Wednesday, October 18, 2006

EU law and divorce

One of my lesser delights is sitting on subcommittee E of the European Union committee in the Lords - European law. The Commission is proposing to harmonise the law on divorce - at least in so far as choice of court and law is concerned - which could mean, for instance, that UK courts find themselves applying fault-based rules, or refusing a divorce under any circumstances, depending on the law they have to apply.

Civil servants gave evidence - very civil-servantish it was too. They agreed that the Commission had produced no evidence whatsoever that there was a wrong that needed righting. They agreed that the whole area was probably beyond EU competence. They agreed that there was no benefit to us. But they made the case for going along with the proposal on the grounds that (a) subsidiarity is meaningless, because the European Court only requires that the Commission take it into account and pay no attention to whether there is any substance to the case for subsidiarity, and (b) we must not upset others by standing out from the crowd.

Sometimes I feel as if I am watching a slow-growing cancer that no-one will treat, because we're still alive and the medicine might be nasty.

Female genital mutilation and asylum

Guardian story today on a young girl who fled from Sierra Leone for fear of genital mutilation, on last gasp appeal to the House of Lords. Came up in the lift with Lord Brown, fresh from giving judgements - they've let her stay.

Oh I do love the law lords. Wonderful civilised people. What a contrast to the ghastly succession of knee-jerk populists we've had as home secretaries for the last ten years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The House of Lords debate Faith Schools

We have just finished three hours of discussion on faith schools.Mostly pretty unsatisfactory, to be honest -- long speeches outlining preprepared positions, very little of listening to each other.

Anyway, we are (or probably are) to have a set of government amendments allowing local education authorities as guardians of "community cohesion" to insist on new faith schools offering up to 25% of their places to none-faith applicants. We are all used in the house of lords to accepting half a loaf rather than none, and this looks a pretty good half loaf to us. We have movement in the right direction on all sides, and even if we have not got where we would like to be, we are on the way on a typical lords timescale of a few decades.

To me the underlying principle is clear. A person can purchase a private good (say by paying a quarter of £1 million for a house) and expect to enjoy the benefits of that purchase. But if that person purchases a public good (say by contributing a quarter of £1 million to the funds of an Oxford college) he should not expect to enjoy any rights over a place at Oxford as a result. So I part company with Lord Alton of Liverpool when he says that Catholics who collect money to fund a new Catholic school would be upset if they did not as a result have exclusive access to the resulting school places. What about the rest of us, who will have stumped up 85% of the cost?Indeed I find the whole Catholic position pretty weird -- at one moment they are boasting about having 20% non-Catholic pupils, the next it is unacceptable to have any. They boast about the quality of Catholic schools, and ignore the horrors like St George's Maida Vale.

Nice little speeches from Baroness Richardson (a Methodist minister ), pointing out that their church schools are always completely open; Baroness Blood on the Northern Ireland integrated schools she has championed and on the horrors of church schools there; Lord Taverne in one of his antireligious rants telling the story of St Lucy, plucking out her eyes so that she should not be tempted by men.

What we really missed was a contribution from one of the Muslim peers. Why did they stay away? A black mark for the Lords that they felt unable to participate.

Deceived by Jamie Oliver

I am feeling furious with myself. I bought a book on Amazon that I thought was by Jamie Oliver, and it turned out to be by Jamie Oliver.

Take a look at the link from the title. Don't you agree that it's in the Jamie Oliver style? That the wording might be Jamie Oliver? That's the "perfect partner" chosen by Amazon is a Jamie Oliver cookbook? That it might just be a subject that Jamie Oliver had decided to turn his hand to? So did I.

But it's nothing of the sort. The Jamie Oliver is another Jamie Oliver -- not that the book tells you this directly, as there is no information on the author whatsoever anywhere in the book that I can see. But can you imagine Jamie Oliver -- the real Jamie Oliver, St Jamie Oliver -- publishing a book that doesn't feature his photograph anywhere? And can you imagine him writing in the pedestrian style of this book? Of course not.

So I have been comprehensively had. Not that the book will be thrown away -- it's one of those mildly amusing volumes which can be consigned to the gents for the comfort of the constipated -- but I am feeling ashamed of myself, and angry.

Angry with the publishers -- it seems to me that in the way this book has been presented it is deliberately designed to deceive. More angry with Amazon, who despite my having immediately submitted a review of the book several days ago, have declined (as of the moment that this blog was published) either to publish it or to desist from linking the book to St Jamie's other titles.

Writing a blog is a great way of calming down.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Science education

Simon Jenkins has filed this (
0,,1921286,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=8) counterblast to Sir Richard Sykes and others over the new science GCSE. We have all the scientists we need, he says.

In some ways he's quite wrong. I'm plagued by innumerable innumerate journalists who can't see a story for the figures, and we're all plagued by the same journalists who seem incapable of understanding a statistical truth (only the truth that it can be bent to their ends).

He's right, though, that the new GCSE at last starts at the right point - 'what are the answers to the questions we're all asking', rather than 'name the parts of a flower'. It does the job of engaging interest, which the former GCSE was extremely bad at. Where it misses, I feel, is in linking that back to the science. An argument about creationism between pupils who have no scientific understanding is so much hot air - it has to be pushed back to the underlying understandings and methods. That's where Sykes is right - the disassociation of entrancement and hard graft does not work. Let us be rid of hard graft with no entrancement - and of entrancement with no hard graft - and get them working together again.

Would have posted this on the Guardian site - but they've banned me from contributing.

Faith schools - progress?

It seems that Alan Johnson has been seduced by Kenneth Baker. Hurrah.

Debate is tomorrow afternoon - I'll report on it the instant after.