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Archive for the ‘Education and young people’ Category

Tuesday
Feb 7,2012

The last hour of business in the House of Lords last night was given over to a – by Lords’ standards – bad-tempered debate on an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

The Government is proposing that certain categories of people who work closely with children need not be checked to see if they are on the barred list that says whether they are known to be a danger to children.  In particular, they will not be checked if they are subject to “supervision”.

The amendment was moved by Lord Bichard, who led the inquiry into the Soham murders, who said:

“Everyone in this House understands that one of the most difficult responsibilities for any Government is to manage risk, whether that risk is the security of our nation or the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities because very few risks of any significance can be entirely eliminated, and decisions must therefore be made about what is an acceptable-sometimes an unavoidable-level of risk, and what action is proportionate in seeking to minimise that risk.

That is why I emphasised two things when I published my report on the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley in Soham: first, that we cannot create a risk-free society; secondly, that the steps we take to minimise risk should be proportionate. For those reasons, I very much sympathise with and support the Government in seeking to strike the right balance in this very difficult area. Some reduction in the level of bureaucracy associated with vetting and barring is necessary and achievable, and I welcome the Government’s attempts to do so. However, I cannot agree that these clauses strike the right balance, even with the amendments tabled by the Minister or by other noble Lords in this House. That is why I am moving this amendment.

To be clear, these clauses relate to those who train, supervise, teach or instruct children outside a specified place, such as a school or a children’s home, or to those who are unpaid volunteers in whatever setting. In such circumstances, a person will not in future need to be CRB checked if they are under the supervision of another person who is engaging in a regulated activity and is therefore subject to CRB checks. We can, and probably will, debate how close or intensive that supervision should be. My contention, inconvenient though it may be for those of us who want to reduce the level of bureaucracy, is that no amount or quality of supervision can be sufficient to prevent someone developing a bond of trust with a child that he or she can then exploit at a time when they are free of that supervision. That is how grooming takes place.

The internet provides enhanced opportunities for the bond of trust, once established, to be inappropriately exploited. Therefore, the focus of our concerns should be not on the quality, intensity or nature of the supervision but on whether the person involved in training, instruction, teaching or supervision presents a risk to the child. They should therefore continue to be subject to checks that can help establish whether
they are a risk to children. This will hold out some hope that we can prevent them gaining privileged access to children.

We know that checks cannot be foolproof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision. They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted-not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered. That is why supervision can never be enough, and why sometimes we have to place the safety of our children before our desire to minimise regulation and bureaucracy. I hope that that is what we will do this evening. If we do not, I fear that we will very quickly find that dangerous adults will realise that there are some settings and some ways in which it will be easier in future for them to gain access to vulnerable children. The people we are talking about are manipulative and clever. They will take advantage of those opportunities.”

Finally, I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm this evening that the Act will do nothing to prevent organisations, with their local knowledge, making checks where they think they are required. For example, a school with its local knowledge will be able to carry on checking volunteers if it believes that that is necessary and good practice.”

In support, I said:

“It is unfortunate that we are debating these amendments at this time of night in a fairly sparse Chamber. I fear that in a few years time people will look back on this debate and say, “Why did Parliament not do more? Why was Parliament so happy to allow those changes to go through without further checks and cautions?”. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, for his amendments. He is quite right to say that a balance has to be struck and that no system will necessarily protect all children against abuse and against predators. However, the omission that is being created by this Bill is enormous. It is saying that if a volunteer, or someone working with children, is subject to supervision, they do not have to be checked at all. The reality is that parents send their child to a school or a club because they assume that it is a safe place. They assume, therefore, that the people who will be in contact with their child at that school, that club or that activity are also safe. I suspect that unless they pore over the details of our debate, which I am sure is not the case, they will assume that all those people are being checked against these registers and lists. Of course they will not be. They are volunteers or they are under the day-to-day supervision that is envisaged.


The reality is that children coming into contact with those adults will again assume that they are safe. The bond of trust, and it does not have to be a very strong bond, will be built up and created. When they see that individual elsewhere, perhaps in the town centre, loitering near their school or wherever it may be, they will assume that that person is as safe for them there as in the supervised context. That is why such an important gap is being created by this legislation. I know that the Government have moved significantly in terms of the amendment they have tabled about supervision being,

“as is reasonable in all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”.

