New Bill of Rights or Statute of Repeals?

Today the BBC kite flies a new “Bill of Rights” to reassure us that we are still a free country. The government’s spin masters must be desperate if this idea comes from them. Maybe at last they have realised that people are fed up with the myriad petty ways our liberty has been eroded by this government in the name of fighting terrorism or reinforcing the forces of law and order.

There is a much easier way to reassert our liberties than drafting a new “Bill of Rights”. Enforcing the old one would be a good start. Getting powers back from Brussels would help, as so many of the unhelpful interventions in our life from Home Information Packs to rubbish bin surveillance have a strong European component which this government has allowed to creep up on us. Abolishing unelected and unloved English regional government would get a lot of meddlers off our backs. Giving us back habeas corpus and more jury trials would be good. Reversing some of the idiocy perpetrated in the name of health and safety would make life easier and no less safe.

I flew into Southampton airport on Friday from a distant part of our lovely country. There were 14 of us on the small plane. We had to sit and wait on the tarmac whilst one young man came out to place a couple of desultory cones near the wing of the aircraft, and for a young woman to bring a chain on a cart and solemnly extend some of this chain underneath the trailing edge of the wing before we could leave the plane. The pilot told me this safety precaution was not needed at any of the other airports where he landed. None of us were likely to want to walk into the propeller which was clearly visible above us, and the pilot could have mentioned it if the authorities thought planes these days are full of people absent minded or perverse enough to walk into hard metal parts of an aircraft they have just flown on.

This is one tiny example of how over the top some of the things have become. People in many jobs are scared of the system. It makes them behave collectively in a way they would not dream of behaving at home. I doubt the person who demanded the chain near the aircraft insists in extending a chain around his car when parking at home to make sure people do not walk into the wing mirrors, which would be a more likely occurrence than someone hitting the propellers.

I am all for high standards of health and safety at work. I do think a safety culture, especially in companies handling dangerous equipment, chemicals and materials, is crucial. Going over the top and inventing too many petty rules and requirements can annoy people, and it can also distract people from more serious safety threats that may not have been captured by the Safety boffins.

I think we need a Statute of repeals more than a new Bill of Rights. We need to repeal many of the silly rules and regulations that do not make us safe but make us cross. I would welcome your suggestions for the silliest rules we need to abolish in the first Statute of Repeals. We need to make them an annual event to get to grips with the stultifying bureaucracy we now experience daily.

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21 Comments

  1. Neil Craig
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Some of it isn't a law established as such but a pre-emptive defence against being sued. This is because of the "who can I sue" culture introduced from America. The cost to America of this culture runs into the trillions & enriches lawyers more than those suing. This was greatly encouraged by legalising the American no win no fee system. There is some inherent justice in this system, in that it does allow poor people who otherwise wouldn't get justice to get it but it does encourage fishing expeditions. I would suggest that where the suit is found to be meritless costs should be awarded not merely against the plaintiff but against their lawyer.

    As regards the health & safety industry I suggest that where those regulated can prove that regulations enforced on them are for a risk less than a quarter, per £1 spent, than in a comparable industry government should be required to reimburse them for the extra cost &/or remove the restriction. For example we have increasing safety regulation on rail though it is far safer, per passenger mile, than road. Equally a very larger proportion of the cost, perhaps the majority, of nuclear power, is safety regulations despite the fact that coal power generation kills 150,000 annually worldwide (mainly black lung & emphesema) while nuclear has killed 2 in the last 20 years.

    The point of both proposals is that such changes tend to make the regulatory system self correcting & limiting which, in my opinion, is better than relying on Parliament to limit it. They would also tend to educate the public more on comparative risk.

    I have previously written here on how the 200,000 people in the Health & Safety industry have been partly responsible for the up to 13 fold, real term, increase in road, bridge & public building costs. The general rule is that the cost to government of employing regulators & enforcing regulations is 1/20th of the cost to industry.

    Another suggestion is that we should not kep the same security regulations for samll airports as for large. Because small airports have far fewer passengers & a lot of the cost is fixed it makes landing charges there, per person, far higher. For example the Scottish Highlands & Islands airports, despite in some cases being a beach & being subsidised, have high landing charges thus making flights from there to Glasow more expensive than transatlantic flight.

    If such charges could be eliminated the Ryanairs of this world would be able to make such flights very cheap & consequently stimulate the local economy.

