Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for the ‘Conservative Party’ Category

Tuesday
Jul 10,2012

The Government is pushing through changes to voter registration in this country.  This will mean that each elector will have to fill in a separate registration form – a change from the current arrangements where only one form per household is required.  This is allegedly designed to reduce electoral fraud.

Interestingly, these same arguments are used by Republicans to justify changes in voter ID rules in key states in the United States

And here is the Pennsylvania Republican House Leader boasting to his State Republican Party that the real purpose was to ensure that Romney wins Pennsylvania this November:

With research suggesting that the numbers on the electoral register will plummet under the proposed new arrangements in this country, can we expect a gung-ho David Cameron boasting to a future Conservative Party Conference that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill (interestingly introduced in the House of Commons by Nick Clegg) will deliver a future Tory election victory?

Wednesday
Jul 4,2012

I have only just caught up with this story (courtesy of Naked Security from Sophos) and it is a salutary reminder to make sure that your home wifi connection is properly secured – as otherwise you don’t know who else might be using it and what else they might be doing.

According to the Sophos summary:

“After spotting threats posted online, a heavily-armed police SWAT team broke down the door of a house in Evansville, Indiana, smashed windows and tossed a flashbang stun grenade into the living room where an eighteen-year-old girl and her grandmother were watching the Food Network.

Can you imagine how terrifying it must have felt to have been in that room when the grenade was thrown in, and the house stormed by police with their guns drawn?

Oh, and just a small detail – the police had the wrong house. The home had an open WiFi connection, which meant that it could be used from an outside location.  ….

The somewhat rattled Stephanie Milan and her family were released without charge once the mix-up became obvious, and police looked further afield for the culprit who had posted messages like the following online:

"Cops beware! I'm proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives 🙂 made in America. Evansville will feel my pain."

…  The Milans’ door and window are now being repaired at the city’s expense. And presumably the family are taking steps to secure their WiFi connection.”

To make things worse the Evansville police had invited the local TV cameras along for the raid ….

It couldn’t happen here, or could it?

Guess who: Mayor of London Boris Johnson joined riot police on raids of addresses as part of a Met crackdown on burglary and robbery

Monday
Jul 2,2012

The Department of Health has recently announced a list of Non-Executive Members of the National Health Service Commissioning Board, the biggest quango in Europe through which most of the money going to the NHS passes.

And – in their wisdom (that’s meant to be irony) they have appointed Mr Naguib Kheraj, the current Vice Chairman of Barclays Bank plc. More significantly he was Finance Director of the Bank until 2007 – so he was in charge of the finances of the Bank when the attempted fixing of the LIBOR market was going on.

Just the sort of person we can have confidence in to oversee the running of our National Health Service.

Only this Government ……

 

Nahuib Kheraj

 Banker
Thursday
Jun 21,2012

I have some sympathy with efforts to set high standards and expectations for all pupils.  However, turning the clock back twenty years and re-creating the old O-levels for some with a lesser qualification for the rest is not necessarily the way to do it.

What would be the biggest reorganisation of the secondary school curriculum will no doubt be debated widely when proposals finally emerge rather than being briefed/leaked by the Department for Education.

In the meantime, what is interesting is the silence of Sarah Teather, the Schools Minister.

A silence that is particularly notable given the way in which other Liberal Democrats from Nick Clegg down (if such a concept makes sense) have been frothing at the mouth over Gove’s proposals.

As the Minister responsible for schools in the Department for Education, it would have been reasonable to assume that she must have been aware of the development of such radical changes.

If she did, she somehow didn’t have the political nous to realise that they might be a tad controversial and talk to some of her LibDem colleagues about them.

The alternative is that she is so completely side-lined in the Department that it calls into question what she does for her Minister of State’s salary.

So – which is it? Complicit and naive or a total waste of space?

Tuesday
Jun 19,2012

As you know, I am never normally one for unsubstantiated gossip (stop giggling at the back!), but on this occasion I thought I should pass this on for what it is worth.

Over the weekend, the Conservative Party in Kent chose its candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for the county.  The successful candidate is Councillor Craig MacKinlay, a former Deputy leader of UKIP who joined the Conservative Party in 2005.

One of the other contenders was Jan Berry, former Chairman of the Police Federation.  (Previously, of course, the favoured candidate Colonel Tim Collins had withdrawn from contention.)

A little bird tells me that Jan Berry’s candidacy had been promoted by no less a person than Nick Herbert MP, the Minister for Policing, who apparently took the view that Jan Berry would be the sort of high-profile candidate that his policy of electing Police Commissioners should be seen to have encouraged and would also be a slap in the face for the current leadership of the Police Federation for whom he has notoriously little time.

