We've been this way before, too often, and quite recently, with quick-off-the-mark lawyers attacking parliamentary privilege.
Today John Hemming (Lib Dem MP for Birmingham, Yardley) reported a threatening letter from a firm of solicitors. The Speaker has agreed to debate the thing tomorrow.
Tesco intend to build a supermarket in Hemming's patch: this is substantially expanding the "Swan Centre" on Coventry Road in Yardley. To this end, Tesco bought land off Sainsbury's and Asda. So, no hint of a cartel this far.
It is not, locally, a resoundingly popular development, in part because it involves the construction of a huge carpark and a race-track. So protestors tried to buy up enough land to block the project.
The local authority, who have a vested interest in so far as it would inflate the rates income, and probably suck up a bit of local unemployment, has gone for the Big Stick: a compulsory purchase order.
Somehow Tesco thinks Hemming has overstepped a line in the sand. The retail giant has employed Withers, solicitors, to do the deed. Withers sent an email. Hemming, not unreasonably, feels he is being crowded.
He complained to the Speaker.
For the record "parliamentary privilege" began in 1397. Sir Thomas Haxey dared to query King Richard II's household budget. Haxey was deprived of his title and his property. When Richard had been deposed, the new king, Henry IV, had Parliament reverse the sentence, because it ran against the law and custom which had been before in Parliament.
These Lib Dems, doing what is right and proper, really annoy Malcolm when he has to agree with them.
The Economist update, dated yesterday:
Political rights and civil liberties around the world suffered for the fourth year on the trot in 2009, according to the latest report published by Freedom House, an American think-tank. This represents the longest continuous period of deterioration in the history of the report. The number of electoral democracies dropped from 119 to 116, the lowest figure since 1995.
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