Bruce Anderson

Boris’s ‘lobster law’ is ridiculous

Boris's 'lobster law' is ridiculous
The Prime Minister holds a pair of crabs, which will soon be classed as legally sentient (photo: Number 10)
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Sometimes, there is only one conclusion to be drawn – that somehow, the calendar is stuck. Though days appear to pass, it is still April 1.

The latest example of April foolishness concerns shellfish. A Bill on animal rights is currently going through the House of Lords, and the government seems minded to accept an amendment which would acknowledge that crustaceans and molluscs are sentient beings and therefore must have rights.

In the case of lobsters, this would mean that they could no longer be cooked by being thrust, still alive, into boiling water. As it happens, there is a good culinary case for putting lobsters into cold water and bringing it slowly to the boil. That is supposed to be more humane. Much more to the point, it also makes the lobster taste better.

But there is a point which is even more important than haute cuisine: why on earth should ministers be concerning themselves with lobsters? Millions of school children may have suffered educational damage due to the lockdown. A considerable number of cancer victims have had their treatment delayed, some of them, one fears, with fatal consequences. The vaccination programme has been a near-triumph. Even so, why could the pace of injections not be increased? Although there is plenty to concern us at home, the world beyond the British Isles has rarely been more unstable. All in all, there is plenty for ministers, peers and MPs to do. But lobsters. God help us.

Lewis Carroll's ‘Lobster Quadrille’ is a charming amusement. This does not mean that nonsense verse should take over the agenda of government. We can confidently predict the next instalment of official nonsense: demands for the arrest of the Walrus and the Carpenter.

One aspect of all this should arouse our pity, and it is nothing to do with sea food. What about the poor satirist? How could he possibly outdo lobster law?

There is a principle which should surely be invoked. Where government is needed, it should be strong. Where it is not needed, it should be absent. That is common sense. But that is the problem. Common sense is not a common attribute.

We have to face facts. The sovereign people are partly to blame for all this. The notion of rights for lobsters ought to be laughed to scorn, but that may not be the public mood. Virtually every week, refrigerated lorries travel from Scotland to Spain with glorious cargoes of lobsters, langoustines, crabs and scallops. Some of the richest sea harvests in the world come from the waters of the Highlands and islands. Yet the British housewife is reluctant to open her mind, and her kitchen, to these delights. She may well prefer lobster rights to lobster thermidor.

The sentimentality which the British lavish on animals has its charms. A kitten is stuck up a tree. 999 is called, the fire brigade rushes to the scene; the moggy and its relieved owners may well get their pictures in the local paper. If anyone queried the wisdom of using an emergency line and turning out an emergency service just to rescue a feline, they would be execrated. The pussy cat protection league – Cats Protection is its proper name – benefits from a constant flow of legacies. To be fair, it lives up to its name. If a barn cat produces a litter, 20 miles up a Highland track, Cats Protection will send a Land Rover to take the offspring to a comfortable home to live out their days.

Perhaps someone will now establish a lobster charity. The poet Gérard de Nerval kept a pet lobster, which he took for walks, with a blue ribbon for a lead. He ended up killing himself. The lobster's fate is unknown. But it was Paris... I think we can guess. Asterix and Obelix regularly agree that ‘Ils sont fous, les Anglais’. It is a terrible thought. Perhaps they were right.