9 March 2005 — The New Dark Age
The 7th and current The Earl of Onslow, brother in law of the much lamented Auberon Waugh, is an unblushing Tory, and is the only hereditary peer to have appeared as a panellist on Have I Got News for You. He unashamedly enjoys hunting foxes and all that it involves. During a Lords debate on Anti-Hunting legislation on September 16th 2003 (Hansard Column 891 et.seq.) he memorably declared his interest:
“I have an interest to declare: I have hunted. Finally, when I fell off and broke too many bones, I gave up. I have enjoyed it enormously. I shall even produce a marginally risqué story. There is a piece of country in Saddington Vale which is straight off pub table mats, with its cut and laid hedges and its beautiful Leicestershire turf. The hounds were going along looking as though they had been painted by Stubbs or Gainsborough and this gel said to me: “It is better than an orgasm and it lasts a hell of a lot longer”.
We are trying to do something that will be illiberal, will harm animal welfare and will probably contravene the Human Rights Act. Well done the Government!”
Remarks which the appropriately named Lord Whitty subsequently queried:
“The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, perhaps, put it a bit extremely (sic) when he said that it was better than an orgasm. I am not sure that there is any objective research on such matters.”
The noble Lord, however, perhaps having enjoyed a lunch at the Beefsteak displayed an eye for detail which may have, at the time been overlooked, for when in dealing with the Crime and Disorder Bill 1998 which was an attempt to tidy up the legislation by which the State set about killing people, Lord Williams of Mostyn (31 Mar 1998 Hansard Column 209) moved Amendment No. 11: this, Hansard helpfully notes, relates to Clause 30 [Abolition of death penalty for treason and piracy, etc.]:
“Page 24, line 5, at beginning insert-
(”(A1) In section I of the Treason Act (Ireland) 1537 (practising any harm etc. to, or slandering, the King, Queen or heirs apparent punishable as high treason), for the words “have and suffer such pains of death and” there shall be substituted the words “be liable to imprisonment for life and to such”…
(A3) The following enactments shall cease to have effect, namely—
(a) the Treason Act 1790;
(b) the Treason Act 1795.”).
The repeal of the Treason Act 1817 and Section 2 of the Treason Felony Act 1848 are consequential to the repeal of the Treason Act 1795 in Clause 30… etc
I hope that that brief summary of the researches nobly carried out by the officials will be of assistance. I beg to move.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I can only say that this exercise was precisely in order to remove from the statute book Acts with draconian penalties, which were never used. What he said we should be doing, we have done…
This Lord Archer is a sound left wing lawyer unafraid to challenge authority however presented to uphold the law. A suitable example,
On October 14th 2002 Lady Amos, Leader of the Privy Council introduced a debate on introducing legislation to declare a bilateral immunity agreement with the US under Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Such bilateral agreements, if signed, would provide that neither party to the accord would bring the other’s current or former government officials, military or other personnel (regardless of whether or not they are nationals of the state concerned) before the jurisdiction of the Court.
U.S. officials have publicly threatened economic sanctions, such as the termination of military assistance, if countries do not sign such an agreement. In several instances, there have been media reports of the U.S. providing large financial packages to countries at the time of their signature of bilateral immunity agreements. John Bolton, US Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the time, and now the newly appointed US representative at UN, said then, “Using Article 98 of the Rome Statute as a basis, we are negotiating bilateral legally-binding agreements with individual States Parties to protect our citizens from being handed over to the Court.” I.e. we are bribing the lesser breeds.
To date at least 23 countries have signed such agreements but not necessarily have them passed by their lawmaking bodies (Parliaments, if they have them etc.,) they include such bastions of liberty, freedom and justice as Romania, East Timor, the Marshall Islands, Tajikistan, the Dominican Republic, Palau, Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Afghanistan, Micronesia, Gambia, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Djibouti, Bahrain, Tuvalu, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Nauru, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tonga, Sierra Leone and Rwanda… and Israel. Members of the European Union have concluded that the proposed agreements are contrary to international law.
Lady Amos, Leader of the Privy Council, Blair Babe, now famed as the scurrier round Africa of nation states who might possibly be willing to help pass a Security Council Resolution authorizing a legal invasion of Iraq. Her efforts were in vain, perhaps because of other, less public activities of Her Majesty’s Government, of which Lady Amos may or may not have been aware.
Katherine Gun who was working as a Mandarin translator at GCHQ Cheltenham blew the whistle, scuppering Lady Amos’s dash for support when she disclosed publicly in the Observer, of an email from Frank Koza, head of regional targets at the US National Security Agency, in which he asked for British help in an intelligence ‘surge’ at the United Nations – an intensification of spying operations to give the United States ‘the edge’ in forthcoming negotiations. Koza said the US was conducting an operation to discover the voting intentions of Security Council members, Chile, Pakistan, Guinea, Angola, Cameroon and Bulgaria – in the crucial resolution to authorise war in Iraq.
