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Archive for March, 2011

Monday
Mar 14,2011

Peter Bingle is the Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and is widely regarded as someone both close to and with a wide understanding of what makes the Conservative Party tick.

That is why his blogpost, “A musing about the politics of policing in modern Britain…”, is so interesting.  He makes the point that the Conservative Party of today is taking a rather different approach to policing from its predecessors:

“These are difficult days indeed for the police service. There is no longer a Michael Howard as Home Secretary. Howard believed that being a policeman was special. He respected the Office of Constable and successfully fought off attempts (initiated by his predecessor Ken Clarke!) to fundamentally alter the structure, pay and conditions of the police service. Ironically one of special advisers at the time of the Sheehy Inquiry was a certain David Cameron.

There was a time when the police service was special for the Tory Party. Law and Order was their issue. It was one of the things that differentiated the Tory Party from its political opponents. Tory Home Secretaries such as Willie Whitelaw, Douglas Hurd, Leon Brittan and even David Waddington understood the importance of the police in civil society. It took that old bruiser Ken Clarke to decide to take them on. He saw the Police Federation as an over powerful trade union which needed to be tamed and the police service as inefficient, expensive and non-productive. The saviour of both the Federation and the service was Michael Howard.  ….

We are now at a moment in time when the coalition is able to reduce the number of police officers and alter pay and conditions with apparent ease. Nobody appears to be speaking for up for the police service.

Policemen are being treated in the same way as cleaners in schools and hospitals. They are part of a public sector which is too large. It must therefore be cut. The police are no longer seen as special. When did you last hear a politician talking about the Office of Constable? Does it not follow that if the police are the same as everybody else in the public sector that they too should have the right to strike? I don’t think they should but it is possible to make a pretty cogent argument in support.

The politics of this are interesting. In the years ahead as the spending cuts start to bite there is the possibility (I put it no higher than that) of civil disorder in certain parts of the country. The police will be called upon to protect the peace and maintain the rule of law. It is therefore essential that the police service is well funded with high levels of morale. Otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.

There was a time when Tory ministers used to boast about increasing the number of police officers. That is no longer the case. Nowadays Tory ministers talk about how it is perfectly possible to reduce the number of police officers whilst protecting the front line. There was a time when The Sun and other newspapers used to talk about protecting the thin blue line. They do so no more.”

An intriguing warning, but it is also noticeable that the police service has yet to wake up fully to the fact that, as one Home Office civil servant put it to me a few months ago:

“ACPO don’t seem to realise that for the first time for over thirty years they have a Government that does not only not respect them but in many ways holds them in contempt.”

And it reminds me of what I once heard David Davis MP say:

“If I was Home Secretary, there is not a single Chief Constable I would want to keep.”

Thursday
Mar 10,2011

The long-awaited debate on the report of the House of Lords Administration and Works Committee on “Use of Electronic Devices in the House”  finally took place today.  The report was introduced by the Lord Chairman of Committees, Lord Brabazon of Tara, who explained that the aim was to:

“clarify the rules regulating the use of electronic devices in the House.”

He pointed out the

“rules are not only outdated and incomplete; in places they are also inconsistent and contradictory.”

Admirable, though the intentions of the report may have been I have already commented that there would continue to be confusion, which I expressed again today:

Lord Harris of Haringey: I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Chairman of Committees for the way in which he has introduced this item and the work that has gone into it by the Administration and Works Committee. There are many elements in the report that I am sure the whole House will welcome, in particular the reiteration of the importance of devices being held in silent mode.

I wonder whether the report quite deals with its prime focus, which, as I understand it, was to reduce the degree of confusion that Members might have as to what is or is not permitted. Although the report refers to devices such as iPads, the words in the box do not. It simply says: “Hand-held electronic devices”. How big is the hand? Does that include holding an iPad or a Kindle? What is or is not a laptop? Is it something that opens and closes? Perhaps an iPad will be permitted under the words in the box. My understanding is that the latest version of the iPad can have a little add-on, which folds over the top of the iPad and switches it off. Is a handheld device something that opens and closes? Many small, handheld devices also open and close.

If it is not the fact of opening and closing that is the issue, it is presumably a question of size. Laptops come in a variety of sizes. The marketing phrase now is “netbooks”, some of which are extremely small. Is it that they should be no larger than a certain size? I am raising all these questions because, although this has been a helpful move to try to resolve these matters, it has not removed the scope for confusion.

