Thursday, June 14, 2007

Compare and Contrast

House of Lords
The Lords: The People's House?
There are two principle bodies that are generally acknowledged as having a significant amount of control over the legislation by which we are governed but lack any real democratic legitimacy. One is wholly appointed, rather than elected, the other, for the time being, largely so. I refer, of course, to that venerable constitutional anomaly, the House of Lords, and around two hundred miles away, our lords and masters in the European Commission. I would argue that the Skoda minds of the British Civil Service, especially in cases of secondary legislation can have an unhealthy influence beyond their remit, but for now I will stick to the two more conventional pantomime villains. Both have made the news today, in the case of the former for very sensibly doing nothing, and in the latter for getting slapped down when it tried to do something it shouldn't.

First the good news. As trailed by Ian Dale on Tuesday,
David Maclean's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill seems to have run into the buffers yesterday. It has fallen foul of a twelve day time limit for finding a peer to sponsor it through the Lords, and now seems unlikely, for timetable reasons to make further progress. Confirmation finally came via the BBC, who I suppose can't be blamed for taking so long to report what is, in effect, a story of nothing happening. Tom McNally, leader of the Lib Dem Lords is quoted as saying:
"It seems very likely that this squalid little bill will no longer become law. We are happy that this bill will not become law.

"It speaks volumes that no member of the House of Lords was prepared to support this legislation.

"It could be revived any time during this session but there is simply no parliamentary time.

"The government would have to extend its already extraordinary generosity to this bill to the point where it would become a government bill."

Source: BBC News

Government sources suggest that even they are now sensitive to this fact and, as much as they may still at heart want the bill, have signalled that no such generosity will be forthcoming.

I've got nasty images of some trumped up FOI disclosure hitting the headlines to apply CPR to this one, but, for now, I'll settle for keeping the hundred plus MPs who were prepared to vote in favour of this bill, bringing the institution they represent into disrepute, on my watch list. It's rare any Parliamentary chamber can claim to have entirely clean hands over the fate of a piece of legislation, but to a Lord and Lady the upper chamber can on this occasion. For all their anachronistic nature, they've once again put the people first. I'm going to put this one on the back burner now, but the campaign banner stays for now. After all, the EU Constitution has been stabbed with more steely knives than this bill as we know the beast is far from killed.

Which neatly takes over the water to Brussels and, erm, more good news, but only because the European Court of Justice has stepped in to stop the European Commission making 24 carat gold plated prats of themselves. The European Commission were very upset that under British Health and Safety law:
...every employer must ensure, "so far as is reasonably practicable", the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

Source: EU Observer

This was obviously an anathema to a body for whom reason and practicality are unwelcome, alien concepts like referenda and democracy, so naturally they hauled the British Government in front of the ECJ.

The ECJ, probably being intelligent enough to realise how ridiculous this would, once again, make the EU look, threw out the case, regardless of how much they may sympathised with the desire for more opportunities for nit picking micromanagement, thereby saving the Commission from heaping more contempt upon themselves.

The commission apparently:
...saw the British phrase as "opening doors for employers to escape their responsibilities" if they could prove that extra safety measures would have been disproportionate in terms of costs, time or trouble when balanced against relevant risk.

Source: EU Observer

You could almost cry. There must be somewhere, buried in a dark recess of the Berlaymont, someone in the Commission with enough residual brain function to understand the connection between statements like this and the prevalence of what they like to write off as 'Euromyths' (Usually proposals that were so stupid, that though considered, couldn't quite garner enough support to try and push through the legislation, so where quietly shelved for another day).

The Berlaymont: Heart of the Beast
The Commission, as well as much of the rest of the European infrastructure, seems to feel that they operate under a different system of reality from the rest of us mere mortals. As with so many slightly reasonable sounding statements from the Commission, all you have to do is consider the underlying logic to realise what kind of cloud cuckoo land these people live in.

To rephrase, without changing the meaning of the Commission statement above, what it is saying is that there is "no safety measure which can be considered disproportionate in terms of time, cost or trouble, if there is any risk whatsoever". It says exactly the same thing, but doesn't sound so reasonable anymore does it? But that's exactly how the Commission appear to see things.

It doesn't even begin to sound reasonable. Every day, for example we weigh up risk versus time and trouble every time we cross a road; when we opt for many kinds of investment we weigh risks against the financial rewards. To expect companies not to do some of the same calculations is preposterous. To do so is to ask them either to reduce risk to zero, which is not remotely possible, or in the alternative to spend an infinite amount of time, trouble or money to mitigate the ever diminishing but never disappearing risk. The weak position of the Commission is that they accept some risk is "unforeseeable". This does not help at all; not all potential risk that it is unreasonable to guard against is unforeseeable, it is just infinitely improbable.

This latest battle in the Commission's endless war on common sense is far from over, as they are going back to discuss the matter with the "social partners". Even the "social partner-in-chief" in the UK, the TUC, don't seem to want to associate themselves with this nonsense, and according to EU Observer, "British trade unions have poured scorn on the EU executive's general approach".

REACH Chemicals Directive
REACH: More Moronism
Another example of this lack of rational thought came back to haunt the land of common sense a few days ago, with the coming into force of the REACH chemicals directorate. Many will remember the Communications VP, Margot Wallström's blog contribution a few months ago, praising the then proposed directive, where she proudly announced:
"What does it change? REACH will reverse the burden of proof. Instead of the public authorities trying to prove that a chemical is dangerous, the producer will have to prove that it is not dangerous or that we can manage the risks"

Margot Wallström, EU Vice President
Source: Margot's Blog

Ok, not all negatives are impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt, but this one effectively is. There is simply no way to 'prove that it is not dangerous', absence of evidence of danger is not evidence of absence, no matter how many tests fail to show such danger. What was the issue anyway? There was a day when the companies producing did behave recklessly but that was yesterday. The risks of litigation under existing law, along with the potential damage to the companies' image is more than enough to ensure a responsible attitude to safety. When exactly was the last case of the reckless use of a chemical known to be harmful anyway, that directives like REACH would have prevented? My guess that you'd be looking back to the Seventies, which I suppose is pretty much where the EU is still rooted.

I guess that the truth behind REACH lies in the combination of a lack of centralised, well paid job opportunities for the scions of the European elite to mismanage the process, the EU's aversion to efficient operational systems that demonstrate the failures of the ones it sponsors, and its unbreakable, but very damaging addiction to the precautionary principle.

The interesting consequence is for those, and I suspect there are many, who are members of both general environmental organisations like Greenpeace, who support REACH, and any of one of the varied hues of animal rights bodies, who are presumably against the increase in animal testing REACH will inevitably entail. It's really no longer intellectually consistent to be a member of both, but judging by the general coherence of the arguments by both types of body I suspect I won't hear too many membership cards being torn up. At heart, it's bashing business that's the real goal of these refugees many from the discredited hard left.

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