His choice, however, did not go down well with some of the local MPs and one in particular, Mark Reckless, is said to have campaigned ruthlessly and effectively against Jan Berry and for the ex-UKIP man.

All I can say is “interesting, if true”.

And good luck to Harriet Yeo, the Labour Party candidate.

Tuesday
Jun 19,2012

Here is my speech in yesterday’s debate on whether the National Crime Agency should have a Board or be directly under the personal direction of the Home Secretary:

” My Lords, I certainly do not want to fall into the trap of automatically accepting the Government’s architecture for these proposals. However, the amendment put forward by my noble friend does not necessarily undermine that architecture. The key point of this part of the proposed legislation is the creation of a new National Crime Agency. That is the key concept, and in this group of amendments we are dealing with some of the accountability mechanisms and the arrangements that will be put around the agency to ensure that its governance is of an appropriate and effective standard.

Let us be clear why this is important. The National Crime Agency, as proposed, will be a tremendously significant organisation. It will be responsible for ensuring that as a country we deal effectively with the most serious types of crime. In due course, it may be responsible for dealing with terrorism. This is not some minor government body; it is an extremely important part of the arrangements that we put in place to ensure that our citizens are properly protected against serious crime.

The other fundamental part of the architecture of the Bill, if you are wedded to that architecture, as no doubt the Minister is-no doubt we will come onto this in due course-are the provisions within the legislation that enable the director-general to require from police services around the country various things to happen. There is a potential power of direction-and certainly the expectation in terms of individual operations-that local police forces will work with the National Crime Agency to ensure that certain operations proceed. The relationship between the director-general and individual chief officers of police will be a fundamental one. That is precisely why, when we look at the governance structures and the arrangements that will be put around the director-general, we need to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms for chief officers of police and those responsible for their governance, in terms of police and crime commissions, to be adequately represented within them.

The Government have to put forward a clear justification as to why this very lean approach to governance has been included in the Bill. As a number of your Lordships have already indicated in Committee, there is a virtue in having a proper governance structure, a group of non-executives and a group of individuals to whom the director-general must report or explain or expand on his or her proposals on how the agency goes forward. That is not to decry the direct accountability to the Home Secretary because it will be the Home Secretary who will, whatever is written into the Bill, have to answer to Parliament as to whether this new structure works. It supports that function and gives the Home Secretary reassurance that all the processes and procedures that any sensible Home Secretary would expect to be around the director-general are in place.

I am not suggesting that the Home Secretary is incapable of providing adequate supervision of the agency. I am simply saying that it is not necessarily the most effective or efficient way of doing it and that some board structure supporting that process is better and more likely to be successful. I have looked for precedents for this sort of one-to-one relationship between the Home Secretary and significant agencies. For 175 years the Home Secretary was the police authority for London and at the end of those 175 years the Metropolitan Police was so well governed, despite the excellent leadership at that stage provided by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that it did not have a system in place-it was a £2 billion business at the time-for telling whether it had paid a bill more than once. I rather suspect that had the Home Office-I absolve previous Home Secretaries from day-to-day responsibility for this-been doing its job properly proper accountancy systems would have been installed within the organisation. However, the supervision of the Home Office and the Home Secretary was quite properly on the main policing issues, which would have been advised by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and his predecessors as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. This was not about the way in which the organisation was run, administered or governed. That is the natural tendency. Home Secretaries are busy people. They have broad responsibilities. They are not going to be involved in day-to-day issues about the robustness or otherwise of governance structures. The history of the Metropolitan Police is not a sound precedent.

More recently we have the precedent of the border agency. Here, the opposite problem seems to have occurred. You seem to have a Home Secretary-perhaps successive Home Office Ministers would be a fairer way of putting it-who wanted certain things to happen and applied pressure on the border agency to do so. You then end up in arguments about what was said to whom by whom because of that one-to-one relationship. In all the fuss that there was a few months ago about whether certain expectations were being bypassed to let people into the country and remove queues, would it not have been better for there to have been a supervisory board between the Home Secretary and the chief executive of the border agency where there would have been a record, minutes, and perhaps an opportunity for dissent to be expressed? All that would be missing in the arrangements for the National Crime Agency, which raises the question of whether we are not in danger of creating a structure where the Home Secretary has too much of a role in respect of a policing body.