Secondly, perhaps it would be helpful if further consideration could be given to the question of what people can do with these devices. Of course it is sensible that, rather than lugging around large volumes of paper, people should be able to access paperwork, parliamentary material and so on electronically, but I wonder whether it makes sense to forbid the use of search. Perhaps I should apologise to the House at the outset for the fact that I have on occasion used a handheld device in this Chamber and that I once—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Harris of Haringey: I apologise unreservedly, as I apologise for what I am about to say. On one occasion during Oral Questions, in order to clarify whether I was correct in the point that I wished to make, I did a quick Google search. As a consequence, I was much more confident about putting to the Minister the point that I wanted to make. However, it seems to be entirely legitimate and sensible that people are able to do that. I note that our Clerks in your Lordships’ House have in front of them a laptop. On occasion, I have noticed that it is linked to Google, so obviously our Clerks, who are not Members of the House, have been known to google things during your Lordships’ proceedings.

I hope that we can look at these matters because, while I understand that we might not like the idea of people being able to relay comments externally prior to the Minister knowing what those comments are, the material resulting from searches about factual matters is available to all Members; it is just a question of whether it is permitted. In any event, how would this be enforced, unless there are inspections or we have some sort of fancy monitoring device that lets you know exactly what people are accessing in the Chamber, which I am sure could be supplied by the relevant people? I wonder if that would be useful.

Perhaps I may make one final plea to the noble Lord. When the Administration and Works Committee looks at these matters again, would it also consider the quality of mobile reception around the Palace? I am aware of a number of areas where the reception is very poor from one provider or another. I am sure that, if this provision is to be made, we want to make sure that it is available equally to all Members of the House wherever they happen to be sitting.”

Broad support for the changes came from all sides of the House, but support was not unanimous and two Conservative peers made their views clear:

Lord Higgins: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us whether the committee considered, if it wishes to clarify the position, whether handheld devices should not be used in the Chamber? To what extent did the committee consider the effect that such use may have on those watching the proceedings of the House on television? They may well think that Members who are using handheld devices are not paying sufficient attention to what is happening.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I strongly support what my noble friend has just said. I must confess that I do not Google, Twitter, tweet or blog, nor do I have any particular desire to do any of those things, but it seems to me that to have handheld devices in the Chamber is not conducive to good debate and intelligent participation in it. The fundamental reason for my opposing the idea is that it is the beginning of what I would call electronic mission creep—if I can use some jargon. I am very concerned about how instructions could be monitored or enforced. The answer is that they could not be. Therefore, anybody sitting in this Chamber with a handheld device could do anything from googling facts to getting in touch with his bookmaker. I suggest that the committee consider once again the point that has just been made briefly but forcefully by my noble friend.”

But another Conservative Lord Deben (the artiste formerly known as John Gummer) put them straight:

Lord Deben: My Lords, I support what has just been said. Perhaps I may suggest also that making a virtue of being out of date is really not helpful for this House. Let us transpose this debate to the time when writing came in. It was perfectly true that writing might have upset the person sitting next door—it might have taken your mind off the debate—but most of us now write to make notes in this House. Most of us use this electronic equipment—well, I hope that we do; those who do not perhaps are not really involved. It is silent; it is extremely helpful. I must say to my noble friend that the idea that it is better to be ignorant and make a speech where the fact is wrong than to look it up and make sure that you have got it right seems very peculiar. I am pleased that it will not matter, because we will all do it and nobody will be able to see. I hope that the privacy Acts and the Data Protection Act will stop people looking over our shoulder to see what we are looking up. We hear some speeches made in this noble House where perhaps playing Scrabble on our devices would be a better alternative. This House does itself no good in making a virtue out of obscurantism. We either do things properly, which means using the wonderful mechanisms that we have, or we must accept the likelihood of being thought to be out of date.”

After 35 minutes of debate, Lord Brabazon wound up:

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate on this subject, as I suspected we would. Given the opposing views of those in favour of this advance and those who I might say are more old-fashioned and do not want to see anything change, it looks as though we got the report about right.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked me a large number of questions, one of which was whether I could define the difference between a laptop and an iPad. I use the expression “iPad” in the same way that one uses the expressions “hoover” or “fridge”. It does not necessarily mean the Apple product—there are other varieties. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who is a member of the committee, put her finger on this when she said that it should be used silently. We do not want people clicking away on a keypad—at least that was the idea. That is the fundamental difference between what I see as an iPad, such as the one that is now on the Table, and a touchscreen device. Of course, technology might move on. It has moved on enormously. Only a few years ago we changed the rules of the House on the use of mobile telephones.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. If the object is to clarify the position, in light of what he has just said are we to understand that iPads will be all right but netbooks will not?

The Chairman of Committees: I am not sure that I completely know the definition of a netbook and how it is different.

Lord Higgins: It is a question of whether they click or not.

The Chairman of Committees: Then the answer is that we would prefer devices that do not click and that therefore do not distract noble Lords while they are in the Chamber.