I wonder whether that is really going to be sufficient. Is it really going to provide the protection that is needed? Is it, for example, going to ensure that the individuals concerned never offer their e-mail address, their Facebook page or their BlackBerry messenger identity to children? How can it do that if that offer is made not on the premises of the school or the club or outside the activity concerned? There will be no way of knowing whether that happens. However good the supervision may be inside that school, that club, or during the activities concerned, there will be no way of preventing that bond of trust being created and therefore the vulnerability of that child meeting that individual again outside that school, that club, or that activity. That is where the danger is going to be created.

As I said, most parents will assume that that school, that club or that activity is safe. They will assume that the people there, whom their child will encounter, will be safe, but the Government in this legislation are removing that security in saying, “We’re not guaranteeing that. All we’re guaranteeing is that physically while your child is in that environment, those people are supervised and therefore no abuse can take place”. The real, persistent danger of people who are extremely clever and extremely manipulative in getting access to children is not that they are going to do whatever they do in front of other adults or in the school or club or during the activity time. They will want to do it away from those settings, and they will do it because they have built up that bond of trust. I appeal to the Minister. It may be that he can give us enough reassurances about what,”

    “all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”,

will amount to, but I doubt whether those assurances can ever protect that trust. The only way that that can be achieved is by not drawing this distinction in this way but by accepting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard.”

It was also supported by Baroness Howarth of Breckland, former Chief Executive of ChildLine, who said:

“I want to concentrate on the people who are likely to abuse. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, of which I have been a trustee for some 20 years. It is the organisation that pioneered the work in grooming and understanding the nature of abusers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, there is no doubt that these individuals will see this as open season on children-and I choose my words carefully. I have probably been involved with more of these men than most-some women, but mostly men-and so I know just how deceitful, clever, manipulative and strategic they are. They have a long view. These individuals do not just move in, see a child and think they are going to abuse them; they plan their moves carefully. There has been talk about building trust, but when a teacher can systematically abuse a child in a classroom, as in a recent case, noble Lords should take that as an example of what these kind of individuals can do, and then recognise that there are others right across the country who are thinking at this moment, “Will there be another opening for me to reach a child?”.

I have also worked with victims of that abuse. Imagine it was your son or daughter who had been buggered or raped by one of these people, who had gained their trust. The child or young person involved believes that they are implicated-the trust means that they carry the guilt. This is why often these youngsters will not come forward early, but if you talk to rape crisis lines or the people who deal with adult abusers, time after time they will tell you how the guilt kept them from telling. Research may show that if you talk to young people there is less of it, but many youngsters will not say that it is happening to them because they have that guilt.

As far as supervised access is concerned, anyone who has recently been to any of the youth provision that is around will know how hectic it is-properly so, for young people enjoying themselves-and that “supervision” is a strange word. In fact, you are just about maintaining the peace in some of these organisations. It is very easy for these individuals to make contact with the young people. As has already been said, modern technology makes it even easier.

I can see the Minister sitting there thinking, “We have heard all this before; we have our position”. But I would say to him that if you really care about our nation’s children and what happens to them in their adulthood after these incidents have happened, when they are unable to make relationships, when their marriages break down, when they have problems with their own children, when they end up in mental hospitals or in prison-if you look at any of those cohorts you will find that a lot of these youngsters have been abused-then you will find a way to absolutely ensure that it is not as loose as this. Anyone who is likely to abuse a child must be able to be checked so that certainty can be held by a parent and indeed by the child-and in some ways by the individual themselves because the abuser’s life is destroyed as well if they are not helped to not go through all of this. I hope the Minister will do so.”

 The Government Minister, Lord Henley, had a difficult time in replying to the debate, but resisted accepting the points made:
“9.45 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked that I should take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in moving his amendment. I can give him, the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, an assurance that I will do that. Our time goes back a long way to when I served with the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, in the former Department for Education and Employment and I hope that we both have a great deal of respect for each other.

I echo the introductory words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when he said-this is important-that we cannot completely eliminate risk. We understand that. He also made the point that we must be proportionate in how we manage these matters and accept that we must try to reduce bureaucracy as and where we can. I was grateful for the wise words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she referred to the need to reduce the unnecessary CRB checks that were taking place.

It is important for us to remember that it is a question of balance. It is one that we can never get absolutely and completely right and we will probably have to go on arguing almost until the cows come home before we can resolve these matters. We should try to get it right, but the balance will be perceived differently between one individual and another.