  2. Julian Gall
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    We do not need a statute of repeals. That would just address the symptoms and not the causes. What we need is a "Statute of Reasonable Behaviour". Most petty rules and regulations are not there to make people safer, they are there to protect people from being sued. The chain around your plane was there so that if someone did wander into the propeller and blamed the airport, the airport could argue that they had taken due care.

    Any organisation, such as an airport, could sign up to the "Statute of Reasonable Behaviour". This would indicate that they do what is reasonable to ensure people's safety but that they are not responsible for people's stupidity. They only serve people who also accept the same principles. "Reasonableness" would be defined as "it happens very rarely". If several people walk into propellers every year, there's obviously a problem.

    My local council, for example, has put up signs by the local river warning of deep, fast-flowing water. The water is neither deep nor fast flowing but this presumably protects the council from a no-win, no-fee court case should someone's toddler fall in.

    The "Statute of Reasonable Behaviour" would say that the council only accepts onto its property people who also accept the Statute and will not be held liable for accidents etc. where for years and years there have never been problems. Of course, if a brick falls off the council building and hits someone on the head, that isn't to be expected and the council would still be liable.

    The key to solving these problems is to let organisations which serve the public (businesses, government, HNS, etc.) concentrate on providing a good service and not think all the time about how to protect themselves from legal action.

  3. Pat C
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the most sensible ideas I have heard in a long time! Brilliant! And along with the repeal of the useless and inefficient new Labour-inspired laws, we should de-commission all those quangoes and 'agencies', that appear to be so good at spreading the money – our money – about that comes their way from central government, but perhaps not always in exactly the direction that it is supposed to go!

  4. Derek
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    John, I'II resist the urge to go galloping off on a favourite hobby horse of mine, superfluous regulation, in particular health and safety.

    I'II limit what I'd repeal to one completely daft and nannying bit of legislation, no doubt emanating from the EU. It is the legislation that says you must inform your local authority building regs department if you wish to carry out even the most minor electrical work in you *own* home. For example it is required for just moving a plug socket or ceiling rose a few feet. An FOI request on how many applications they receive and process versus the amount of home electrical components DIY retailers sell would probably prove interesting.

    Regarding the explosion of endless unnecessary health and safety that inconveniences us all. The manager of a shopping centre we're in has produced a seventy page risk assesment document on the hazards of wearing an animal costume at special events, which all staff there must read and sign. I think the problem is the vast expansion of pointless 'management' jobs filled with Basil Fawlty/Gordon Brittas types. They don't have enough to do and are constantly looking for an opportunity to exercise their authority, health and safety is the perfect vehicle for their petty empire building.

  5. Gordon
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    As usual I agree with you completely – will Mr Cameron be following the steps you recommend if I vote for your party at the next election? (That's not a trick question, I just don't get to read all the speeches he makes, I really hope he does plan to do this)

    Reply: The leadership welcomed the deregulatory proposals in my Economic Policy Review

  6. David belchamber
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a douche of common sense on the subject. I hope that in a year or so the next government will start to implement your suggestions.

  7. Ken Stevens
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    My wife is a registered childminder and we would repeal the legislation that established the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.
    http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/_doc/11034/Statutory

    This is aimed at the under fives in childcare settings and is deficient in that it is unduly prescriptive as to the developmental benchmarks expected to be achieved by children in that age range. Some walk, talk, etc quicker than others and the danger is that any kid not achieving a particular phase of development by a particular time will get branded as remedial, even though most kids finish up about the same sort of ability in due course.

    For childminders in particular, it introduces yet more bureaucracy for a low key/low income occupation and opens up disclosure requirements re kids' progress to agencies, thus breaching the present confidentiality between childminder and parent.

    The burgeoning of facilitators, advisers, coordinators, inspectors, etc, at times gives the impression of there being a reverse pyramidal structure, with individual childminders on the underside apex! Wasn't it Parkinson's Law that noted how the size of the Navy had decreased inversely to the burgeoning in the number of admirals?

    None of this additional bureaucracy actually does anything to improve the lot of the kids themselves. The health, safety & welfare aspects are already covered. As to the philosophy of home childminding, the mission statement should be "The next best thing to being at home with Mum". If all this new stuff is necessary, then the corollary should be that stay-at-home parents should also be subject to the new regime, so that their poor kids aren't disadvantaged!

