Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Why is it good to make pupils stay on at school until they are 18? Under the Bill promised in the Queen's Speech this week, state education will be compulsory for two more years unless the pupil is employed under an apprentice or training scheme. The political reason behind this is the government's anxieties about young people known as NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training), of whom there are now about a quarter of a million aged 16 to 18. Obviously it would be good, in what people call the 'knowledge economy', if more of those trying to enter it had some knowledge. But it does not follow that forcing education on them will help. There are already huge problems of truancy, and of disruption of classes by those who do not want to be in them. This will get much worse if disaffected 16-18 year olds swell their number. Small firms not able to afford training will not be allowed to hire this age group. As a result, the experience of work (though not what is laughingly described as 'work experience') will be denied thousands of young people who would be the better for it. The reform typifies the dominant theme of current legislation -- the need to show good intentions, combined with an absolute lack of interest in the actual result.

The same goes for the idea that Parliament should usurp the 'Royal prerogative', and decide whether or not the country goes to war. War cannot be fought according to the timetable of parliamentary business. The government has to be free, constitutionally, to order an attack without laying it before the House of Commons first. This does not undermine the Commons' power over war and peace, because the political reality is that no government can sustain a war if it does not have the support of a majority in the Commons. All the prerogative does is permit the government some operational freedom, some capacity to surprise. The belief has got about that Parliament did not approve the Iraq war, and that this should not be allowed to happen again. But it is not the case. The war was debated, and Tony Blair -- some say by hook and by crook -- won. As with the school-leaving age, this reform creates the appearance of virtue, not virtue itself.

Ihave just been given a copy of Bloodsport, a new history of hunting in Britain since 1066 by Emma Griffin. On the cover is a 200-yearold print of men shooting. This confirms that there is now complete confusion about what the word 'hunting' means. In America, it means what we usually call 'shooting'. This usage is now taking over here, so, even though Emma Griffin's book mentions shooting only in passing, some picture researcher has plonked a shoot on the front cover. Is this good for real hunting, i. e. hunting with hounds, because it completely muddles what is legal (most forms of shooting) with what is not? Or is it bad, because it makes people think that any form of field sport is against the law? The new, magnificent edition of Baily's Hunting Directory, I see, has a far more suitable cover. Its customary red is wrapped in black, in mourning because of the ban.

By the way, there have been many reports about the pair of hen harriers allegedly shot by 'hunters' on the Sandringham estate.

It strikes me that this story is an even more extreme example of the tendency, mentioned in this column last week, for anything which can remotely be labelled 'royal' to be stretched beyond what can be borne. …

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