By way of background, I reiterate that the Government believe, as do many outside bodies, that by scaling back the scope of regulated activity, and thus disclosure and the barring scheme, we can strike a better balance between the role of the state and that of employers or other organisations in protecting the vulnerable. Both have a role to play.

Clause 64 and the amendments to it provide that certain activity, which would be within the scope of regulated activity in relation to children when unsupervised, will not constitute regulated activity when it is subject to day-to-day supervision. An example was given to me-I think by my noble friend Lady Walmsley-of a technician in a school. He certainly would be covered. The amendments take us back to the wider scope of regulated activity as it existed under the previous Administration.

Baroness Walmsley: In a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, of 1 February, the noble Lord suggested that an IT technician would not be regulated.

Lord Henley: The noble Baroness has caught me out and has got the letter that I wrote. I shall have to look again at the letter I sent to my noble friend and check that. I take back what I said but my understanding is that that is not the case. However, obviously I have got that wrong.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Would the technician be covered?

Lord Henley: My Lords, if my letter-written with the great authority of myself-said that he would not, obviously he would not. However, my understanding-I have obviously got it wrong and I will have to look very carefully at that letter-is that he would be covered in a school. Perhaps I may look at the letter and then get back to my noble friend.

Baroness Randerson: To clarify the situation, my recollection of the Minister’s letter is that he would be covered in a school but not in a college.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to my noble friend for that correction. My noble friend Lady Stowell has just reminded me that there is a strong distinction between schools and FE colleges. For that reason I think it is very important. Oh, dear, I have to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Can he wait and let me finish my remarks? Calm down, as they say. I shall look very carefully at what I said. Obviously there is an important distinction between the two. I now give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: All I would ask is that when the noble Lord is looking very carefully to clarify that distinction he also looks at the situation of the large numbers of volunteer assistants in schools and volunteers used for out-of-school activities linked to the school-for example, to interest children in science, since we have been talking about technicians, but it could also be in art or other activities-to see whether they would be covered.

Lord Henley: Of course I will look at those matters and respond to my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Walmsley. I will even send a copy of that letter to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in due course.

Let us return to the amendments because that is the important thing to do. I suspect this might now have to be the last amendment that we can deal with. In putting forward the amendment, the noble Lord has questioned whether we are confident that any supervision would be adequate to protect these children. In making the case for these amendments, reference has been made to the concept of secondary access. Some commentators imply a unique causal link between initial contact with the child and later contact elsewhere if the first is the place where most work is regulated activity. We do not accept that premise. Initial contact may happen where regulated activity takes place or it may happen in some other setting, such as a leisure centre, library, church or wherever. In our view, one type of setting does not offer significantly more help than any other for seeking contact with the same child later and elsewhere. Whatever the setting, we believe that parents have the primary responsibility for educating their child in how to react to an approach from any adult if it goes beyond that adult’s normal role. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if there was a CRB check showing that an individual was dangerous to children, it would not be noted because this was supervised contact? That person could then contact a child through all the known mechanisms, which parents are totally unable to deal with, and abuse that child. Do the Government believe that it is acceptable that that should happen?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept the noble Baroness’s great experience in these matters. She is pointing to an occasion where a CRB check has been taken out on an individual and it becomes clear that they are not suitable to be employed in the school or wherever. In that case they are not going to be. So I do not quite see the point that she is making. Do I give way to the noble Baroness again? We must get this right.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I was saying that the Government do not take responsibility for secondary contact. The problem is that we are not necessarily talking about a school; we are talking about youth facilities where trust is built up between a young person and a child and where supervision may take place but not the kind of supervision that can have oversight at every moment. A CRB check might well show that one of the volunteers in that setting is dangerous. At the moment those CRB checks would be taken up. But the person concerned might make contact outside the primary setting. That at the moment is covered and children and young people are safe. Under the new situation it seems to me that they will not be safe.

Lord Henley: I do not accept that. Let me see if I can get this right. I think what the noble Baroness is trying to imply is that any number of checks will provide the safeguard. I do not think that safeguard would be provided by a CRB check in the particular case that she outlines because we have now moved on to some secondary setting. Does the noble Baroness follow me?

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: To clarify the point, if a CRB check has not been taken out because this is a supervised setting and the volunteers are supposed to be supervised, and the person is actually an abuser who could have been identified by a CRB check, under the new provisions will that person no longer be checked and therefore be able to build up a position of trust with a child which, in a secondary setting, they could abuse?