In this country, we have always expressed real concern about politicians having direct operational control of policing. That is part of the reason why there was a little bit of debate about the creation of police and crime commissioners, but that debate has moved on and we are now well into the process with the Labour Party having today announced a selection of candidates for those positions that includes my noble friend Lord Prescott. The Labour Party will clearly have an excellent set of candidates and we wait to see whether the Conservative list will be quite as exciting or interesting. The reason that there was some concern about that and there is even more concern about a national agency directly under the control of a single politician is the danger that that power is abused. I am certainly not accusing the present Home Secretary of having any desire to abuse that power. I am simply saying that we are creating a structure where such an abuse is possible and that it might happen in future.

Imagine occasions when there is a considerable threat from some organised crime group or a terrorist organisation, if that is the direction that the new agency goes in, and it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to direct what the agency should do. The guarantees in the Bill for operational independence do not amount to very much in those circumstances. There is no place for control freakery here. This has to be about a proper system of governance. In a few years’ time, I would not want people to be making all sorts of sinister connections between policing operations that happen under the auspices of the National Crime Agency and saying that there are sinister implications that they have been personally directed or required by the Home Secretary, but that is the danger of the governance model that the Government have created.

My final point returns to what I mentioned in passing earlier. A critical part of this new agency will be the ability of the National Crime Agency to say that it wants local police forces to carry out or collaborate on particular operations. The danger of having a National Crime Agency that is divorced from the rest of the police structure is very real. I recall the discussions that took place over several years to try to get a system that worked on counterterrorism with primacy for one force and the ability to make operations happen across the country. It was not an easy process. The Government are making it more difficult for the director-general of the National Crime Agency if there are not police and crime commissioners or chief officers of police playing an active part in the governance of this new organisation. If they are there, if they are around the table and able to say, “This is a better way of doing that”, or to encourage the director-general to do things in a way that ensures their collaboration, that is surely going to mean that it is more likely that this new agency will succeed.

My noble friend’s amendments, which address precisely those points, are very welcome. There is a slight drafting error in that they make no reference to London, but I am sure that could be adjusted when we return to this at a later stage. The key issue that the Minister has to explain today is why this particular governance model has been put forward and why it is genuinely an improvement on a supervisory board which involves, for example, chief officers of police and police and crime commissioners.”

Tuesday
Jun 19,2012

Last month I reported on the Tory embarrassment that their flagship policy of elected Police and Crime Commissioners was starting to unravel for them.

Earlier today the Labour Party unveiled its list of selected candidates to fight the 41 elections in November.  The list is impressive and includes a number of former senior Ministers, along with the current Chair of the Association of Police Authorities and one of his predecessors.  A third of those selected are women and even in those areas where a Labour victory is frankly unlikely the Party has selected some serious and highly experienced individuals.

It remains to be seen whether the Tory list when it eventually emerges will be anything like as impressive.  For completeness, it is worth pointing out that the Liberal Democrats are likely only to contest a tiny handful of the available places.

Monday
Jun 11,2012

A former senior analyst to the US Secretary for Defense has warned that:

“Chinese companies apparently have a covert capability to remotely access communications technology sold to the United States and other Western countries and could disable a country’s telecommunications infrastructure before a military engagement.”

 Writing on Friday, F Michael Maloof reported that:

“The Chinese also have the ability to exploit networks “to enable China to continue to steal technology and trade secrets,” according to the open source intelligence company Lignet, which is comprised of former U.S. intelligence analysts.

The issue centers on the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which U.S. intelligence sources say has direct links to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. These sources assert that Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications firms such as ZTE Corp. have “electronic backdoors” to telecommunications technology sold to the U.S. and other countries.”

This is the same Huawei that I have reported before as providing key components to this country BT network and is being investigated by the US Congress but not by any equivalent UK body.

Huawei tell me that they are much-maligned and say that they are not linked to the People’s Liberation Army, but are just a private company trying to expand their business outside China.

In the UK the Government seems to be unconcerned that increasingly large parts of the country’s critical national infrastructure are under foreign ownership or are dependent for key components on overseas suppliers (there are a series of stories in yesterday’s Sunday Times behind its paywall about Chinese or Russian interests buying into the UK energy supply industry).

It is not clear why it can be assumed that these interests are necessarily benign and the UK Government doesn’t even seem to be interested in asking the question let alone doing anything about it.

How complacent can they get?

 

Monday
Jun 11,2012

Michael Gove is to announce a new primary school curriculum.

Apparently, this will involve five-year-olds being required to learn poetry by heart and recite it aloud.  According to the Telegraph:

“Education Secretary Michael Gove will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week.

At the same time, Mr Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.

Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.

The Education Secretary is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school ”far more rigorous” than it is at present.  …

It will also emphasise the importance of grammar in mastering the language, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling as well as lists of words they should be able to spell.”

