Legislation – just a longer press release?

Legislation has become an extended press release to this government. As the government of the spinners by the spinners for the spinners detects movements in public opinion through its copious professional polling and focus group research, so it wishes to send out messages. “We feel your pain”, “We will do something about your problem”, “We will legislate to put it right”. Unfortunately for the government so often it requires administrative action – or cancelling incorrect administrative action – not legislation. They don’t seem to care, as they have given up on trying to make their huge public sector work properly. They prefer instead to retreat to their comfort zone of trying to manage some of the media some of the time to repeat their idiot soundbites. Passing laws helps to reinforce the message of the day.

The events of recent days are much easier to understand once you have grasped this cynical and futile approach to mass producing more law codes. We finished the Commons stages of the Planning Bill yesterday evening. I, along with several other MPs, wanted to speak on the Third Reading of the Bill. It makes much more sense to wait until Third Reading, as the government rewrites huge chunks of the original proposals during the course of proceedings, so it is only at Third Reading that you can have a proper Second Reading Debate on the overall structure and impact of the legislation. This government, of course, does not want that. Once again their anti democratic timetable meant we had less than thirty minutes for Second Reading, which allowed no time for a single Opposition backbencher to speak.

This Planning legislation was born of the correct perception that it takes too long to make decisions about major projects in the UK. Communities face years of blight from wanted and unwanted planning proposals before the state gets around to making up its mind on whether to allow them or not. Doubtless the business lobbies and the focus groups told the government this was a problem. Instead of improving the existing administrative framework, and setting meaningful deadlines for the different stages of a planning application, the government decided to legislate for a new system. Drawing on what they think of as their success with an “independent” Bank of England ,(see my blogs on why this is misleading) they decided to create an “independent” planning quango to take these decisions. It has been fun watching many MPs who have bought the nonsense of the so-called independent Bank of England lining up to say planning had to be subject to elected democratic control. We had the pleasure of watching as the government eventually buckled and put in a very complicated system of Ministerial statements of national planning policy on major projects to be followed by the so-called independent quango “taking” the decision! They did not seem to see the contradiction in their views.

I asked if someone wanted to build a new power station, how long would it take starting today to get a decision under the present system, and how long would it take under the new system. You would not have thought that a difficult question, as the main rationale for the new system is to speed things up. Indeed, I felt I was being kind to the Minister, John Healey, offering him a free hit to advertise his Bill. Mr Healey was unable to give any answer. He also failed to intervene or object when the Conservative front bench told me they think it would take longer under the new system than the old, and that there is a severe threat of judicial review of decisions under the new system!

It all goes to show that the purpose of the Bill is not to speed up planning applications, but to appear to be speeding up planning applications. In practise it will probably take the next couple of years to establish the Planning Quango, and to write the government statements of national policy. People and businesses planning major projects might well opt for the existing system to get their permission, or might decide to wait and see how it all settles down. I am pleased to report that the Opposition stated they will abolish the quango, as they see it as another spanner in the planning works,

Today we learn there will be new equality legislation. I am all in favour of trying to prevent discrimination on grounds of race, age and sex. I do see that having framework legislation in place can set the tone and avoid the more extreme examples of unpleasant discrimination. I am also aware that there are many subtle forms of discrimination which no legislation can ever prevent or ban. We have all been discriminated against for one reason or another at some points in our lives. One person’s unfair discrimination is another person’s criteria for choosing between candidates or deciding who to favour where choices have to be made. The government is perplexed by the fact that equal pay legislation for women has been on the statute books for years, yet the figures show men still earn more than women on average and there are doubts about the justice of pay between the sexes in certain walks of life. They have yet to show us the problem is the shape and nature of the legislation. If they cannot demonstrate that legislative change will fix this, their new Bill will be yet another in their sequence of posing Bills, well intentioned but ineffective.

Yesterday we heard one year after the floods the result of a government review into the floods. It is pathetic that it took so long to conclude the blindingly obvious – that our flood defences are inadequate and a lot of buck passing occurs between the different authorities and levels of government over who should do the work. Once again we are told there will be legislation to deal with the problem in the next Parliamentary year. Why on earth do we need legislation? We need women (or men) in JCBs to get out there and enlarge and cleanse the ditches and cut some new ones. We need schemes to build bunds and other means of retaining water in safer places, better conduits and cleaner pipes, with a few non return valves and bigger pipes to handle sewage in some places. We need these now, in case the rains come again as they did last summer. One school in my constituency has already been flooded again this year, as it was last. I doubt that a new law will make any difference. I showed the Environment Agency the other day what might solve the problem, and it wasn’t legislation.

There is a simple message for the government. Stop trying to pose as saviour by legislation, and start taking some practical action where action is needed. Stopping future floods would be a good thing to do. Getting your own recruitment and retention right in the public sector would go a long way to tackle inequality in the workplace. Let Parliament have longer to discuss fewer Bills, and you might also start to get some sensible legislation.