Lord Henley: Will the noble Baroness accept that there is also a role for the parents in terms of the guidance that they offer their children in that role as well? That was the point that I was trying to get over. I shall give way again.

The Archbishop of York: I go back to the Soham murders. Huntley happened to be a caretaker and these girls trusted him because he was the caretaker and they had seen him in school. On that day, there was no supervision. What happened to those girls? I would rather be on the side of stricter rules and in time try to water them down a bit than assume that, because someone is in a supervised role, they cannot do something worse when they are in an unsupervised role. The word “supervision” is very loose. Unless it is tightened up, people like me will still be left worrying about what happened to those girls. The caretaker was not in a supervised role at that particular point and that is when he did it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, on the contrary, it would be covered now, and following the changes that we are going to make it would still be covered. He was not covered by what was in place before and that is how he slipped through the net. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, was asked to set up his review into these matters and why the changes were made. The point that we are trying to make is that the changes have gone too far-this was the point also made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss-in terms of the bureaucracy involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put it, one can never totally eliminate risk and there has to be a degree of balance in how one deals with these matters. One must be proportionate. Merely to think that any number of checks imposed by the state is going to eliminate all risk is, I suspect, a wish too far. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He said a few moments ago that there is a responsibility for parents in this. The difficulty is that the normal assumption of parents will be that every person whom their child comes into contact with in a club or other activity is safe. So presumably what the noble Lord is saying is that, in the guidance that will explain what all this means, parents will be provided with a list. It will say, “The following people whom your child comes into contact with have been checked and the others on the list have not been checked. Please advise your children not to have any contact outside this activity”. That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. Of course parents have a responsibility, but what the Government are doing is creating a situation in which parents will think that an environment is safe, but it is not because some individuals will not have been checked and those individuals may build up a relationship of trust with a child that they could choose to abuse at secondary contact.

Lord Henley: The noble Lord may say what he wishes, but he should not try to put words into my mouth, which is what he is trying to do. He is trying to suggest that we could tell all parents exactly who is safe and who is unsafe. Obviously we cannot do that. What we are trying to do is create a system that will provide the necessary safeguards but does not make parents feel that their children are automatically safe. Parents must still have the duty of looking after their children by warning them of potential dangers. They should not assume that merely because someone has been CRB-checked, merely because the process has been gone through and merely because every box has been ticked, which is what the noble Lord seems to suggest, all is safe.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords-

Lord Henley: I am not going to give way to the noble Lord. I am going to get on with my speech. If the noble Lord will allow me to do so, I will continue.

These amendments seek to preserve what we believe is a disproportionate disclosure and barring scheme that covers the employees and volunteers far more than is actually necessary on this occasion for safeguarding purposes. In so doing, it subjects all the businesses, organisations and whatever to unnecessary red tape and discourages volunteering. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, also made the important point of whether it would still be open to schools, organisations and businesses to continue to check volunteers and others. Of course they can, and we will ensure that they are still able to request the enhanced CRB certificate when necessary. We want to emphasise the importance of good sense and judgment by the managers on the ground when they look at this issue. That is at the heart of our proposal and it is why we think we have got the balance right. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is now looking somewhat quizzical but no doubt we can have further discussion about this between now and another stage.

The right thing is to get the correct balance in how one looks at these things. The noble Lord asked about schools and what they could do. This gives local managers the ability to determine these things flexibly and make extra checks. With the various interruptions I have had, I appreciate the slight muddle I got into earlier over the letter to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. There has been a degree of confusion here.

Baroness Walmsley: Will my noble friend give way?

Lord Henley: Can I just continue these matters? I hope that I have answered most of the points that the noble Lord put forward and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: I am grateful to my noble friend. Could he just clarify one point? The volunteers we are talking about here are the volunteers who see children on a regular basis. That is correct, is it not?

Lord Henley: Correct.

Baroness Walmsley: I have one second point before my noble friend rises to answer. I accept that people who are not regulated can still be CRB-checked but the employer cannot get barring information. Unless the person has committed a crime and got on the police records in that way, the employer who voluntarily carries out a CRB check still does not know if that person has been barred. I understand that Sir Roger Singleton claims that 20 per cent of the people on the barred list have never been in contact with the police. Could my noble friend clarify that?