    We foresee that the more onerous become the rules & regs, the less likely it is that people will want to become childminders, thus reducing availability.

    This isn't a resentful plea by someone offering minimal care in a Hogarthian environment. My wife got an "Outstanding" rating on last inspection. Our style of minding has proved popular with GPs and other professional people here in Henley on Thames constituency, even though they can well afford such things as the prestigious Chiltern Nursery a couple of miles down the road. They use a childminder out of choice rather than economic necessity.
    This is the same style as was used on our own three little 'uns – a BA , a BSc and a PhD from 'proper Unis suggests little that these new regs could achieve in improving the situation here.

    Finally, a little EU-related snippet in this context: Registered childminders used to be exempt from registering with Environmental Health Departments as food providers. Then along came a new EU reg that superseded the previous legislation. Thankfully the local EHO did no more than a short questionnaire designed for a caff, no fee, and that was that.

    So there!!!!!!!!

  8. Matt Woods
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Easy peasy, John. Here's a few starters for ten:

    ECHR
    Stop and search form
    HIPs
    Regional Development Agencies
    Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
    Stop printing documents in 101 different languages
    Electricity/PAT testing regulations
    Chop the Equality and Human Rights Commission

    OK, a few of those aren't laws, but sometimes these bodies are responsible for more than their share of legislative diarrhoea, so let's bin them while we're at it.

    At the heart of it though needs to be a debate about how much the state should be doing. Tinkering round the edges of these quangos and regulations is small beer compared to the amount haemorraged into Public sector final salary pensions, the tax credits welfare hammock, council employment and (sorry about this one, John) the Iraq war.

    Best of luck on this. I know the membership will back you. I just hope the party leadership do too.

  9. mikestallard
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    The thing that I want repealing most is the creeping Europeanisation of our justice system.
    I want to have a jury, please. I want to be tried in my own country if I have done anything wrong. I want the judge to be experienced in Common Law and to be fair and unbribed. If I am convicted, then I want to go to a clean, safe prison to serve out my time.
    So how about abolishing the Family Courts first therefore?
    Then, how about abolishing the unjust one sided extradition to USA system for "terrorists" like the Enron four? And as to being extradited to Europe (Albania?) for "xenophobia" or Greece for "espionage" – Ouch!

  10. Chris Rose
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    It is the culture that we must change. So many of the petty regulations we encounter are not regulations at all: they are restrictions imposed on us by people who live in fear of being held responsible for every minor accident which might occur on their premises. Your experience at Southampton is a typical example of this.

    We should make it clear that we are all primarily responsible for our own safety; we should be expected to look after ourselves and our families, especially young children. Only if there is genuine negligence by others should the law protect us, and that protection should be reduced if we ourselves fail to take reasonable care.

    How many more times do I have to be told that there is a gap between a train and a platform? Warn of unexpected dangers, not routine ones, otherwise people stop listening.

  11. Stuart Fairney
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Allow me to add another story to the litany of woe. The mother who was not allowed to accompany her son to school in a cab because she did not have a CRB check.

  12. Mrs M Bulley
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I would like to point out that carers like me trying to get the 3 phyiscally disabled adults I care for under one roof. Only to be told by the Mid Devon Council that I do not stand a chance. Where are our rights?????????????????

  13. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    They have none of this in Germany. You have to take out personel insurance if you want to protect yourself against tripping over or the like. It make people take personal responsibility. It stops this continous blame culture. Of course the more you claim the more your premiums go up. So a German would think twice before claiming.

  14. Ken
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Make the bureaucrats who put in place the silly laws personally liable. Any piece of H&S advice that is clearly silly (the 70 page H&S document) should be subject to a class action with heavy penalty damages. Make it illegal for councils and employers to pay the employee cost. Obviously to prevent spurious claims we put together a quango that sues on behalf of the Crown. A few dozen cases, a few bankrupt idiots and H&S and equality stuff can return to a level coherent to the man on the omnibus. Fight fire with fire. Just trying to reduce them by fiat isnt going to work.

    We could start by reducing the budget of the HSE and the Equality Commission by 50%.

  15. David Eyles
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    There is a pernicious triangle between: Health and Safety, insurance companies and lawyers. Each feed off the other and thereby parasitize the productive in our economy and reduce our competitiveness.