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18 Comments

  1. Alan Phillips
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of my favourate book, George Orwell's Animal Farm.

    Squealer consoles the animals, saying, "Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

    The sooner the pig's are removed from running my life the better. As a start up business, I can't escape the red tape that has delayed me from getting on with earning money, instead of spending it….

  2. Letters From A Tory
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    The new Equality Bill is a pile of intrusive rubbish that sadly will do nothing other than cause resentment in the workplace, hence my blog rant this morning. It will indeed come across as a press release instead of a successful attempt to limit discrimination.
    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  3. Neil Craig
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    You are quite right. The answer to almost every problem is government regulation & when it fails or has unexpected consequences worse than the original problem, as is usually the case, the answer is more regulation. In engineering terms this is known as positive feedback & the result is an explosion.

    You are also right about the way to stop floods being to get out the JCBs. Well paid people holding meetings & writing reports is certainly a more comfortable way of solving the problem but less successful. The amount to which our construction industry is restrained by bureaucrats is beyond belief. Recently Richard Rogers said (late night BB2 so nobody was loking) that he had been warned not to say that of the £690 million spent on building the Dome only £46 million was spent on construction. Equally the new Forth Bridge is costed at £4.2 billion when the previous one cost £19.5 million (£314 M in today's money). Thus suggests that 12/13ths of the cost of most public projects are paperwork.

  4. alan
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood.

    Not the subject of this particular blog, but why oh why is the Tory party agreeing with the Labour Governments latest attack on democracy…their equality white paper?

    How can positive discrimination be correct?
    Why play into the hands of the BNP?
    Try and drive some sense into the senior echelons of the party. They are looking foolish. More to the point they will lose a lot of votes.

  5. mikestallard
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I keep coming back to your figure of £1.5 TRILLION pounds of debt incurred by this government. And, as you say, the Minister might well have been thinking "That is nothing even approaching the complete total."
    No wonder they are after soundbites; They cannot afford anything else!

  6. adam
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    what will this new equality bill mean in reality?
    Does anyone in parliament know or is it a stab in the dark?
    The BBC mentioned it might affect insurance companies, is that true or is it only about pay?

  7. Acorn
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Spot on John, as usual. Please promise me that when you get back in power, you will repeal any legislation with derivatives of the words "equal" and "discriminate" in them. It is becoming obvious that the likes of Harman are on a mission to wreck this country before the next election. Assuming there will be a next election.

    I have been checking with colleagues in the energy business today. The consensus is that Brown's wind turbine vision is a joke. The two principle builders of five and six megawatt offshore machines, have order books full till 2013. Finding a barge crane, big enough to construct the things is even worse. Brown will need to plant at least one of these machines every day between now and 2020.

    Connecting the things to the 400KV supergrid, is going to give the new planning super-quango an ink supply problem for its rubber stamp. Be prepared for a electricity sub-station on your local beach. Brown's announcement is already moving prices up in the heavy engineering sector – what a pratt.

  8. johnlocke
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I think you're absolutely right, John. It only becomes possible to understand the mind-boggling criminal incompetence and uselessness of the Blair/Brown administrations when you realise that everything, I mean everything, they do is for image.

    That's not to say there isn't some ideology behind their obsession – go and read Foucault or some other idiotic relativist if you've got several days to waste. But they don't actually believe anything.

    They're contemptible beyond belief!

  9. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the proposition that the state needs rolling back via many rules being axed or streamlined . The aim should be to have a convincing narrative linking a reduction in the scope of the public sector as a means to improve society and the economy . Any area you look at such as farming & fisheries , health & safety , the bans on grammar school expansions & self pay in healthcare , mortgage market regulation , planning laws , QUANGO’s having too much power & councils too little , excess form filling for the police and the mad over-regulation of small & medium sized business suggests that things have gone too far as has the vetting of volunteers . Too many rules just makes adults childish as you cannot legislate risk out of the real life and we need to get rid of as many laws as possible – bin taxes & bin snoopers need to go for a start along with rules that turn Universities into tools of social engineering rather than centres of excellence . The Human Rights Act can go so that we can secure our borders and kick out terrorists and their cheer leaders . David Cameron needs to show how a roll back of the regulatory state will make the lives of voters better . The aim should be to cut the paperwork burden on business by 5% net year on year while halving the cost of QUANGO’s overall within six years while freezing civil service recruitment for ten years would help if it produced a balanced budget and lower taxes . It works in Eire – why not in the UK ? Pledging an economic recovery on the back of 10% flat rate corporation tax would revive the Tories in Scotland & Ulster by promising the kind of prosperity enjoyed in the Irish Republic . You never know it might be popular in Wales too…

  10. Man in a Shed
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the reason they do this is a fundamental misunderstanding of reality. They believe that by saying something is true it happens, without any unforeseen consequences and just because they wish it so.

    If they were not so deeply confused and/or dishonest they would not be socialists.

    The sooner they are handed their P45s the better.

