27 July 2004
The editorial in last week's Western Telegraph dealt with the dangers of mixing law and politics.
The case in point involves the sale of the Shire Hall to the pub chain Weatherspoons.
The difficulty arises because Pembrokeshire County Council is both the vendor of the property and the authority which will determine the applications for planning consent and a liquor license on which the sale depends.
As clear an example of a conflict of interest as you could wish to see.
The Government seems to fully understand the difficulties caused when the institutions of government are not kept in their separate boxes..
That is why they are busy abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, which bestrides all three arms of government - legislature, executive and judiciary - and replacing it with three separate bodies.
What is amazing is that, at the same time, it is transferring the judicial function of granting licenses away from independent magistrates and into the hands of local politicians.
Last week, I attended a training day in County Hall during which a barrister explained the rules on fairness and objectivity as they apply to members of planning committees.
Planning committees, we were told, are quasi-judicial bodies whose members must judge whether or not the facts of a particular case coincide with policy.
As a general rule, if they do, consent is given, if they don't, the application should be refused.
But what happens if an application is within policy but the councillor's constituents are protesting against it outside County Hall.
There may be some brave souls who would "do the right thing", come what may, but I would bet they are few and far between.
And that is why, in a democracy, law and politics make such a poisonous cocktail.
Politicians should make the rules and judges should apply them.
How can an applicant have a fair crack of the whip if the "judges" are studying their electoral prospects alongside the facts of the case?
And it is this perception among members of the public that these things are decided by who you know and not what you know that does more than anything to bring local government into disrepute.
I can't claim originality for these ideas because it is as long ago as 1690 that the philosopher John Locke wrote: "It may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons who have the power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them..."
And in 1748 the great constitutional thinker Montesquieu wrote: "When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person ... there can be no liberty."
During the recent meeting of the County Council, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, urged Old Grumpy to accept the conclusions of the auditor's investigation into the business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and Dr Michael Ryan, and "move on".
Unfortunately, there are issues of fundamental principle involved and until these are resolved there is nowhere to move on to.
It is my belief that the County Council has mounted a cover up over this affair, just as it did in the earlier case of Cllr Hall's bogus claim for travelling expenses incurred on 1 February 2000 (see The Untouchables) about which I will have more to say next week.
I hold to the view that any democratic system that is not built on the twin pillars of truth and justice isn't worth the candle.
And there can be no justice if those in positions of authority can use their power to put themselves above the law.
That is especially so if their power is obtained through the ballot box.
As far as I am concerned, these basic principles are not negotiable - simple as that.
Fortunately, I am unfettered by political ambition so I can speak my mind freely without worrying about the effect on my prospects of promotion or preferment.
And that is what I will continue to do.
Beyond the fridge
Regular readers of this column may have formed the impression that I am a bit henpecked.
It is true that Old Grumpette likes to think she's the boss around here, but the reality is somewhat different.
The other day, for instance, while she was outside digging the garden, I put aside my Daily Telegraph and glass of red wine and eased the fridge away from the wall.
And what did I find?
It was spotless; not a cobweb or a speck of dust to be seen.
How she finds the time, between ironing my socks, cleaning the windows and looking after the grandchildren, I will never know.
Nothing to do with the fact that I voted UKIP at the European elections, I suppose.!
Flushed with success
Every year Pembrokeshire County Council makes song and dance about its success at the annual Loo of the Year Awards.
Appropriately, you might think, it is Cllr Brian Hall, cabinet member for Environment and Transport (or is it the other way round) who, flushed with success, makes the annual trip to Warwick or London to collect the pot.
Naively, I had always thought this meant the council had won something but, thanks to the Internet, I now know better.
Logging on to the LOTY website I find three classes of loos: five, four and three star.
There are, it appears, 70 five-star public toilets in the UK - none of which are in Pembrokeshire, though, if you want to have a pee in deluxe surroundings you can make the short journey to Swansea where the toilets in Caer Street and the Quadrant are both in the top bracket.
Nor does any Pembrokeshire facility feature among the 167 four-star bogs in the land, though Wales does boast such lavatorial excellence at Bridgend (3), Caerphilly (3), Ceredigion (1) Monmouthshire (2) and Swansea (1).
It is only when you get down to the three-star class that you find eight Pembrokeshire loos listed.
For those of you who like a bit of comfort, but can't be bothered to make the journey to Swansea or Aberystwyth, these are at Burton Ferry, Creswell Quay, Manorbier, Nolton Haven, Gwaun Valley, St Davids (The Grove), Fishguard (West Street car park) and Wisemans Bridge.
My own experience is of arriving outside the council's loo on Saudersfoot Harbour one winter's day to find a notice on the door directing me to a car park some 300 yards distant.
Now, when you get to a certain age, 300 yards, in these circumstances, especially in cold weather, may as well be the other side of the moon.
Luckily, there were no policemen around at the time.
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