In the fuss over whether British MPs should get the 11 per cent pay rise recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, one issue has been overlooked. If our politicians want to be more popular, they need to jazz up the statute book and get far more creative. Our laws are just too boring. Parliament should set itself the New Year resolution for 2014 to fix that.
The most recent output of our own Mother of Parliaments include the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the Finance Act 2013, the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2013, Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. Come on, MPs. Sort yourselves out. If you can’t have a little naming fun with an overdue and high-profile law on same-sex marriage, it’s no wonder that the public holds you in such low esteem.
And who are the pacesetters to which our MPs should aspire? Step forward the US Congress. Now, to many British eyes, US politicians – with a fine tradition of sex scandals, illegal campaign finance, government shut-downs, and a widespread belief that mass gun ownership is a good thing – may seem like risky people to leave in charge of a chimp’s tea party, let alone good role models. But they have style and creativity by the bucketload when it comes to naming laws.
These are the politicians who passed a law to encourage funding of small businesses by easing various securities regulations and called it the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act” or JOBS Act. It does what it says on the tin.
If your legislature passes a law to deal with unsolicited e-mails, what do you call it? The best that British MPs came up with was the “Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003”. Sorry lads, you’re not even trying. Step forward the magnificently titled offering from America: “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003” – or CAN-SPAM for short. Now that’s how you name a law.
Or maybe you need a law dealing with the interception of communications, the acquisition of communications data, surveillance, and accessing protected data. Well, if you’re British you turn to the “Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000” ... and probably doze off before you get to the end of the title. That sort of shy, self-effacing approach isn’t going to wash in Washington. What you need is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001”, universally known (and increasingly worried about by European data holders) as the USA PATRIOT Act. If that doesn’t send a signal about who’s in charge, I don’t know what will.
Not that US lawmakers are perfect, of course. There’s a worrying history of immortalising politicians in legislation that I hope won’t catch on over here: the “Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act”, for example, or the “Exon–Florio Amendment” to the “Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988” that allows the US to review foreign investment within the United States. Dull, uninventive stuff.
But I’m still left with the sense that, at this seasonal time of year, a law on office parties would be rendered here as the December Fun Control Regulations – whereas our American cousins would more likely go for the Celebrating Holly Reindeer Ice Snow Turkey Merriment and Santa Act.
Happy Christmas everyone.