I have slightly lost my thread now. I was referring to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. He held up his hands to say that he had used his handheld to search the web for something that was relevant to the debate at that time. The committee did not consider that an appropriate use, for the reasons that we set out at some length in the report, but I remind noble Lords that we specifically say that this is for a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will, of course, take into account the observations that noble Lords have not only made today but will no doubt make during the course of the year. The matter will then be reviewed again by the Administration and Works Committee, and we will have another debate. When we produce a report, we will have to bring it to the House.

As several noble Lords said, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the matter relies on your Lordships’ good sense and self-regulation. My noble friends Lord Higgins and Lord Cormack worried that people working away on their handheld devices would be a distraction and that it would not look good on television. At least it would prove that those noble Lords were awake and not asleep. It would look no worse than that. That is unfortunately a picture that one gets occasionally in the television coverage of your Lordships’ House. I can tell my noble friend Lord Cormack that nothing in the present rules would prevent him getting on to his bookmaker. If he has been doing that, good luck to him.

My noble friend Lord Lucas asked a number of questions. I am glad to say that he was generally in favour of these proposals. We have measures in hand to improve wi-fi access in the Chamber and we will take those forward. My noble friend asked about various things, for example statutes in force. As it says in the report, those would be closely and clearly relevant to the business of the House and would therefore be just the sort of thing that it would be permitted to look at.

Other noble Lords made various other observations. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for his support. He is, of course, also involved in this as chairman of the Information Committee. No doubt it, too, will come forward with proposals in due course. He is right to have said that this is a step towards cutting down on the use of paper and going in the direction of a paperless way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, suggested that one should be able only to read from one of these devices, rather than to access new information, while one was in the Chamber. However, the report makes it clear that it will be possible to download White Papers and that kind of thing, and if one happens to want to do so while one is in the Chamber I can see no objection to that.

I hope that I have answered most of the questions raised. I am sure that your Lordships want to get on to the main business of the day—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but I did suggest that he should look at various aspects of the report again. For example, the box on page 6 is untenable, as is clear from this debate. I urge him to ensure that the report is clear, because point 2 in the box is not possible; we will not be able to police matters in that way. I urge the committee to look at it again.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the Chairman of Committees answers that point, I want to make a similar point quickly. Paragraph 16, the conclusion, says:

“If the House agrees this report”—

I have no doubt that it will—

“the Procedure Committee will be invited to amend the Companion when it is next updated”.

Can I have an assurance from someone, please, that the Procedure Committee will take account of this somewhat divergent debate in that consideration?

The Chairman of Committees: I can give that assurance. On behalf of the Procedure Committee, I may well have to produce another report on these matters and have that debated on the Floor of the House again. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the main cause of concern in today’s debate has been about paragraph 8 of the main report rather than the box at the back that summarises it. As we say there, this is a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will just have to see how that trial works out, and come back in one year’s time.”

The Administration and Works Committee report was then agreed, but the change will now require a further report from the Procedure Committee and at the moment searches will be banned and the arrangements will be for a trial period only.

So the Luddites were rebuffed – but only partly so and for the time being only.

Wednesday
Mar 9,2011

The Winsor report on police pay and terms and conditions was published yesterday.

I was interested to read the reactions of two “grass-roots” police bloggers.

First, PC Bloggs who writes:

“If the Winsor Review is implemented in full, I will be less well off to the tune of about £1200 after tax, which when allowing for inflation of 5%, is significant, but not devastating.  However, the real issue that police officers have with the approach to reform is the attitude that it is acceptable to cut perks without giving anything in return.  Here are some ways that reform could both give as well as take away:
  1.  
    1. If rest day working with less than five days notice is reduced to time-and-a-half (from double time), regulation could be changed so that officers can refuse to come in with less than five days’ notice for anything less than a national emergency.  Having the rule about double time has forced forces and the court system to plan ahead, which is the main benefit for officers.
    2. Bank holiday pay could be similarly adjusted, but forces failing to plan their bank holiday staffing six months in advance should have to pay a higher rate.  Christmas and New Year staffing should be organised the January before, with volunteers requested before enforced working is implemented.  This would penalise those forces that constantly shuffle staff around at short notice and fail to remember when national holidays are until a few days before.
    3. My next suggestion was going to be about replacing Special Priority Payments with bonuses for those who genuinely work antisocial hours and are exposed to daily confrontation and unpleasantness, but Tom Winsor’s already thought of that.
    4. Housing/living allowances could be means-tested (although it could be more expensive to means-test than just to pay everyone).
    5. Inspectors – who don’t get overtime – should have strict rules on the number of extended shifts and cover shifts they have to work, and forces should be made to implement these fairly across all inspectors rather than weighting the hours to those on response.
The above wouldn’t please everyone, but it would seem fair to the public.  Here are some more ideas that could also be implemented, that might change ACPO’s view on the “antiquated” overtime rules:
  •  
    • All superintendents and above should have to work a shift in custody every month and a shift as duty inspector.
    • All superintendents and above should have to attend a domestic every three months and do all the relevant paperwork.
    • All superintendents and above should have to phone CPS Direct once a year for a charging decision. 
The problem with police officers jumping up and down about pay is that the Federation have consistently failed to jump up and down about bureaucracy and injustice, and the public are unlikely to have much sympathy.  Why should you care what the officer is being paid who turns up to arrest your twelve-year-old for a schoolyard scrap?  Or gives you a penalty ticket for chasing yobs out of your back garden?
Young front-line officers are still being pressured by management to police in a way that massages crime figures and props up the PDRs of senior ranks.  Our performance measures have not changed, regardless of what the Home Secretary may claim.  Until the police put up sterner resistence to that, no one’s going to jump on our pay and conditions bandwagon.”
And second, Inspector Gadget:
“I believe that it is a monumental piss-take, bordering upon treason, for any government to renege on the pay and conditions for any worker, let alone emergency services workers and others who tirelessly provide societies safety net.