Whilst I am not convinced about the value of reciting poetry, nor about learning Latin and (ancient) Greek, I do think that there is much to be said for instilling the basics of language in all primary age children.

There will also be a commitment to making sure pupils have some basic skills in maths and science:

“Pupils will be expected to memorise their tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, and be able to multiply and divide fractions by the end of primary school under a major shake-up of the national curriculum.

Using decimals and basic arithmetic are also set to be a main focus of maths lessons in the future, a move which ministers said will help to raise standards in England’s schools.

In science, primary school children will be taught about key concepts such as static electricity, the solar system and how to name and classify objects in biology.”

That too is welcome.  But does it go far enough?

Earlier this year, John Naughton argued in the Guardian that:

“Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.  …

We need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products”

There are developments like Raspberry Pi that are intended to provide a cheap and accessible platform for young children to learn simple programming.
The hope is that Gove will recognise that revitalising the primary school curriculum is about equipping today’s under-11s not with the skills their grandparents and great-grandparents may have learned, but the skills that they will need to grow up in the 2020s and 2030s.  And that those skills can be the basis for the UK’s future economic growth.
Poetry has its place, but programming is the future.
Monday
May 28,2012

Today was the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on the Crime and Courts Bill, which amongst other things creates the new National Crime Agency.

This was my speech:

“My Lords, I should declare my interests as chair of the Audit Panel for the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and as an adviser to KPMG, Airwave Solutions, Lockheed Martin UK and a number of other companies that provide services to police forces around the country. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in the debate. I, too, want to speak primarily about Part 1 and the new National Crime Agency.

The Government’s intention to create a National Crime Agency has been known about for almost two years. However, we have yet to hear a clear explanation of what the problem is with the existing arrangements that these changes are required to fix. I am sure that the Government’s policy is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but perhaps it goes a bit further than that by saying, “Even if it doesn’t need fixing, take it to pieces anyway”, because we are not at all clear about which problems will be solved by these reorganisations. Given that the Government’s intentions have been clear for the past two years, we have to ask what has been going on during that period. We still do not have a definitive version of the strategic policing requirement, and we do not see any sign of the NCA framework document, even in draft, although it is pivotal to understanding how the new arrangements will work.

My understanding is that, because of this pending reorganisation, senior people in SOCA and the other agencies have spent the past two years sitting in meetings arguing with officials from the Home Office and other bodies rather than devoting themselves to their main purpose, which is that of fighting serious and organised crime. But all the meetings that have taken place over the past two years seem to have failed to produce anything definitive on how the new arrangements are supposed to work. What we are told about the likely organisational structure suggests that we are going to have a series of silos that are spatchcocked together. If that is all it is, frankly it is not clear why the reorganisation is better than a general injunction on the different organisations that currently exist to work together better. Moreover, there remains a lack of clarity about one of the central issues as to how the agency is going to work—a lack of clarity about the powers of tasking and co-ordination, whether voluntary or mandated.

We spent many happy months in your Lordships’ House discussing the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. That Act clearly states, as does the policing protocol, that elected police and crime commissioners are responsible for the totality of policing within their jurisdiction and that they alone are publicly accountable for the delivery and performance of policing. That responsibility is placed clearly in their hands on behalf of the electorate.

Under this Bill, directed tasking arrangements allow the Home Secretary to empower the director-general of the NCA and allow the director-general of the NCA to task police forces and other law enforcement agencies to carry out specific activity. While the PCC would have to be notified when such a direction is initiated, this tasking would in practice interfere with the operational independence of the chief officer as set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, and interfere with the police and crime commissioner’s responsibility for the totality of policing. My prediction is that, unless this is handled correctly and there is rather more substance to it than is contained in the Bill, conflict is going to be inevitable.

The whole point of these new accountability arrangements created by the Government is that police and crime commissioners will be elected with a mandate to deliver in respect of local concerns. That is what they are there to do. What is going to happen when the elected police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or some such place decides that his or her number one priority is going to be addressing volume street crime in Loamshire and its larger towns and yet suddenly there is a directive to divert resources from Loamshire to somewhere else to help deal with particular problems of organised crime, when for the public of Loamshire—the electorate that elect the police and crime commissioner—organised crime is not a particular issue facing that local community? How that is going to be managed is not clear from the Bill.

