Page 9, 31st January 2003

31st January 2003
Page 9
Page 9, 31st January 2003 — Good intentions and dire consequences

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Good intentions and dire consequences

David Twiston Davies

Since the first legislation against discrimination was introduced into this country some 30 years ago, we have seen it extended to sex, age. race, pay and countless other areas.

This has been achieved by both statute and common law; and since the European institutions cannot trust us to do anything in our own way, they have foisted a galaxy of new regulations on us.

The most important of these, the Human Rights Act, seems to be aimed at destroying anything that can be attributed to a particularly British way of thinking. The unanimity with which this programme has been introduced — since an uneasy House of .Commons passed the European Communities Act in 1972 — should have made us deeply suspicious from the start; we should have been asking what kind of society could be allowed to survive hedged in by rules created by a mindset so alien to British thought.

For all the good intentions, we should have remembered that that the phrase "The law is an ass" was immortalised by an account of the brutal poor house system in Charles Dickens's novel Oliver nvist.

But there are some areas in which we cannot say this. Although we exist in a time of all-too-familiar foul speech it is not one of plain speaking. The number of words and expressions now banned from the airways, that essential arbiter of acceptability, are multiplying at astonishing speed. All this has grown out of the European Union's drive for equality which is determinedly sweeping aside all obstacles, including those entrenched rights granted the Church for the protection of religion. Since popes welcomed the creation of the EEC as a guard against any repetition of the horrors arising from early 20th-century nationalism, the Church has been reluctant to criticise. However, it cannot have foreseen that the EEC's successor — the EU — would set about trying to turn itself into a superpower; in recent years both Pope John Paul and various meetings of bishops have expressed concern about antiChristian sentiments contained in the programme of outlawing anything smacking of discrimination.

Already, the rights of Catholic schools to hire Catholic teachers and offer places to children from practising Catholic homes in this country are being hard pressed. There have long been grumbles against Catholic schools in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Parliament now shows signs of preparing to mount an attack following its success in banning hunting ahead of Westminster. If some reformers are sincere in declaring that they bear no towards the Church, the same cannot be said of all; the increasing virulence of the National Secular Society in its public statements signal how this new force is growing.

Dark days require desperate remedies. One way of tackling this could be by bringing into play the English sense of humour which, like that much advertised lager, can touch places which others cannot. It is striking that the

most prevalent area of discrimination is one which nobody dares to mention, class. If a backbencher introduced a Private Member's Bill to outlaw class discrimination this would show up, as never before, the ill-intendons behind so much political thinking, such as the Government's latest proposals for higher education, for the maliciousness that fuels it. Of course, MPs would protest that this prevented them doing their jobs; John Prescott, for one, could be reduced to total silence. But some might think that would be all to the good; and nobody could deny that it would be morally justified.

David Twiston Davies works for The Daily Telegraph

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