Home / Dave Brockington / Random British Blogging: Speech, the Royals, & NI

Random British Blogging: Speech, the Royals, & NI

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The House of Lords comes to the rescue of the “proud tradition of free speech” in Britain, as the non-sequitors continue to leap from my keyboard.  And just what did the House of Lords do, one might ask?

They stripped the crime of uttering “insulting” words from Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act.  This only leaves threatening or abusive words remaining in the criminal category.  Such cutting edge legislating has not gone without its critics, of course:

The view expressed by many in the police is that Section 5 including the word insulting is a valuable tool in helping them keep the peace and maintain public order.

“Now there’s always a careful balance to be struck between protecting our proud tradition of free speech and taking action against those who cause widespread offence with their actions.”

To my mind, you don’t have a proud tradition of free speech if uttering insulting words could be a criminal act.

Apparently the Royals still enjoy an informal (?) pre-clearance power over some pending legislation:

The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance.

In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.

A constitutional lawyer quoted in the Guardian article referred to this as the Royals’ “nuclear deterrent”.  I know, constitutionally, that the Queen could refuse royal assent to a parliamentary bill at her pleasure, but this hasn’t been done since 1708, nor has it been so much as considered since George V, at least twice, but not since 1914.

It seems to me as though this could be construed as declining Assent through the back door, without the inevitable backlash if done so publicly and formally.  However, I’m far removed from claiming an understanding of the British Constitution, a situation only made more difficult because there isn’t one.

Finally, loyalists in Belfast are pissed off because the city hall no longer flies the British flag each and every day.  The initial expected expression of loyalist dissatisfaction hasn’t ebbed, six weeks on.  The Economist article gamely attempts to distinguish between political and cultural expression, arguing that this is the latter (hence more dangerous).

Of course, here on what passes for the mainland in the UK, it’s unusual for a local council to fly the Union flag each and every single day (it’s not British tradition, according to the Royal College of Arms).  Sinn Fein and the SDLP wanted to eliminate the flag altogether,and without the intervention of the non-sectarian Alliance Party’s amendment (for flying it only on ‘designated days’) it wouldn’t be flying at all. Unionist and loyalist “thugs” have taken to threatening members of the Alliance Party for voting on this compromise, to the point where the Alliance Party felt the need to issue an FAQ on the issue.

At least it’s not only the tea-party wing of the Republicans who believe compromise to be anathema to a functioning democracy.

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