Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Scrap law on 'insulting words and behaviour' that censors free speech, British MPs urge
Controversial legislation that criminalises ‘insulting’ words and behaviour should be scrapped, MPs and peers urged yesterday.
The law – which has been used to arrest a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and a student who made a joke – has a ‘disproportionate impact on freedom of expression’, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said.
In a report, it recommended that ministers accept an amendment which would remove the ‘insulting’ offence from the Public Order Act.
Section 5 of the 1986 Act says someone is guilty for just using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the sight or earshot of a person ‘likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress’.
Critics say the law is a catch-all which censors innocent remarks and leaves it to police and courts to decide what constitutes ‘insulting’ words or behaviour.
Home Secretary Theresa May began a consultation on scrapping the offence last year but the Government has not yet responded.
The joint committee said: ‘We understand the sensitivities within certain communities on this issue, but we nonetheless support an amendment to the Bill.’
An amendment could be debated during the House of Lords report stage of the Crime and Courts Bill today.
Britain waltzes further down the East German path
The oddest thing happened this morning. Sitting at my desk, some woman just wandered in through our warehouse and asked to talk to a director. I replied that I'm one so how can I help. She tersely declared that she works for HMRC and demanded a payment of œ15,000 for overdue corporation tax.
I was taken aback for a moment as she looked about 60 and was dressed in jeans and a sweat shirt - it's not the kind of thing one would expect her to come out with.
As it happened, the people who deal with our accounts were both at a funeral at the time, so I said I'd have to talk to them first. She, however, insisted that as I was a director I would be able to sign a cheque right there and then. Of course I could, but there was no way I would even consider doing that, especially for someone who just breezes in arrogantly from the street.
She fixed me with a surprised glare (perhaps for not shitting myself when faced with a rep of the government, I dunno), before handing me her card and telling me all the nasty things that might happen if it's not paid in the next week. Now, I've often said that tax is effectively extortion with menaces, but I've never seen it illustrated in such a blatant manner.
On later talking to our credit controller, she said that we'd paid a huge amount up front and were just waiting for some communication of the balance due before settling it - that's what one would expect from a government agency, after all. However, we'd not received a single letter or phone call to tell us what we were supposed to pay. Wouldn't it have been much more professional - and less costly in time and, therefore, money - to ring or write rather than sending some late middle-ager round to ask for a cheque out of the blue?
And when did employing similar intimidatory methods to 1930s mafia protection racketeers become an acceptable state policy?
Another example of little men in Britain with their ego-driven bureaucratic pettiness
Only media exposure produced a belated twitch of decency in the matter
A 90-year-old war hero, who risked life and limb for his country during World War Two, was slapped with a œ70 parking fine as he attended a Remembrance Day service - because his blue badge was upside down.
Disabled George Roberts, who served as a gunner and a driver transporting artillery across Africa, has hit out at jobsworth traffic wardens who gave him the ticket while he paid his respects to fallen comrades in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
The wheelchair-bound veteran was driven to the service at St Chad's Church by his son Michael, 43, who parked in a nearby disabled bay.
But when Mr Roberts, who has also survived a stroke and four heart bypass operations, and Michael returned to the car after the emotional service, they were shocked to find a parking ticket on the windscreen.
Attempts to reason with a traffic warden fell on deaf ears as the pair were told they would have to contact the local council.
The warden even echoed the chilling excuse of some of Hitler's men when he claimed he had issued the ticket because he was 'following orders'.
Mr Roberts served in the Royal Artillery Regiment in World War Two and attends the Remembrance Day procession and service every year.
Earlier this year he was forced to stop driving but still qualifies for a blue disabled badge because son Michael is his dedicated carer and driver.
George, who has four grown-up children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, said: 'I was struggling to get out of my car and I must have disturbed my blue badge.
'Many millions of men never came back from the war, and I went through it all without a bullet - only to get shot by this.
Red-faced bosses at Shropshire Council today apologised to George, and promised to cancel the ticket.
Unmarried parenthood in Sweden is different
We're all well aware of Polly Toynbee's mantra that "We should be more like Sweden". I'm sure at least some of you will be aware of the various times I've made fun of that very mantra. What, you mean we should privatise the fire and ambulance brigades? Have a pure school voucher system? Charge people a (nominal) sum for a doctor's visit? Have a state financed and multiple providers health care system? Switch the national dish from roast beef to meatballs?
While I do have fun with making such japes there is an important underlying and usually unacknowledged point to be made. Sure, we can look at Swedish childcare and say that's not so bad (or is, to taste). Or births outside marriage and see that they don't cause the fall of civilisation. But looking at only such things andnot at the deeper structure of the society can make that a very dangerous method of comparison. As one of my favourite up and coming economists points out here:
In a responce to Ross Douthats thoughtful column, Krugman writes “In Sweden, more than half of children are born out of wedlock — but they don’t seem to suffer much as a result, perhaps because the welfare state is so strong. Maybe we’ll go that way too. So?” This is highly misleading. In secular Sweden, family traditions differ from those of the United States. Cohabitation (“samboförhållande”) is formally recognized and treated by the law as virtually identical to marriage. Swedish couples typically cohabitate, get children and only then get marry.
Statistics Sweden explains: “Living together without being married has long been common and majority of the children born in Sweden are born out of wedlock, but usually cohabiting, parents. Cohabitation can in many respects equated with being married, and young adults has been widely accepting of couples with children remaining unmarried. Despite this, most couples choose to get married eventually.
Of the couples that are followed in this report and still lived together at the end of 2010, 73 percent married, while 27 percent were still cohabitating….About 10 percent of couples did not live together when the child was born, but most of these couples have lived together before or after birth. Approximately 3 percent of all couples never lived together and had a child outside of a relationship.”
There's a very large difference between couples living together and having children without a church or state sanctioned piece of paper and people being single parents from the get go. A society in which that true single parenthood is rare will be different from one where it is common. And this isn't to say that that true single parenthood is either good or bad: only that it is indeed different from non-married coupledom.
The point being that we cannot look at a socially extremely conservative country like Sweden and then import a system wholesale into a much more socially liberal one like the UK. Well, we can of course and to some extent that's what a large number of people are campaigning for. But it's not going to work the same way at all: because the underlying attitudes are different. And this doesn't just apply to the UK and Sweden either. We can't, wouldn't, import the US attitude to guns, imprisonment or race either.
Another way to put this is that sure, many systems to do many things work in many other countries. But the important thing to work out, before trying to adopt them, is why do they work in those societies? Only once we've done that can we even attempt to work out whether they would work in our own, rather different one. As an example I offer you this thought: Britain, and certainly England, has always been rather more individualistic than much of the rest of Europe. So why does anyone think that simply importing a foreign communalism will work here?
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.