The news this week included three unconnected stories that shows how inconsistent our nation is. First was the news that a substantial number of those appointed to the House of Lords are attending the House and claiming their £300 daily attendance allowance, yet not formally participating in any votes that take place. A total of £100,000 was claimed by Peers that did not vote once in the Parliament. This on the face of it appears to be a matter of dishonesty, although no doubt at the margins one or two of these Peers attended meetings, met members of the public and carried out public duties yet never took part in the main function of the second chamber. Perhaps one or two even forgot to vote. Whilst these Peers are entitled to this allowance, most members of the House of Lords have well resourced publicly funded Pensions or other forms of personal wealth and from nearly 800 Peers, this list is made up of less than 300, recognising that some of these people may well be repeat offenders.
The other two stories relate to people whose experience in life is very difference. They have definitely been dishonest and their actions have brought them in front of magistrates. One case is of a woman who appeared before Derbyshire Magistrates along with people who have been involved in attacks on Police Officers, domestic violence, using abusive language, criminal damage and nuisance phone calls. Her details are:
“JANIS Butans, 34, of London Road, Derby, was handed a six-week community order with curfew and was ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge for stealing three bottles of baby milk from Sainsbury’s in the Intu Derby, on July 18.”
The third story comes from the Independent Newspaper and describes how an individual stole three mars bars from a store because she was hungry. The story argues she intentionally selected the cheapest item in the store, but nevertheless she wilfully stole:
“Louisa Sewell pleaded guilty to theft at Kidderminster Magistrates Court on 6 August and was fined £73 for the theft, 75p in compensation to the store, £150 in court charges, £85 in prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge.”
What is missing from both of these stories is why remedies that are available to the Police and retailers (assuming they are aware of these) which offer an alternative form of restorative justice were not applied. However as is made clear in the Independent article, the Criminal Justice system, now has inflexible sentencing rules which prevent magistrates from showing any sense of proportion (assuming they might have wished to) in the punishment being meted out. The end result is that people who are so poor that their hunger or that of their children has led them to steal have been fined £295 in one case or £329 in the other. Sums that equate to the daily allowanced paid by us to Peers that on the face of it are already well off, and have dishonestly claimed allowances for actions they could not be bothered to carry out.
I for one feel very uncomfortable and angry regarding the inconsistent nature of these stories. We need legislators that also get angry about such matters and are prepared to do something about it as a matter of urgency.