A New Examination Of Morals And The Law
March 6, 2016Posted by on
I had never heard of T.E. Utley until some years ago when I became acquainted with his son on the now defunct My Telegraph (MyT) blog site. I have now been acquainted with Charles Utley for some time and it was remarks made by Charles on MyT regarding his father that prompted me to get a copy of his father’s paper What Laws May Cure. Written in 1968 it may be seen as irrelevant today but over the intervening years I have tried to condense it into a form suitable for a blog, intending to show its relevance but, to my mind, with limited success. I suspect T.E.Utley’s paper lies in the archive — lost — as it would have been to me and if found only of interest to old men like me who, in their dotage, contemplate on such things.
A new Examinations of Morals and the law — T.E. Utley
By a curious convention of British politics, those ordinances which affect most intimately the life of the subject are least likely to have been authorised by any kind of popular mandate. T. E. Utley – What Laws May Cure
Politics is normally concerned almost exclusively with the distribution of wealth. At regular intervals the public is presented with more or less clearly defined choices about how the balance of payments crisis should be tackled and about taxation systems. On such points, the organised political parties take up their stands, publish their manifestos and offer more or less coherent alternatives to the electorate.
It is between these alternatives rather than between the individual merits of candidates that electors decide when they cast their votes. By this means, the electorate is given some kind of intermittent control over one part of its own destinies. It may decide wrongly or it may be wantonly deceived, but it gives its approval to certain broadly described policies, and it always has the chance of eventually taking revenge on any who have fraudulently secured that approval. In these spheres, there is a discernible element of popular consent.
In striking contrast to this, laws affecting the more intimate areas of life – the relations of married couples, the rights of men to make physical love to each other and the rights of unborn children – are almost wholly removed from popular control. All the political parties classify such matters as issues of conscience to which it is improper to apply the party whip. When such questions arise at Westminster, the Members for Parliament (MPs) suddenly becomes possessed of an unaccustomed freedom to vote conscientiously. The electoral fate of comparatively few MPs is decisively affected by their views on questions of private morality and of the proper relationship between it and the law.
As a result, vast areas of legislative activity are effectively removed from popular control by Private Members’ Acts which have received no kind of sanction from the people. Neither Government nor Opposition, however, has formally committed itself to either side in this great national controversy. It may well be that MPs so easily coerced over other matters, will not abandon the few remaining areas in which their consciences are respected. It may also be that our legislation about private morality is infinitely more intelligent and humane than it would be if it arose spontaneously from popular prejudice instead of embodying the views of a relatively civilised minority.