The arguments in favour are so easily destroyed with the simplest logic that it’s really an insult to even put them forward. For example; it’s either pay cuts or job losses. This argument when we face something like 28,000 job losses! This argument could be put forward ad infinitum until we all work for nothing at all.

Using the few lazy or unproductive officers as an excuse to penalise 140,000 personnel is nonsense. Has anyone suggested that MP’s take a pay cut because so many of them are bent or useless? Or how about cutting all nurses pay because some elderly patients have been maltreated?

The reality is simple. Tories regard us as the servant class. The Magistrate blogger once referred to me as ‘below stairs’. This sums up their attitude. These kinds of people only ever meet us when we have caught them drink driving or speeding and they hate us for it. Enforcement is for other people. They don’t see the starving children of an Albanian crack-whore at 3 o’clock in the morning, no one spits blood in their face or rams their vehicle at 40 miles and hour.

Anyone prepared to sack serving soldiers by email (I know the Army did that but the culture comes from the top) or bin our nation’s fighter pilots just before they receive their wings, or announce 11,000 redundancies to troops serving abroad in harms way is clearly not going to give a seconds thought to emergency service workers.

It is about time we sorted out the fact that keyboard rattlers, weekend-free merchants and officers too grand to listen out on the radio get paid the same as those who put themselves in harms way. But that can be done without the pay cuts as represented by increased pension contributions, pay freezes and job insecurity.

The only silver lining to all this is that we will outlast them all, it is bound to go wrong at some point and despite the rantings of a small minority of frightened, jealous or bitter losers, the vast majority of the public support us and understand that all the talk of ‘no more money’ is nonsense. There is plenty of money swilling around in certain quarters of this country. It’s how you choose to spend it, whether you choose to collect the billions in tax that is really owed and what you perceive to be important.

I have served this country (and continue to do so) both in green and blue, under The Crown. The one thing Debbie fears every time I’m on duty is a knock on the front door by a senior officer and the Chaplain. I do this in return for a pay scale and a pension. Now, after taking my service, they want to renege on the money. I don’t expect or need any sympathy. It’s shameful and they know it. Hiding behind a small number of wasters doesn’t cut it.”

Tuesday
Mar 8,2011

The Islington Gazette has the headline of the week:

“Holloway teen jailed after police discover crack in his bum”

Hat tip: Snipe

Tuesday
Mar 8,2011

A few months I half-flippantly suggested that now that malware producers were offering their services via Twitter the next stop was an iPhone app.

Now I gather a “game” has been developed that links GPS technology in a iPhone app, so that:

“The application allows drug dealers to post prices for narcotics such as cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.  A convenient built-in calculator automatically determines the prices in gram increments.  Prices can be set by location, so that the price offered in Bogota is cheaper than than in New York or Paris.  Moreover, the dealer’s prices are visible to their potential clients from within the app and can be adjusted in real-time in response to supply and demand.

Upon launching the app, drug-users can graphically view the location of all the nearest drug dealers on a lovely Google map and dealer and client can each navigate to each other to complete the buy.  The app even allows for price comparisons between dealers and prices can be further negotiated by exchanging private messages between pusher and purchaser.

The app even has an efficient reputation management system built-in so that clients can provide feedback on their dealers, allowing for comparison of quality and service.  “1 star only for Fast Freddy—that powder he sold me was baking powder.  There goes $100 down the drain!  Avoid Freddy at all costs—he’s a cheat.” What an efficient marketplace!”

Watch it here: