Neil McNicholas: Bags of trouble if they think we’ll fork out a shilling

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AS we all know, it is the Government that writes the annual Queen’s Speech and not Her Majesty. How she can keep a straight face and not show a flicker of reaction to some of the nonsense she has to read is beyond me.

Does this Government never listen to itself? Did no-one read this week’s speech out loud before they handed it in to Buck House? If they had they might have noticed that the measure of its priorities appeared to be a Bill to outlaw human trafficking and slavery, oh and, yes, charging 5p for plastic bags at the supermarket! Talk about “from the sublime to the ridiculous”.

Who was it who thought those two particular pieces of legislation were of such equal import that they should both be included in the Queen’s Speech? She comes all the way to the House of Lords to carry out one of her royal duties, and ends up making an announcement about plastic bags! I can imagine the conversation with Prince Philip on the way back.

There are many crises facing our nation at the moment – billions of pounds of debt still to be repaid; the NHS tottering on the brink of collapse; an education system that isn’t fit for purpose; a penal system that fails to put those behind bars who should be there and lets out inmates on day release and loses them. But what is the Government’s priority? Charging 5p for plastic bags! Will we all sleep more soundly in our beds for knowing that?

Perhaps they will create yet another “jobsworth” position: Minister for Bags, who will be minister without portfolio, or, perhaps, without portmanteau. Ensuring that every shopping citizen is taxed yet another 5p on top of income tax and value added tax is so essential to the very survival of this nation that it must be overseen and administered with absolute vigour (or vinegar).

But hang on a moment. Five pence? That’s a shilling in old money. They are going to charge us a whole shilling just for a plastic bag. Once upon a time you could have taken the bus to town, bought a new suit, a bag of chips, the bus back home, and still had change from a shilling. Now all you’ll have is a plastic bag. That’s inflation for you, something else this Government says is under control – its control.

Needless to say, this has all got to do with environmental lobbyists who see every plastic bag in shoppers’ hands as a threat to the planet. It’s rather worrying, indeed frightening, that these people wield so much influence. So effective is their propaganda that no consideration is being given to any facts that contradict their prejudiced mantras with regard to global warming and climate change. They go round with their fingers in their ears going “La, la, la” very loudly so that they won’t hear what anyone else has to say on the subject. They are right and everyone else is wrong. And this has now become the basis of government policy – a high wire act that is costing the taxpayer millions and with no safety net anywhere in sight.

Two or three years ago the Co-op supermarket in Whitby (and maybe Co-ops nationwide, I don’t know) arbitrarily removed their plastic bags and hid them under the check-out counters like pornographic magazines, but because customers continued to ask for them (and this might have just been Yorkshire bloody-mindedness) they eventually had to put them back out again. Clearly people didn’t accept that there was any connection between their use of plastic bags and global warming. The point was adequately proved to anyone having to cross Whitby’s swing bridge in winter with a bitter wind blowing all the way from the Arctic. No matter how many Co-op bags you used, it never got any warmer – unless you stuffed them down your coat!

Does the Government think these discerning shoppers – in Whitby and nationwide – are now going to pay 5p for every plastic bag they need? If I have given a supermarket 50, 60, maybe £100 of my business, the least they can do is give me a few plastic bags free of any further charge.

Yes, we could bring shopping bags from home, but how often would we forget? And, of course, we won’t be given the option by this nanny state. We will be told to bring our shopping bags with us or otherwise have no choice but to pay a shilling a bag to carry home the groceries we have bought. The alternative will be to end up like a contestant on Crackerjack (“Crackerjack!!”) with our arms packed full of groceries and trying not to drop a cabbage.

• Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Middlesbrough.

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