Labour legislates, then we try to work out what the law is
Boris burgled? Well, here is his description following a visit from the local wealth redistribution agency
So you get back from that delightful Christmas break with the in-laws and the first sight to greet your jaundiced eyeballs as you turn the key in the lock is the smashed pane in the kitchen window; and just as your tired and crapulous brain is trying to work it out, you notice the gap on the shelf where the television used to be, and the straggle of possessions on the stairs.
Yup, you say to your loved one: whaddya know. It’s happened again. You’ve had a visit from the local wealth redistribution agency.
So you ring the police station to report this banal event and, whaddya know, they haven’t got enough manpower to attend the scene. No time to dust for fingerprints; no time to take your statement; no time to collar the local thugs who are almost certainly rejoicing in the possession of your laptop, laughing like hyenas at the embarrassing love scenes in your unfinished novel.
And why, you ask, choking, is no member of the constabulary able to come immediately to the scene of the felony? Well, dearie, says the lovely policewoman on the switchboard, they’re all off at the hunt, aren’t they?
I don’t know how many burglars are thinking of trying their luck over the New Year holiday, and I don’t want to encourage them, but it seems to me that in rural areas they will have an unrivalled opportunity. Not only will the British people be in their habitual state of hangover, but the poor old police force will be asked to cope with another colossal insurrection by what was once a quite innocent sector of society.
We all saw, on Boxing Day, how many hunt supporters turned up to thumb their noses at the law: 4,000 at the Beaufort, 2,000 at the Bicester, and across the nation we saw thousands of Jilly Cooper heroes and heroines, pink of coat and cheek, actively exulting in a sport that is meant to be banned.
In the Parliamentary Labour Party, and in the breasts of the antis, there is incontinent rage. Gerald Kaufman MP dances from one tiny and elegantly shod foot to the other. What is going on? they shriek. What are the police doing?
And, sooner or later, the good and loyal police – the police who would far rather be attending your crime scene – will be obliged to take action. The cops will be sent to the copses. The fuzz will lurk in the furze. Every bush in Britain will bristle with baffled bobbies, licking their fingers and methodically turning the pages of the ludicrous ban on hunting with dogs, and trying to work out what exactly constitutes intent to kill a fox.
Before we know it, the police will be telling us that their powers are inadequate. They will need new rights to enter private property and take down statements, if necessary from the horses’ mouths. Look here, they will tell the Labour politicians, this law you have given us is hopeless. How are we supposed to tell the difference between a group of people cantering pointlessly around some muddy fields, shouting incomprehensible slogans, and a group of people engaged in a dreaded field sport?
And they will have a very good point. My only experience of hunting was a day of terror in the company of Charles Moore, in which I saw my life flashing past me and the ground hurtling toward me, but I saw no fox all day. If the police had arrested me, I could have told them in all honesty that I had not the foggiest idea what I was hunting, where it was, or whether it had knocked off for tea.
All this the police will say to their political masters. At which, the Labour politicians will stamp their feet the harder and shout, never mind! You have the law! Get on with it. Make them stop it. Arrest someone! Arrest anyone! Make an example of them!
There, it seems to me, we have the crux of the matter, and the real injustice of the hunting ban. It will be up to the overworked police forces of this country to decide which of the thousands of potential culprits they are going to prosecute, and they are likely to decide in a way that is completely arbitrary.
The problem with the hunting ban is that it is like many other pieces of government legislation: drafted with such vagueness that the citizen does not really know where he stands.
The law, above all the criminal law, should precisely delimit courses of conduct in such a way as to make it easy for the individual to do the right thing. Labour’s approach is different. The intention is not to set exact boundaries to human behaviour, but to emit a kind of cosmic squawk of parliamentary disapproval, and leave the rest to guesswork and the vagaries of enforcement.
One might compare the religious hatred Bill, with its provisions against language that might be construed as inciting hatred of believers in a certain religion. Or one might compare the terrorism Bill, with its ban on disseminating terrorist literature.
Time and again, the Government has been told that these Bills are so loosely drafted that they amount to huge erosions of free speech, or that they damage academic freedom. The Government’s response is always the same. Only deserving cases will be prosecuted, it says, and these will be determined by the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
This is simply not good enough. In its time in office, Labour has produced more than 700 new criminal offences, criminalising behaviour at 10 times the rate of any previous government, and in far too many cases we cannot be entirely sure who is meant to be affected, and what conduct proscribed.
The effect is very sinister: it leaves the interpretation of the law up to government agencies or, in the case of the Attorney General, government ministers. It leaves us all with a sense of free-floating dread that we could be pounced on, at any time, for doing something that thousands of people are doing every day.
It is government by bullying and threats; and, in the case of hunting, it clearly hasn’t worked. The hunters will go on until the wretched police are forced to the random enforcement of a law so mad and bad that it should really be put down.