The trial of Katherine Gun for offences against the Secrets Act was withdrawn and was followed next day (26th Feb 2004) by revelations from ex-Cabinet Minister Clare Short claiming that she had seen transcripts of bugged conversations of Kofi Annan in his UN office. Tony Blair said of these revelations (BBC).” “I really do regard what Clare Short has said this morning as totally irresponsible, and entirely consistent.”
This is what the solid, libertarian Lair Archer said to Lady Amos in the Lords debate about such a bilateral agreement…
“Can it be explained to the American Government that, for a country which is demanding that those who commit horrific crimes should be held internationally accountable, it is hardly consistent to undermine the jurisdiction which exists for that very purpose, and that if President Bush wished to appear as a champion of international legality, it would be more persuasive if he behaved like one?”
Well, back to the Crime and Disorder Bill 1998 (31 Mar 1998 Hansard Column 209). My Lord Onslow, again no doubt fortified by a decent lunch, perhaps at Boodle’s, lit upon an apparent inconsistency, we were to substitute death with life imprisonment under the Treason Act (Ireland) 1537 but repeal the Treason Act 1790. It evidently prayed on his mind
The Earl of Onslow:
“My Lords, this is the most glorious piece of information one could possibly come across. It has been worth waiting 30 years in your Lordships’ House to know that slandering the sovereign in Ireland is still a hanging offence. When was anybody last prosecuted under the Treason Act (Ireland) 1537, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542—introduced, incidentally, by King Henry VIII, who probably had about as much control over the House of Commons as does the present First Lord of the Treasury-or the Act of Supremacy (Ireland) 1560? Surely we should not have Acts of Parliament on the statute book which is never used and which contain vast and draconian penalties? It is fun to laugh at them, but it is a serious matter to have Acts on the statute book with this level of punishment which no one in their right mind would dream of using.”
We now fast forward to Monday March 7th 2005 and the Lords have assembled to discuss the controversial Anti Terrorism Bill, but first Lord Tebbit raised a point (Hansard 7 Mar 2005: Column 475), which the delicious Lady Scotland was happy to address:
Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty’s Government:
“Why they have been unable to inform members of the public who have inquired the reason for the repeal of the Treason Act 1795 during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.”
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal):
“My Lords, neither the records of the relevant debates in Hansard during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Bill nor Bill papers held in the Home Office explain fully why the 1795 Act was repealed in its entirety. It is, however, evident from the Hansard records that the repeal was considered to be a necessary consequence of the decision to repeal the death penalty for treason.
The substantive offences that were contained in the 1795 Act are covered by other parts of the criminal law including the Treason Act 1351 relating to conspiracy and incitement. “
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, what on earth has been going on in the Home Office? Does the Minister recollect that on 16 November last, she told me in a Written Answer that the 1795 Act was still in force and subsequently had to correct that? Now her officials have written to members of the public saying that they have no idea why the 1795 Act was repealed. It seems that they are incapable of going to the Library, finding the Official Report for 19 March 1998 and reading in it the speeches made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and Lord Williams of Mostyn, who seemed to have some idea why he was advocating the Act’s repeal.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal entering into the fun of the proceedings was anxious at elaborate, forced and courteous length to patronise my Lord Tebbit:
“My Lords, of course, I apologise for the fact that the 1795 Act was incorrectly referred to. I remind noble Lords that it is not every day that the 1300 Act, the 1870 Act or those other Acts are looked at. There was a mistake. I humbly ask the House’s pardon for this terrible mistake that was made by me through that dreadful inaccurate Answer.”
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: the comical ex leader of the Liberal party was anxious to point out that 1795 Act was the Terrorism Act (sic) of its day inspired by public hysteria about the threat of the French and introduced by a repressive Conservative administration under William Pitt the Younger.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern:
“My Lords, was the 1351 Act one that applied to the United Kingdom? If not, I wonder why it should be an important part of the law of the United Kingdom today.”
Baroness Scotland of Asthal:
“My Lords, we are grateful that that Act was followed by a number of other Acts that sought to bring it into force. To help your Lordships, there was the Treason Act 1351, the Treason Act 1702, the Treason Act 1842 and the Treason Felony Act 1848, which all amplified our splendid common law offence, so Scotland is safe.”
Lord Stoddart of Swindon:
“My Lords, I suppose that this could not possibly have anything to do with the fact that European Union Commissioners affirm an oath of allegiance to the European Union. If they do so, they swear allegiance to somebody other than Her Majesty the Queen, which I understand would in itself be treasonable.”