Lord Henley: May I write to my noble friend on that final point to make sure that I get it right? I will make sure that I look at my letter with the greatest care before sending it off to make sure that I have got it right. No doubt we will come back to this at a later stage. Meanwhile, I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Could I just put one question to the Minister? I preface it with the fact that I congratulated the Government-and still do-on the laudable effort to cut through a great deal of this red tape. I said that I share the concern right round the House about secondary access. I urge the Minister to go away and look at what we have said. It may be that some areas of secondary access could be differentiated from others-I do not know. He said that he might talk about it later. I urge him to do so.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if the noble and learned Baroness asks me to do that, then of course I will. It is obviously very important to get these things right-I want to get them right. Again, it is always a question of getting the balance right. That is what we are trying to do this evening. As I said, I suspect that the noble Lord may want to come back to this at a later stage. We will see. In the mean time, I hope that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the risk of straining my noble friend’s patience-he has been very patient-he offered to come back on points that have arisen today. It is obvious that we are going to continue this subject with the next group of amendments, which we will come to next week. It would be extremely helpful if the noble Lord responded, as he has offered to do, not just before Third Reading but before we return to this next week. He may not wish to give an undertaking to that effect but I leave him with that thought. As the debate has gone on, I have made more and more notes on his Amendment 50A, which will be the first amendment next Wednesday.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not know whether it will be next Wednesday when we come back to this. I remind the House again that we are on Report not in Committee, and I think I have been interrupted and intervened upon more than one would expect. I will try to write to my noble friend before the next day on Report on this Bill. Whether it will be next week, I do not know.”

I hope we will be able to return to the issue at Third Reading, although for procedural reasons it is not clear whether this will be possible.
Wednesday
Jan 25,2012

I was in meetings most of the day and did not get a chance to catch up on Prime Minister’s Questions.  Having seen the letter that Ed Miliband has sent to the Prime Minister, I am not sure I’ll bother.

The list of inaccurate claims made by David Cameron is extraordinary.  If any other politician was this “misleading” in their answers, they would be pilloried in the newspapers the following day.  However, I am not holding my breath.

Here is the text of Ed Miliband’s letter:

“Dear Prime Minister,

I wanted to write following this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions to draw your attention to some inaccurate claims you made today.

In an answer to me, you said that “There are more people in work today than there were at the time of the last election”. In fact, the most recent employment figures from the Office for National Statistics show that total employment between May-July 2010 and September-November 2011 fell by 26,000.

In an answer to Lindsay Roy MP, you said that the Merlin agreement “actually led to an increase in bank lending last year”. In fact, the latest Trends in Lending report from the Bank of England, published last Friday, said that “the stock of lending to SMEs contracted between end-April and end-November 2011”.

In an answer to Paul Maynard MP, you spoke of “the real shame… that there are so many millions of children who live in households where nobody works and indeed that number doubled under the previous government”. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of children living in workless households fell by 372,000 between April-June 1997 and April-June 2010.

In an answer to Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP, who said that your Government was planning to cut benefits to disabled children, you said that “The Hon Lady is wrong”. In fact, according to page 28 of the Department for Work and Pensions’ own impact assessment on the introduction of universal credit, your policy of mirroring for disabled children the current adult eligibility for Disability Living Allowance means that the rate paid to those disabled children who do not qualify for the highest rate of the DLA care component “would be less than now (£26.75 instead of £53.84)”.

I am sure that you will want to take this opportunity to correct the record.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Miliband”

And  – just for the record – here are the sources:

1) Employment statistics: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/january-2012/table-a02.xls  And see also: http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-nailed-on-job-claims/9250

2) Bank lending – Bank of England “Trends in Lending” report (see p.4): http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/other/monetary/TrendsJanuary12.pdf

3) Figures for children in workless households: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/working-and-workless-households/2011/table-k.xls

4) Disabled children’s benefits – DWP impact assessment on universal credit (see p. 28):  http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/universal-credit-wr2011-ia.pdf

Thursday
Jan 12,2012

This is a piece I have written for the Mayor Watch blog on the occasion of today’s last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority:

“The Metropolitan Police Authority was established in July 2000 as a by-product of the legislation that also created the London Mayoralty, the GLA and the London Assembly.  Until then the Metropolitan Police had been solely accountable to the Home Secretary, who was uniquely the Police Authority for London.

The MPA is now to be abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) as a by-product of the legislation that will see Policing and Crime Commissioners elected outside London in November.

The MPA’s final meeting is taking place today and the MOPC will take over responsibility on Monday 16th January.

