them inspired me to think up a new electoral system - you could call it "A La Carte" voting.

Basically each party gets allocated a number of seats "N" proportional to their vote.

How they allocate the seats is up to them, but it has to be a predetermined system.

For instance, party A could have a conventional ordered list and elect the top "N" people on the list.

Party B could count votes by electorate, and elect those of their candidates who "won" by the biggest margin in each electorate (or lost by the smallest margin).

Party C could list candidates by preference and let the voters decide on an STV basis.

I'm sure there are other ways I haven't thought of..

Wouldn't it be fun! NZ would always win any competition for the wierdest voting system.

If we can't win...

Don Brash has written this article in the Herald today where he advocates some changes to our constitutional arrangements. A cynic (like me) might consider that Mr Brash has come to an acceptance that National are not going to win an election anytime soon, and that he hopes to promote conservatism some other way.

Brash considers that MMP's only benefit is "improved ethnic and gender balance" - funny, I thought it was mainly to ensure that the composition of parliament reflected the way people voted. Brash is advocating a referendum on changing from MMP, either back to FPP or to a halfway house called SM (involving less list MPs, I'm not sure if this could be made fully proportional).

Brash also considers that the current government has "no mandate" on social change (like Civil Unions) and that such measures should be subject to referendum. Quite why this doesn't apply to economic measures also escapes me. If the people of NZ, taking everything as a whole, don't like the way they're governed, they can vote that government out. If they (or the talkback callers amongst them) dislike civil unions, but quite approve of employment rights and a decent welfare system, then it's quite reasonable that they end up with a package of all these things.

I hope no-one in Labour thinks they have to meet Brash halfway on this rubbish!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cause and effect

This article by Jared Diamond in the Guardian asserts that the problems of many of the world's troubles are caused by environmental factors. It lists "environmentally stressed or overpopulated countries" as including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, and Somalia, plus others.

Let's examine a couple of these examples and compare them with countries that don't make the list:
Afghanistan (population density 43 people/sq km) is undoubtedly in a worse state than unlisted country Pakistan (204 p/sq km). They are similarly arid and have issues with water etc. Pakistan, however, has not been fought over by two superpowers and various crazed locals for the last 25 years.

Haiti (population 281/sq km) and Barbados (645/sq km) are similarly located in the Caribbean. Haiti should be better off than Barbados according to the "environmental stress" argument - it conspicuously isn't.

Come to think of it, there is a large country near here with a climate ranging from monsoon to arid, a variety of hostile wildlife, notably poor soil, a chronic water shortage, serious congestion and pollution problems in urban centres and regular bushfire damage caused by inappropriate development policies. You would expect an imminent descent into political anarchy by Mr Diamond's reckoning - actually the worst that's happened is the re-election of Howard.

(Update: I'll read the whole book before I totally condemn the theory - I suspect it may work out better in the long term than the short).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Documenting history

The UK Cabinet Papers for 1974 have been released - this interesting year contained the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, a miners strike which brought down the Heath government and the collapse of the Sunningdale power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.

A summary of the latter is here - unfortunately only fragments of documents have been scanned - and I'm a long way from Kew to look at the originals. Some sort of public domain online archive of such documents would be very useful - I wonder if governments (who generally hold the copyrights, except in the USA) would cooperate.

The document summaries are still quite interesting - had the agreement succeeded, the Northern Irish troubles would probably have ended over 20 years earlier. It's hard to see how the then government could have stopped the (almost entirely Protestant) power industry workforce from striking - short of conscripting them into the army and forcing them back to work more or less at gunpoint.