As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate

Parliament is due to be recalled this week following the riots in London and elsewhere. But the Government must be careful not to rush to legislative solutions.

Parliament is due to be recalled this week to discuss and debate the Government’s response to the riots in London and elsewhere. But in scrutinising what has gone wrong in recent days, the Government and Parliament must be careful not to rush to legislative solutions.

My essay for the latest edition of Fabian Review, which was published this week, looks back at the Labour government’s response to crises. I observe that in a number of instances, Labour felt that legislation had to form part of its response to a crisis regardless of whether a new law was actually necessary. For example, the extension of CRB checks following the Soham murders created a bureaucratic system which was criticised by author Philip Pullman and former Archibishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, among many others. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown’s proposal to extend detention without charge for terrorist suspects to 42 days was criticised by the then head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Sir Ken Macdonald.

Looking to the future, I write:

“A future Labour Government must avoid the pitfalls of the Blair and Brown era while retaining the right to create new laws where they are truly the only way to address a new or persistent problem. A set of principles should help underpin when a universal, centrist approach would be justified. First, ministers should justify whether there is really a problem that needs addressing in order to avoid fiascos like ID cards and 42-days. Second, they should ensure that a legislative approach – rather than tighter enforcement of existing rules or closer working between different government agencies – is absolutely necessary. Third, they should explain why a national rather than a local approach is the right answer.”

The Coalition has a mixed track record so far. Following the tragic shooting of 12 people in Cumbria last June by Derrick Bird, David Cameron said, “Of course we should look at [gun ownership] … but we should not leap to knee-jerk conclusions on what should be done on the regulatory front. We do have some of the toughest legislation in the world.” On the other hand, in the midst of criticism over 50% jail discounts for guilty pleas, Cameron announced a new offence of ‘aggravated knife possession’ which received acclaim from the headline writers but did not effectively alter the penalties associated with knife possession.

Parliament has an important job this week in debating the cause of the riots and examining the police response. No doubt there will also be calls to reduce the level of cuts to the police service and to organisations concerned with youth unemployment and community cohesion. But parliamentarians do not need to pass new laws to answer the call that “something must be done”.

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16 Responses to “As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate”

  1. Mike Howe

    As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  2. Lee Hyde

    As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  3. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  4. Cannabinoid Nursing

    As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  5. Roger McKenzie

    RT @leftfootfwd: As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  6. Oliver Huitson

    As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw

  7. 45apl

    RT @leftfootfwd: As Parliament is recalled, MPs must resist the temptation to legislate argues @wdjstraw #NewsClub

  8. Mark Ferguson

    Spot on from @wdjstraw – the government mustn't rush to legislate in the wake of the riots

  9. Robert Arbon

    Will Straw talking a good deal of sense here:

  10. McCackle

    Normally I’d agree, but I think there’s a specific area in which legislation might be needed, which is BBM communications. At the moment the law prohibits the police from trawling Blackberry’s mobile user data, but there’s an argument that for these riots – if it would aid the police in identifying criminals – the law should be changed to allow the police to access the data showing which users were in riot hotspots at the relevant times. This would be an unacceptable breach of privacy normally, but if the law could be applied to these specific instances and not left on the statute book, I don’t see a major issue compared to the damage done to public confidence in the law by allowing peope to get away with it. Maybe it’s unneccessary, I don’t know, and I’m a little worried I’m channelling the spirit of Melanie Phillips, but there it is.

  11. Robert

    Lets hope Miliband does not say to much labour not to bright with it’s front bench, Miliband thinks it parents who caused the riots.

    My children left home before they were eighteen to work, they both rented a flat and they both set up home on their own.

    I did not see to many children who were rioting they seemed pretty grown up to me, mind you if your working and the kids have a key we all rember the latch keys kids hence we made income support for parents with children which Labour got rid of.

    We pay a price for moving society on, back to work.

  12. Robert Sprigge

    MPs must resist the temptation to legislate following #riots argues @wdjstraw >>Labour's automatic response in the past.

  13. Ed's Talking Balls

    A rarity: I agree with an article on LFF. To be fair, Will, you are by far the most rational of the posters here and your tone is generally more dispassionate/less partisan. This is a good example.

    Where laws are concerned, less is more. The horrors we are witnessing do not need more criminal offences to be created (so far as I can see), rather we need to apply those that do exist already and take more radical action vias-a-vis what I believe to be the source of this problem: orthodox liberal/left-wing thinking with regard to personal responsibility.

    It is certainly not just Labour which has got this wrong in recent years. All political parties need to change the rhetoric on this and start emphasising responsibilities rather than rights. These scumbags on the rampage in London know everything about entitlement and have the mantra “gimme gimme gimme”. I am sceptical, however, that they know anything of hard work, family values, good citizenship and, more generally, human decency.

  14. Leon Wolfson

    Indispensabilities? Oh, like “shut the fuck up and take your pittance, peasant”?

    No jobs for them, of course, that’s THEIR fault. Never mind it’s the government’s job to kick-start the economy, can’t be doing that now.

    Perhaps you might want to consider some constraints on advertising’s “gimmie”, which has a lot more to do with this than the pittance handed out to unemployed people, even the short-term unemployed…but I’m sure you’ll find a way to justify that, too.

    I am sceptical that someone calling for mass murder knows anything of morals, family values, the social contract, empathy, decency or civilization.

  15. Ed's Talking Balls

    You’ll fast run out of people to converse with Leon, if you keep attributing false views to those with whom you disagree.

    So Anon E Mouse is a member of the BNP and I am beating the drum for mass murder? Whatever next. New Contributor X doesn’t subscribe to Leon Wolfson’s Looney Tunes view of the world, hence he must be labelled the new Stalin. Or perhaps that would be a great compliment in your eyes.

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    Sorry, I failed to engage with the substance of what you said (I must resist the temptation to do as the Romans do).

    I see plenty of adverts on TV for nice cars I can’t afford. I read about footballers drinking expensive champagne. I walk past estate agents advertising luxurious mansions. I don’t attack people, commit robbery or destroy property.

    I am sceptical that someone who doesn’t recognise the importance of personal responsibility and the evils of crime has any understanding of common decency.

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