So what did the MPA achieve in its eleven and a half years of existence?

The early years of the MPA saw a dramatic transformation in the Metropolitan Police. In 2000 morale in the Service was poor, more officers left the Met each month than joined (police numbers had declined each year for a decade), public confidence was low, financial controls were virtually non-existent (the Met had no system for telling if bills had been paid more than once) and the quality of many serious investigations was poor.  The first tasks of the new Authority included the introduction of financial controls and discipline; establishing a new culture of openness and accountability; and reversing the decline in the number of police officers so that the MPS saw the most significant increase in its size in its history.

This was followed by a sustained focus on turning round street crime and cutting burglary.  The MPA led the way nationally on the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and then the setting up of the first Safer Neighbourhood Teams before rolling them out across London.

This contribution led to a general increase in public confidence in the police service, but specific initiatives led by the MPA on stop and search, on hate crime, and on recruitment and retention of black and minority officers also changed perceptions of the Met.

Inevitably, the direction of travel changed somewhat with a change in administration in City Hall after the 2008 elections, but the MPA continued to deliver a much clearer visible accountability of the police in London than had existed before.

Certainly, throughout its life the MPA has ensured that far more information about the policing of London has been put in the public domain.  The MPA also meant that the Commissioner and senior officers were seen to answer questions in public at full Authority meetings and at its Committees.  And this was supplemented by detailed MPA scrutinies ranging from rape investigation and victim care to counter-terrorism policing, crime data recording to mental health policing, and landmark reports on the Stockwell shooting, of the Race and Faith Inquiry, and on public order policing.

So will all this disappear with the MOPC?

The first thing to emphasise is that London’s model will – as ever – be different from that in the rest of the country.  There will not be a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner.  Instead, the functions will be carried out by the MOPC, led by an appointed Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.

The policing priorities will be set by the MOPC and it remains to be seen how much these will change from those previously set by the MPA with its more widely drawn membership.

The real danger is, of course, that much of the visible accountability and answerability will be lost.  Some will be provided by the London Assembly who will have a new and enhanced role in respect of policing and crime, but their focus – as envisaged by the new statute – will be very much on the MOPC and not on the police service itself.

How this will develop will depend on the personalities involved – both at the MOPC and on the Assembly – and on the willingness of the Met itself to be open and transparent.  There are certainly no guarantees on any of this, yet police accountability in the capital will remain as important as ever – as the events of the last few months have demonstrated.

Perhaps the message is watch this space.”

 

Sunday
Nov 27,2011

The Wall Street Journal reports that:

“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.

Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.

Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”

I first started raising these concerns more than seven years ago, pointing out in a debate in the House of Lords on the 9th December 2004:

“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences.  Indeed, the Coastguard Service was laid low by the “Sasser” worm in May this year.

The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “

At the time, I was assured that there was no intelligence to suggest that such a threat was significant.  The then junior Home Office Minister, Lord Steve Bassam, now no less a person (if such a thing were possible) than the Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords, said:

“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”

Of course, in the intervening seven years there has been a burgeoning realisation of an increasing number of cyber-threats and, if there is now intelligence to suggest that international terrorists are thinking in that way, I take no satisfaction from having predicted it in 2004.

What is important is that the substantial resources provided to GCHQ under the Government’s new Cyber Security Strategy, published last week, are used effectively to combat the threat. GCHQ and the other intelligence agencies are to get 59% of the £650 million that the Government has allocated to cyber security over the next three years.  It is unlikely that there will ever be much detail published as to how the resources are used, so we can only hope ….

Friday
Nov 25,2011

I spent part of yesterday evening at the official opening of The Grange building at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus.  The £80 million building and its facilities are hugely impressive and must be some of the country’s best for the creative arts, and include:

  • two HD TV studios designed, equipped and built by Sony
  • digital darkrooms, digital media workshops, photographic studios and avid suites
  • specialist workshops for wood, metal, plastics, CAD, CAM, ceramics. glass, screenprint, etching, letterpress, sound interaction, electronics, laser cutting and digital print
  • specialist studios for animation, 3D animation, fashion, fine art, graphic design, illustration, interior architeture, interior design, jewellery, photography and textiles.

The creativity that these have already spawned were on display throughout the building.

Over the last few years, I have watched the whole Hendon campus develop and grow, so that it is now an enormous asset for London and the country, nurturing and unlocking the talent of its students – who go on to become some of the best paid graduates emerging from the country’s universities and to make their contribution to the UK’s future prosperity.

