Why Baroness Scotland has to go

September 22, 2009

Laurence Copeland– Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” Shakespeare, Sonnet No. 94

The Bard’s words sum up one of two reasons why the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, ought to resign in response to being fined 5000 pounds for employing an illegal immigrant in her home. We have a right to expect nothing but the highest standards from any government officer, especially the country’s top legal officer.

However, the lilies-that-fester issue is not the only one involved here. Although this case may not look to most people as serious as many of the scandals of recent years, it has an additional dimension which is absent from run-of-the-mill cases of ministers (or judges or senior policemen) caught exceeding the speed limit or cruising a red-light district.

Just look at the excuses being wheeled out on behalf of the Baroness. They all amount to saying that the law as it currently stands makes demands on prospective employers that are so bureaucratic, time-consuming and complex that nobody should be surprised if even the Attorney-General, with all the resources at her disposal, gets it wrong.

If this is the case, it is an appalling state of affairs, and, far from strengthening the defence, actually makes the case for her departure unanswerable. After all, it may be possible to argue that the average person cannot be expected to conduct a thorough investigation of the residence status of every child-minder, window-cleaner or gardener they employ (though, if this is conceded, 5000 pounds might sound like an unjustly harsh penalty for anyone earning less than the Attorney-General!).

But can the same defence be mounted for the head of the country’s legal profession, given that she is not only a member of the government, and as such ought to take her fair share of the responsibility for creating this bureaucratic nightmare, but that she is also reported to have had a hand in drafting the law?

One would expect her to carry a more than equal share of the blame for intervention in the labour market in a form that is a deterrent (or, insofar as a fine may be unavoidable, a tax) on employment, as well as an affront to democracy, since it puts  ordinary folk (and apparently even the Attorney General) in a situation where it is well-nigh impossible for them to operate within the law. (Nor ought it to be any defence, however true, to say that there are many other legal minefields strewn in the path of the innocent citizen.)

In other words, far from being an argument in her defence, the fact that an employer’s obligations under the law are so onerous is actually an indictment of Lady Scotland’s performance as a minister, and an additional reason to demand her resignation. The fact that she has fallen foul of her own law is simply poetic justice, or as Shakespeare put it, she is hoist with her own petard.


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This piece hits the nail on the head. Poetic justice indeed.

And the attitude of the woman when interviewed just shows she did not listen to Gordon’s warning that he took the whole thing very seriously and she should too.

I do not expect him to be in a good mood when he returns to No.10 either.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

I completely agree that she has to go, however my overwhelming concern is why the prime minister hasn’t had the backbone to do it? This is the party that came to power in 1997 stating that they were “whiter than white”, but they renage every single time on taking difficult decisions when one of their own steps out of line.

Baroness Scotland has to go. It sends completely the wrong message to the electorate when ministers of state are seen to be flouting the law – and a £5,000 fine even IF paid personally is nowhere near the price that should be paid.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

I’m a little confused about the timing. One report claimed that she had employed the woman for five years, which raises the question of whether, at the time she failed to take photocopies, she as actually required to take photocopies or not. Sadly, these days the only journalistic organ likely to investigate that question is probably “Have I Got News For You.”

On the other hand, if it means that we could not later have a PM who cycles the wrong way down one way streets and who claims there’s nothing wrong with making fraudulent declarations in order to secure an undeserved school place for one’s child…. her job might be a sacrifice worth making!

(Yep, you got it – “a plague on both their houses”!)

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

The mindless witch-hunt that is going on around this non-story reinforces why I hold politicians and over-opinionated people such as Mr Copeland in such utter contempt. A mistake/crime has been committed and the sentence passed. Why is this insufficient?

This “crime” was one where absolutely no harm was done. To anybody. Why then should anyone be expected to resign over the issue?

This is a rancid case of bandwagon-jumping, and is as laughable as it is contemptible.

Posted by Paul Harper | Report as abusive

Clearly HMRC thought she was here legally as well, as they accepted her tax and National Insurance contributions. Will they be fined too?

Posted by Jeremy | Report as abusive

When we consider the offence of the Baroness we need to think about weighing this against any defensive position
she would have or offer. The point being she does not have any excuse, this is a highly educated individual hold high office whom should set the highest example of compliance to her own rules. I have worked in the Retail Management sector for more than twenty years, and have seen the pressure applied by local authorites to comply.
The underlying cost of prosecution per employee of not having evident records is major in large companies so much so non compliance is a disciplinary offense, and I have had to turn school leavers down from a job offer because they have not produced adequate proof of right to work in the uk (produced birth cert but no NI card yet). If I was to take on someone without meeting the company admin criteria (based on the law) I would be out
of a job, at management level no excuse could be accepted
in my defense, I have been trained, I know the rules, no
excuses, simple. Same should apply in this case.

Posted by Patrick Quinn | Report as abusive