Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The beat goes on


Today's agenda, the politico-media establishment has decided, is the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, hence The Boy toddling off to that French city to make an inconsequential and carefully guarded speech on the subject, about which we are supposed to throb with excitement.

Somewhere, the idea of "sovereignty" will get mentioned – if not by The Boy, then certainly by some hacks, but even as they expostulate, that very thing drains away from the entity loosely described as the British nation.

No one, however, can ever complain that is passage was not recorded, but in the most obscure and secret form, in such a manner that it almost certainly never sees the light of day – the "Written Ministerial Statement".

Two such of interest were promulgated yesterday, the first one from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): and The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning).

This was "to update the House on the Government's response to the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio overnight on Friday 13 January" – not that it will do so as so few MPs will read it – but the key passage is below, which the point of greatest interest emphasised:
At this time, the cause of the accident remains unknown. We must wait for the results of the investigation by the Italian authorities before deciding whether any action is required to ensure the safety of other vessels. Should the conclusions of the investigation suggest a need for revisions on any aspect of cruise ship design or operation, then the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will be the forum for agreeing improvements. The development of passenger ship regulations is an iterative process based on practical experience. By applying the lessons from previous incidents the cruise industry generally enjoys an excellent safety record.
Compare and contrast this with what The Boy was saying, now exactly a week ago during PMQs, viz: "if changes need to be made … of course we will make them".

What he actually meant to say, as we now see, is that the British parochial council will go toddling along to the Albert Embankment in London, where the IMO houses its secretariat, to get its instructions.

In due course, i.e., after interminable meetings, the 170 member states (and the EU, which will also be represented) will come to a conclusion (sort of). This then will be adopted by the EU, either in the form of a regulation or (more likely) a directive, which our parochial council will turn into British law.

So much for making changes, which neatly brings us to the second statement of interest, this one on: "PIP Breast Implants and Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions". Here, we are reminded by the secretary of state for health (Mr Andrew Lansley) of his oral statement to the House of 11 January 2012.

Then, he described the immediate action which the Government were taking to address the concerns of women who have received breast implants made by the company Poly Implant Proth├Ęse (PIP), saying that:
… in the light of these events, we needed both to review the lessons that could be learnt, and to consider the wider issues of ensuring the safety of people who are considering cosmetic surgery and similar treatments. I therefore announced two reviews, one to be led by my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Earl Howe) which will look at what happened in the United Kingdom in relation to PIP implants; and the second, to be led by the NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, to look at the wider issues of clinical safety and regulation.

One will notice immediately, the complete absence of nay mention of the "elephant in the room" but now, in the written statement that so few will see, it comes out to graze. The review to be carried out by Earl Howe, we are now told, will report by the end of March 2012 and the terms of reference are set out thus:
In the context of current EC directives on the regulation of medical devices and the information generally available at the time on the risks associated with breast implants to review …
Then we find that the review will advise the secretary of state "on what lessons can be learned for application should similar circumstances arise in the future, and on implications for UK input to the ongoing review of the European Medical Devices Directives".

As regards the review to be carried out by Sir Bruce Keogh, this will take into account "the Government's Better Regulation framework and the concurrent review by the EU of current arrangements for the regulation of medical devices".

The purpose, as one might expect, is to "make recommendations to Ministers, including interim recommendations if appropriate, and to inform the UK contribution to the EU review".

That, as "revealed" by written ministerial statements, is how modern government works. On the one hand, a foreign shipping disaster is to be referred to an international committee and, eventually, the EU will reach down and make more laws, which we will adopt without question.

On the other hand, with a domestic medical "disaster", the great and the good are summoned to carry out reviews, the effect of which is "to inform the UK contribution to the EU review". When it has finished its own review, the EU will then reach down and make more laws, which we will adopt without question.

Interestingly, had we by now left the EU, we would still be talking to the IMO, but would be adopting its recommendations directly, instead of via the EU. As regards the breast implants, were we to have joined EFTA and via that the EEA, we would still be waiting for an EU review and adopting any regulations that came from it. Nothing much would have changed.

The key thing, though, seems to be that, as long as the politico-media establishment doesn't actually know (or care) how modern government works, it can go on pretending that The Boy and his ministers are still in charge and, until we give away the Falklands, that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

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