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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Democracy and Legislation

I noticed an interesting phenomenon in Synod this morning during the legislative business. One set of amendments was put forward to the Code of Practice associated with the clergy discipline measure by one of the lay members from Salisbury Diocese, who happens to be a lawyer. His arguments were technical, but seemed to me to make good sense. Nevertheless two of the three were not debated at all by Synod. This is because amendments to legislative business in these circumstances are only debated if 40 members in the Chamber stand to show that they want a debate - and in this circumstance 40 members did not stand. There are good reasons why this rule is in place - it makes it more difficult to subject legislation to death by a thousand amendments, for example - but there are times when I wonder about the wisdom of it

The sequence goes that the proposer of the amendment has his five minutes, and then one of the sponsors of the legislation to be amended can get up and issue a rebuttal. Only then does the Chairman ask if 40 members will stand for the amendment to be debated. Now, in the case of these amendments we had a lawyer standing up saying that there was a potential legal problem with the code of practice - immediately followed by a bishop (who to my knowledge has no legal training) saying that there was no legal problem without bothering to address the concerns that were raised. And it was mid-morning, and synod was bored and sparsely populated, so only about 20 people stood. But here's the thing - those twenty members included all the synod members whom I know to be lawyers. I wonder what it was that they wanted to say. It could have been that they were all going to agree with the bishop, but I would still have liked to hear them.

And that goes back to my title, I suppose. Legislation is often - but not always - rather technical and more than a little dry. Lawyers often don't manage to make it any more accessible. Elected representitives are not always elected for their ability to unravel legal arguments - or even stay awake for them - and so it is that when confronted with a legal argument and a bishop saying it's all OK they go with the bishop. There isn't an answer to this, of course - and in this case I have no idea who was correct anyway. Still, it brings to mind the old adage that democracy is not always the best way of governing - it's just that all the other options happen to be worse.

GS 373

1 comment:

Matt Wardman said...

This may cause trouble, but the "no problem here, move along" Bishop sounds like the Government Ostrich.

That's how we just ended up with a modified-on-the-hoof immigration policy :-)