Indeed, the whole Bill poses a series of questions. Who is accountable to the public for activity that is being directed? When things go wrong—as they will—is the Home Secretary or the NCA director-general liable for any repercussions from this activity? How is this going to interfere with the PCC’s setting of local strategic priorities and indeed that accountability of PCCs to the public that the Government tell us is so critical? Will the police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or for any other area be able to veto a direction using his or her powers? Presumably that will be the case if it is a voluntary direction because that is my understanding of what “voluntary” means. What if it is not? What are the implications if the chief officer of police accepts a voluntary direction but his or her police and crime commissioner says, “No, I do not think that is in the interests of our local community, which I am elected to defend”? How is that going to be resolved? Who will be responsible under those circumstances?

Of course, the Government have got a let-out clause, as you would expect. I am sure the Minister is aware of paragraph 30 of Schedule 3, which gives the Home Secretary the power to amend the requirement to get prior consent before issuing directions. So we are actually being told that this is not going to be voluntary but there will be this power to dispense with the requirement to have prior consent. I suggest that this is going to create more conflict and more difficulties. Again, perhaps it is not very helpful that the detail has not yet been worked out.

This situation is made all the stranger when you observe that this new agency seems to have virtually no governance arrangements. The director-general reports and is accountable to the Home Secretary, who is in turn accountable to Parliament. There is no board; there are no non-executives; there are not even a few token elected police and crime commissioners sitting in that structure perhaps to provide some coherence with the expressed wish of the local electorate about police and crime priorities. There is no mechanism for scrutinising what is happening. Even the elected police and crime commissioners—which some of us were not hugely enamoured of—had these scrutiny arrangements created within the local authority structure. There is no parallel here.

Of course, the legislation contains promises that the director-general will be operationally independent, but what will that amount to in practice? How will it be enforced, and who is going to scrutinise that operational independence in the absence of any of those governance structures? Let us be clear: operational independence is not all that it might appear or be cracked up to be. It certainly does not apply to policing equipment. I suspect that most chief officers of police would think that their choice of equipment is very much part of their operational decision-making. I do not personally always agree with them on that, but paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations on the use of specified equipment and the NCA director-general will be required to comply. There is not much operational independence there. This is the Home Secretary, to whom he or she is accountable, saying, “You will or will not use this type of equipment”. That hardly sounds like operational independence to me.

Then there are the very strange provisions under paragraph 4 of Schedule 5. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will explain to us precisely why these are here. Paragraph 4 creates an advisory panel; a new quango, if you like—from a Government who promised us a “bonfire of the quangos”—and what is this new advisory panel going to do? It is going to give advice to the Home Secretary on whether the director-general has sufficient training to carry out his operational powers. I wonder where they dream up things like this—which cellar in the Home Office is responsible for thinking up new committees to do this sort of thing.

This proposal is certainly not a carry-over from the legislation that created the Serious Organised Crime Agency, because it was not thought necessary to have an advisory panel to decide whether or not the director-general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency had the necessary training to carry out their operational functions. So why is it here? Is it because the Home Secretary is planning to replace the current director-general with an individual whose qualifications are so questionable that a panel is needed to test them? That is as may be, but paragraph 5 explains how the Home Secretary can ignore the advice of that panel under any circumstances.

We have to question what model of organisation was used for devising the governance structures for the National Crime Agency. The best example of that, one with which the Home Office is intimately familiar, is the relationship between the Home Secretary and that paragon of effective service delivery, the UK Border Agency. That relationship has worked so well in recent months, between the Ministers and the people with executive responsibility of the agency concerned—two impossible demands before breakfast and the agency, of course, has to comply.

Finally, I will say a word about Clause 2, which allows the Home Secretary by order—admittedly subject to the super-affirmative procedure—to add counterterrorism to the functions of the National Crime Agency. I have to question whether a decision of that magnitude should properly be done simply by order. Let us also be clear: if counterterrorism becomes part of the functions of the National Crime Agency, it will totally transform the National Crime Agency. This body that has taken two years in gestation merely to talk about a series of organisational silos spatchcocked together will suddenly have spatchcocked onto it an even larger organisation completely distorting and changing the priorities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, it may or may not make sense ultimately to have counterterrorism as a function of a national agency of that form. However, having been involved in the convoluted discussions to get the current structure in place, I think you have to be very clear about the case you are making before you embark on those changes and very clear about why you want to go ahead with them. The experience in other countries—according to the FBI, for example—is not always a happy one in terms of relationships with local forces regarding counterterrorism. There is a real danger of divorcing a counterterrorism elite squad from ordinary policing, not only in terms of intelligence but also in managing community relations following operational decisions.

I am sure the intentions of the Bill are fine. The Government had two years to move from intentions to detailed proposals but in those two years we have yet to see the fruits of their labour and to understand exactly how these new arrangements are intended to work.”