Baroness Scotland of Asthal:
“My Lords, I hesitate as always to give any disappointment to the noble Lord, but I have to tell him that the EU constitution is, unfortunately, not a treasonable document…” Ho, Ho, Ho.
So there we have it, in this House of Comedies, the Home Office for several years manages to mislay an Act of Parliament and yet inexplicably maintain on the Statutes, Life Imprisonment for any citizen…”who practising any harm etc. to, or slandering, the King, Queen or heirs apparent punishable as high treason” … as my Lord Onslow said in 1998 … “It is fun to laugh at them, but it is a serious matter to have Acts on the statute book with this level of punishment (Life imp[risonment) which no one in their right mind would dream of using.” Ho, Ho, Ho indeed. The lunatics, it appears, have taken over the asylum.
The Lords then went on to listen to My Lord Charlie of Thoroton, the Prime Ministers pal and ex-flatmate explain why the Home Secretary wanted to put under house arrest citizens he suspected, but could not prove, nor publicly offer charges or evidence, of the entirely novel crime of “ terrorist related activity”, a law he wished to remain in perpetuity and would resist any attempt to have a pre-determined date of repeal.
In an interesting article in the New Statesman this week, representatives of Addleshaw, Goddard, and Evershed’s leading London solicitors, and specialist in planning law, pointed out that should the Home Secretary so decide to domestically imprison a citizen, he would be obliged to; apply for change of use of their property, seek the approval of any other occupiers, deal with any objections neighbours may raise about inconvenience, effect on amenity, property values, regular presence of law enforcement personnel etc. The Home Secretary would also have to be certain that in so restricting the owners or tenants use of the property, they were not in breach of any entitlement in the Property Deeds or Rent Agreement that they may have to “quiet enjoyment “ of the premises.
There is of course the small matter that such an action overturns centuries of liberty and individual freedom, and the fundamental concept of habeas corpus enshrined in the Magna Carta. Handy briefing notes the Home Secretary had prepared earlier, pointed out that Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, he also closed down newspapers, and had people summarily shot and hanged.
One could again be forgiven for thinking that the Lunatics have taken over the Asylum.
LORD ONSLOW: A POSTSCRIPT
In the debate on the Anti Terrorism Bill this week, my Lord Onslow said, “I hope Government do not get the Bill at all. It is a rotten, stinking Bill.”
Earlier (Feb 25th 2005) the noble Lord had signed a half-page advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which demanded, “At a time of mounting international concern over Iran, we believe it is now time to end the blacklisting of the People’s Mojahedin (who represent the official Opposition in Iran) to help open the way for democratic change in Iran.”
When Lord Rooker introduced the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill on 29th November 2001 (Hansard Column 465) at 8.45 pm, no doubt after an enjoyable Dinner in St, James my Noble Lord Onslow attacked the hapless and gormless Lord Rooker
The Earl of Onslow:
“ Whatever the Minister says goes… That is where the tyranny starts. That is tyranny.”
“… This is not tyranny. That is an outrageous and offensive remark from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. The Minister’s action is subject to review by judges of the High Court. To call that tyranny is an absolute nonsense. I reject it outright. “(The Lords subsequently and famously rejected the Act and one famously referred to the passage of such laws as “true terrorism”)
The Earl of Onslow:
“The noble Lord said that I am accusing him of tyranny. If you allow Ministers to do something on suspicion, that is verging on tyranny. That is why my ancestors fought in the Civil War. Noble Lords opposite may laugh at English liberties, but I say to them: do not; they are too important. They are the liberties for me to stand up and bully the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and for the noble Lord to stand up and say that I am talking rubbish. That is what English liberties are all about. If we are not very, very careful, because we do not like one Arab who does something nasty and we suspect that he is wrong, we shall be in danger of holding back English liberties. That is something for which I have been in Parliament all my life and I shall go to the stake for. So when I use the word “tyranny”, I use it totally advisedly”
Earl Russell, who can invariably found on the wrong end of any argument, was minded to intervene, much as Strachey would have done when confronted by someone raping his sister…
“I wonder whether I may ask the noble Earl—who is making a very serious point—to find a slightly more parliamentary way of expressing it.”
The Earl of Onslow:
My Noble Lord Onslow may enjoy his lunches and his hunting, and who knows, his orgasms, he also enjoys my confidence as a legislator in protecting my freedom, rather than the Stalinist, lying, bully boys of New Labour.
I cannot find any quoted comment of the noble Lord Onslow on the legal advice, which his brother in arms Lord Goldsmith proffered to the Prime Minister preparatory to the illegal invasion of Iraq. It is difficult to believe he remained silent on the matter – but whatever he said – one can imagine it was – unlike My Lord Goldsmith’s subsequent murmurings – concise, clear, direct and honest.