Don't slag off Auntie for getting something right ...
The BBC gets a lot of flak, much of it justified, but I was sorry to see them criticised today for one of the best things they've ever done.
It was a good idea a couple of years ago when the Today programme ran a listeners' vote on which law they would like to see passed. I still think it was a good idea even though I didn't happen to agree that the proposed law which won - giving houseowners carte blanche to kill intruders - would be sound legislation, at least in the form that it was drafted. However, the principle was a good one and the result demonstrated legitimate public concern that the system of law and order should be balanced to give the rights of the victim higher priority than those of burglars and vandals.
We have to be careful about this. If you give the householder absolute rights and those who they think are intruders no rights at all, you risk creating the situation which happened a few years ago in a southern U.S. state. An innocent tourist who was lost walked up the path to a front door in broad daylight to knock on it and ask for directions, and was shot dead by the householder who thought he was a burglar. We don't want to give that kind of idiot the green light to shoot innocent people.
Of course, getting the drafting right is one of the reasons we have an elected parliament, to look at exactly how the laws should be worded so as to protect all parties, in this case both the innocent householder and the innocent legitimate caller.
Parliament should look at messages they are getting from the public, including the Today programme vote, and ask whether our present law is working effectively. The House of Commons should have responded by passing the bill proposed by Patrick Mercer to improve the balance between the legal rights of residents and intruders, and I hope that the next Conservative government will pass such a bill before too long.
At the end of 2006 the Today programme had an even better idea and held a listeners' vote on which law should be repealed. Now, sadly, the BBC is being attacked because the votes which came in were overwhelmingly to repeal the hunting ban.
Well I don't say this too often, but in my book the BBC was absolutely 100% right on this one. Even if I disagreed with the result, I would say that we have far too much rubbish on the statue book and giving the public a chance to nominate a law for repeal was an excellent idea.
As it happens, I do agree with the result. The Hunting Act was a vindictive piece of class-hatred legislation which has achieved nothing for animal welfare. Both some of the bill's Labour supporters and its few Labour opponents admitted that it was more about revenge for the Miners' strike than helping foxes. This law wasted hundreds of hours of parliamentary time and is now wasting hundreds of man-hours of police time.
I have never taken part in any blood sport in my life, and never will, but this law is not the best way to support animal welfare in the countryside and should be repealed tomorrow.
I have changed my mind about another law which would once have been near the top of my list of laws to nominated for repeal: the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The drafting of this law is not perfect and perhaps it needs to be revisited. However, tragic events continue to show the need for responsible dog ownership and I do not think it possible to argue that the law has no role in supporting this.
I hope that the Today programme will continue to run votes on laws which should be passed, amended, or repealed. If we can also get politicians and all the public to recognise that it is not just what laws you pass but how fairly and effectively they are enforced which matters, we will really have learned something useful.