Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Jack Straw rejects call to repeal 'trivial laws'

Grouse
Game birds remain safe from harm on Sundays

New laws banning everything from the sale of game birds killed on a Sunday to "causing a nuclear explosion" are not trivial, Jack Straw has said.

The Lib Dems claim Labour has created a "splurge" of "worthless" new offences since coming to power in 1997.

Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne says 4,200 new crimes have been created.

But it has emerged his call for the most "trivial" ones to be repealed was rejected last year by Mr Straw, who said they were all necessary.

In a letter to Mr Huhne last January, which has just been released by the Lib Dems, the justice secretary says: "It is regrettable that your party takes such a stance, given the very good reasons for all the pieces of legislation referred to."

Nuclear test ban

Mr Straw goes through each of the examples cited by Mr Huhne as trivial, explaining why he thinks it would be "misguided" to repeal them.

On "disturbing a pack of eggs when told not to do so by an authorised officer," Mr Straw says: "This law is important in terms of protecting customers from poor quality or falsely described eggs, and any risk that this may bring."

Mr Straw said the government decided to retain a law banning the sale of game birds killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day in England and Wales after consultation with the public.

Many of these offences are worthless, as they duplicate offences which could perfectly well have been used instead
Chris Huhne

A ban on anyone importing English potatoes "which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes" was to guard against the risk of "ring rot" disease spreading from Poland.

Mr Straw says the Nuclear Explosions Act 1998, which bans people from detonating nuclear bombs, enables the UK to abide by a nuclear test ban treaty.

"Under the Act, any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life," he writes.

He also defends laws on obstructing workers carrying out repairs to the Docklands Light Railway, landing a catch of unsorted fish at a harbour without permission and impersonating a barrister.

'Torrent'

In his reply to Mr Straw's letter, Mr Huhne says many of the offences he is talking about could have easily been dealt with using existing laws.

In the case of causing a nuclear explosion, for example, Mr Huhne said this could be covered by a "whole raft of offences" including murder, conspiracy to murder, causing an explosion with intent to endanger life and various explosives offences.

"What on earth did you think this new offence added? What circumstances are you envisaging?," he asks Mr Straw.

Mr Huhne asked a series of Parliamentary questions of different departments about crimes created and abolished under Labour - not all of which have received a response.

He has calculated that between 1997 and 2009, 4,289 new crimes were created - about 27 a month under Tony Blair and about 33 a month under Gordon Brown.

Mr Huhne said there should be a "stop unit" in the Cabinet Office with which every department would have to prove any need for a new offence.

"Many of these offences are worthless, as they duplicate offences which could perfectly well have been used instead," he said.

"The legacy of Labour is hyperactive law making that has spread confusion among police officers, judges and every other professional who has to deal with this cascade of nonsense."



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