Alan Johnson: at the apex of a veritable
pyramid of Labour incompetence.

The ‘bridging loan’, a loan to tide you over when you have bought a new house but have yet to sell or complete the sale on your last home, is vital to the property market which would almost certainly become superglued as housing chains become jammed into immobility. This nincompoop government all but managed to make them illegal in Scotland.

This sorry tale of gross incompetence is drawn to our attention by The Herald and was only discovered last month by the Law Society of Scotland who, doing their homework on the Consumer Credit Act 2006, an Act of the UK Parliament which comes into force tomorrow, realized that one consequence of the legislation would be that bridging loans would become unlawful in Scotland under the Act.

The Act received Royal Assent on 30th. March 2006, exactly two years ago, having been piloted through Parliament by what is now known as the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR). Presumably the DBERR has been formulating various Statutory Instruments to lubricate the Act’s workings which would explain the delay in the Act coming into force, so it is all the more gobsmacking that the government did not appreciate at the time of the Act’s passage through Parliament or at any time since that it had this potentially devastating consequence.

There are various villains in this piece.

Firstly, given that this bridging loans are a central part of keeping the property market going, it is amazing that the Department of Trade and Industry, the predecessor of DBERR, managed to make them illegal. Its incompetence is both breathtaking and rank. Alan Johnson, former postie and failed Labour Deputy Leadership candidate, presided over its passage. He has to take the blame politically but, given his complete lack of relevant experience before going into politics, though he did have the considerable benefit of a Grammar School education, we might just be charitable and enquire how his civil servants managed to allow him to get into this pickle.

Gordon Borrie: what he did not know
Consumer Credit was
not worth knowing.

Then there is the Office of Fair Trading. Once this august body was run pretty well: its first boss was my old law professor, Gordon Borrie, who, despite being a real Labour Luvvie, knew all there was to know about Consumer Credit, having written the 1974 Act pretty well single-handedly. One suspects it has gone downhill since. They are supposed to be the experts in all things to do with consumer credit. One can only conclude they were out partying when this bit of the draft bill was being touted about.

Next up in this sorry tale is Parliament. There could be no clearer example of the proposition that Parliament, in particular the House of Commons, fails properly to scrutinize legislation. And we should remember that there are 59 Scots MPs, a fair number of whom are lawyers: what were they doing whilst this Act was going through Parliament? They are the ones who are supposed to pick up things like this. It is not as if, with so little Scottish law passing through Westminster that they, they do not have plenty of time on their hands, after all. Presumably they were too busy filling in their expense claims.

What too was the rump Scottish Office up to? Have they now abdicated any responsibility for Scottish legislation? Did they do any checking of this Act? And guess who was in charge of this sinecure at the time of the Act’s passage through Parliament? None other than public-school educated Scottish Barrister (and erstwhile solicitor) Alistair Darling, now fumbling the ball at The Treasury. What did he actually do when he was in charge of Scotland, one might ask?

Alistair Darling: was he out to lunch
when the bill crossed his desk?

And what too was the Scottish Executive playing at? Whilst they may not have been responsible for the blunder in the first place, do they not check Westminster legislation so as to check for such obvious glitches? It was, of course, then a Scottish Labour dominated executive.

I set out this sorry list of bunglers not only to ask how each of them might have managed to foul up so badly but to make the point that in our current constitutional dispensation there are far too many cooks involved in the process of legislation which inevitably leads to the soup being spoilt. One might also make the point that we seem to be paying an awful lot of people to do a job that ought to and could be done more simply and effectively by one body.

But then there would not be loads of safe government jobs to be doled out to add to the labour-dependent client list who would be expected not to bite electorally the hand that feeds it, would there?

Hats off, though, to the Scots Law Society. Surely it is a telling thing that it took private enterprise, doing its homework, to discover that which a vast army of useless politicians and bureacrats, for whom we all pay, all missed.