  11. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the proposition that the state needs rolling back via many rules being axed or streamlined . The aim should be to have a convincing narrative linking a reduction in the scope of the public sector as a means to improve society and the economy . Any area you look at such as farming & fisheries , health & safety , the bans on grammar school expansions & self pay in healthcare , mortgage market regulation , planning laws , QUANGO's having too much power & councils too little , excess form filling for the police and the mad over-regulation of small & medium sized business suggests that things have gone too far as has the vetting of volunteers . Too many rules just makes adults childish as you cannot legislate risk out of the real life and we need to get rid of as many laws as possible – bin taxes & bin snoopers need to go for a start along with rules that turn Universities into tools of social engineering rather than centres of excellence . The Human Rights Act can go so that we can secure our borders and kick out terrorists and their cheer leaders . David Cameron needs to show how a roll back of the regulatory state will make the lives of voters better . The aim should be to cut the paperwork burden on business by 5% net year on year while halving the cost of QUANGO's overall within six years while freezing civil service recruitment for ten years would help if it produced a balanced budget and lower taxes . It works in Eire – why not in the UK ? Pledging an economic recovery on the back of 10% flat rate corporation tax would revive the Tories in Scotland & Ulster by promising the kind of prosperity enjoyed in the Irish Republic . You never know it might be popular in Wales too…

  12. Freeborn John
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    It would be nice if the government really did keep its finger on the public mood through polling and focus groups. Brown will probably go down in the history books for the singular “achievement” of ratifying the Lisbon treaty in the face of public opposition by marching his MPs into the lobby to vote against their manifesto commitment. Never-the-less your point is sound. This government seems to identify issues it feels are salient with the public and then immediately leaps to announce legalisation, often of an illiberal nature. There seems to be a dirigiste assumption that all problems can be best be solved by government action, and that legislative changes can fix administrative failings.

    It is true that public planning takes a very long time in this country but the quality of the planning decision is far more important than the time it takes to reach that decision. It should not be forgotten that despite the high population density this is still an attractive country compared to others that face similar development pressures. Our towns and cities do not degenerate into the depressing urban sprawls that one sees in America or France. Who would prefer the legoland of Tokyo to the character and heritage of London or the allotment-like look of the Japanese “countryside” to our green and pleasant countryside? So yes, let’s come to the right public planning decisions as efficiently as possible, but let’s not forget that the hidden cost of quick-fire planning approvals is likely to be a long-term legacy of ugly public spaces and dysfunctional infrastructure that would a few decades to appear but centuries to get rid of.

  13. William B.
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    I wonder how long it will take to restore some order to the appalling mess resulting from 11 years of unnecessary legislation.

    There is probably too much for just one repealing measure. I suggest three – the Repeal of Knee-Jerk Reactions Act, the Repeal of Unnecessary Panic Act and the Repeal of Destructive Regulations Act.

  14. DonnyB
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Can't you recognise the sound of a dog whistle by now? The nonsensical new positive discrimination laws are never designed to be enforceable or even put into law , they are a Nu Labour ploy to speak to previously loyal supporters. You only have to listen to how in any interview they pay lip service to all the bases – the aged , female rights , ethnic minorities and the disabled – nothing specific for them you understand but they talk about them and these groups of voters can therefore believe they care about them , unlike the (so-called nasty ed)Tories.

  15. Bazman
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Legislation is needed to enable any employee of a company or organisation to be able to find out what any other person in that organisation earns. For to long the employers have used this as a device for unequal pay and lowering the wage bill whilst hiding behind excuses of privacy. This would be practical action.

  16. Henry S
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I thought you might like this..See Saturday's Telegraph, motoring, Honest John…

    "The worse the state, the more laws it has", Cornelius Tacitus cAD55-116

  17. TrevorH
    Posted June 29, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    "Comrade Napoleon" … we all know who that is. How utterly perceptive Orwell was. (Well said Mr Phillips)

    As for Honest John – he also quoted Churchill who apparently said something along the lines of " Taxing a nation into prosperity is like standing in a bucket and trying to lift yourself up by the handles"

  18. pennine cottage
    Posted July 1, 2008 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    And of course it's far easier ( and expedient too, raking in carbon-taxes, and jobs for the boys and girls within The Beaucracy) to blame "Global-Warming" for the increased flooding than to even think that much of the cause could be due to the fact that we don't seem to be seeing ditches being cleaned out anymore.
    I don't know about other parts of the UK, but up here in the North-East of England – where we firmly rejected Mr Prescott's ( and the Eurocratic Empire) -plans to turn us into a Regional Assembly; they seem hell-bent on closing public loos, as if people didn't need them any longer!! In view of this, methinks maybe this is another reason for so much extra flooding also.
    Kindest from pennine

2 Trackbacks

  • By Some Good Quotes Today… | Mike Rouse on June 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

    […] (Iain Dale) “Legislation has become an extended press release to this government.” (John Redwood) Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  • […] I never thought I would approvingly quote John Redwood (not in public, anyway), but he definitely nails it here. (I think exactly the same could be said of US legislation.) Thanks to Brian Micklethwait for the […]

  • About John Redwood


    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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