    I agree that we need to repeal an awful lot of laws and regulations to get to where we should be, but Julian Gall has touched upon something that has been bothering me for some time. His suggestion of a "statute of reasonable behaviour" could actually be dealt with in common law by the establishment of a principle that every individual has a duty of care for themselves and those, such as children, under their care. So, if I slip on a wet floor in a supermarket that has been clearly labelled as a hazard, it's an acident which is my fault – no-one is liable. If a parent allows her child to drown in Julian's shallow stream, it's an accident.

    There is currently this extraordinary belief that if you are clumsy or stupid and hurt yourself, that someone else is liable to pay you a lot of money. The predominant view is that we should have risk-free lives. This goes right into the heart of the NHS for example, where people expect to be cured for every ailment and refuse to acknowledge that risks need to be taken in their treatment. Admittedly, if I had to be hospitalised and then contracted MRSA or C. difficile, I would certainly view that as negligence on the part of the hospital because these are both things that are preventable and have only taken hold because of the lamentable condition that our hospitals have been allowed to get into. But that said, there are plenty of other errors, human and otherwise, that are part of the rough and tumble of being treated. The risk free cotton wooled lives we are now living is also debilitating our economic and sporting competitiveness.

  16. Ken Adams
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The trouble with Health and Safety legalisation is that like many other laws introduced by this government we are made responsible but there is no real clarity to the extent of our responsibility. We therefore do not know if we are obeying the law until our safety measures are challenged either by an inspector or after an incident. Hence the extensive silly safety measures as businesses are being forced to introduce these measures to protect themselves from every eventuality.

    The answer is to make the law clear and to insist that we are individually responsible for our own stupid actions in the face of a clear danger. Then when some idiot does walk into the propeller of the plane it will be deemed an unfortunate accident rather than a failing of the safety measures of the company concerned, until that happens we will all have to suffer.

    I fully agree with your thoughts on the new Bill of Rights, but do wonder as usual, if there is much difference between this government and Conservative party policies on the issue, does Mr Cameron not also support a new Bill of Rights?

  17. Pete Wass
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I think the best solution would be to have a sunset clause automatically included in every regulation such that they had to be reviewed and re authorised every year. A provision could be made such that if a regulation were successfully renewed in ten consecutive years it became permanent.

    This would force the government to make parliamentary time available to consider such things (also having the benefit of giving them less time to enact new legislation) and would mean that the regulations had to demonstrate they were desirable and working as designed.

  18. Clarence
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The European Communities Act (1972), from which 75% of our laws and so much unnecessary regulation flows.

  19. paul coombes
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    IIRC it was your colleague Oliver Letwin who once suggested that it become mandatory that for every new law that received Royal Assent two other laws should be repealed. A bit naive perhaps, but in tune with your blog and the commentors responses.

  20. Mark Demmen
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    An excellent idea, but where would you start? I’d suggest the ‘positive duty’ on public bodies to promote equality and diversity, and to carry out impact assessments related to this on potentially all of their policy decisions. Why have we allowed this Maoist ideology to march through our public institutions? And it now appears Harriet Harperson wants to apply the same strictures to the private sector.

    This, however, would be putting a finger in the dam. Some form of structural measure is required to check the seemingly unending liberal-left tendency to increase social regulation, whether originating within the UK or the EU. A sunset clause would probably help, but government needs to find a way of steming the flow, protecting the taxpayer from the pressure group-public sector-liberal media complex (excuse the horrible expression).

  21. Bexie
    Posted August 12, 2008 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    We need to move away from the precautionary principle in law. It is usually applied arbitarily, without good reason and applied inconsistantly.

    For example, one of the most likely reasons for dying an un-natrual death in the 20th century was living in a state socialist state. Do we ban state socialism then? (add up Mao, Stalin, Hitler, yes a socialist, and the scores of some of the lesser players such as Bobby Mug-ape and Castro and you see a truly shocking figure)

    One of the sillyest examples of this is building control. It does nothing to protect people from rogue builders which it easily could do, since to warn someone that a builder has left a trail of destrction behnd them would contravene the builders human rights, but forces people to expend a fortune on minor work that they could easily do themselves.

    Another good example is the motorway speed limit. Why do we remove people’s right to a livilihood for a trivial offense, when theives are left to go scott free? why do we choose 70mph when in france it is 85? what makes the French safer. The offense is arbitary and the punishment cruel an unusual, both forbidden in the original 1689 Bill of rights. Perhaps we should revisit that before inventing a new one.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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