Wednesday
Nov 9,2011

Tonight the House of Lords debated the Protection of Freedoms Bill.  This was my contribution:

“My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I fear I may be spoiling the consensus that seems to have emerged as to what a wonderful Bill this is. This is a very grandiosely entitled Bill: “Protection of Freedoms”, no less. I am sure that when the title was chosen the Deputy Prime Minister had visions that, like the authors of the Magna Carta, seven centuries on, his creature would still be seen as a cornerstone of British liberties.

Frankly, he can dream on. This Bill is a mish-mash of ill-sorted provisions, a mish-mash without any overarching or underpinning philosophy and, worst of all, a mish-mash that will bring about unintended and damaging consequences. Balancing the civil liberties of the individual against the security of the state and the protection of the lives and well-being of other individuals is never an easy task and I wish that I could be confident that that balance has been appropriately struck in this Bill. Let us take, for example, Part 5, which makes major changes to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who is not in her place, will remember the time spent in this House trying to ensure that children and vulnerable adults were properly protected against those who might harm them.

When we hear from organisations, such as Fair Play for Children, that this Bill introduces,

“elements of serious risk to children”,

we need to consider the points with very great care. The Government say that the arrangements under the 2006 Act were too complicated and onerous for those who had to implement them. Yet the people who will have to implement this Bill say that its provisions do not reduce or simplify the current system and that it runs the risk of sowing considerable confusion and unnecessary complexity.

There is no evidential basis for these changes. There is to be no pilot and what is being done throws away the broad cross-party consensus on which the previous legislation was based. A major concern lies in the proposed definition of what constitutes supervision in respect of affected activities. This remains worryingly vague. One suggestion is that the definition of supervision should be “line of sight”. This is so vague as to be frankly laughable and out of touch with daily realities. If the activity stays in one or perhaps two rooms and there are two staff or supervisors to monitor all volunteers, perhaps that would be possible. But in a multi-feature environment where there is outdoor activity, and in many other situations, it will be next to impossible for many organisations to provide that level of supervision. It will result in increased costs and/or a restricted number of activities, and, no doubt, fewer volunteers involved and fewer children benefiting.

In any event, supervision misses the point. The supervised activities of a volunteer are one thing but it is precisely during those activities that the trust of the child with that individual is created. It is that trust that makes possible unsupervised contact and the risks that that brings with that trust being exploited and betrayed. Of course, the risk of such exploitation and betrayal taking place during supervised activities can be reduced by good supervision. But what of the contact outside the supervised activity? The child now trusts that adult because they have encountered them in the supervised activity. But that trust is where the potential for abuse is created outside that secure environment.

That is an example of where the balance is being struck wrongly. It is based on the false belief that the bureaucracy involved is stifling volunteering. Fair Play for Children surveyed its member groups and found that more than half believe that the existing vetting arrangements have improved their overall practice. In only one instance in 200 did a group report that the arrangements had made it more difficult to recruit volunteers. Most parents will say that when they hand over their children they want the reassurance that the adults who their children will encounter have been properly vetted. Do the Government really want to put the rights of the potential paedophile above those of the child? That is just one part of an ill-thought-out Bill.

Part 4 reduces the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects from 28 to 14 days. The periods of detention longer than 14 days have been used extremely sparingly and are subject to judicial approval, which has not always been given. The Government, moreover, acknowledge that sometimes a longer period—up to 28 days—may be necessary, presumably because of the nature and complexity of some counterterrorism investigations.

If circumstances require it, it is proposed that the Home Secretary comes to Parliament to introduce emergency legislation to reinstate the longer detention power. That has to be nonsense. It means that during—I repeat, during—a terrorism investigation, the police and security services may have to ask Parliament to be recalled to debate an issue that it cannot discuss without prejudicing a future trial. The remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, are extremely pertinent on this point. Ministers recognise that 28 days may be necessary to investigate or avert a serious terrorist threat, but none the less intend to remove the power, even though there is no evidence that the power has ever been misused.

Part 2 adds to police bureaucracy, which is another example of extra expenditure being incurred as a result of pressure from the Daily Mail. It will make it more difficult for the police and local authorities to use CCTV to prevent and detect crime. This no doubt reflects concerns about a surveillance society, although when I was a local government leader my experience was that communities always—I repeat, always—welcomed the introduction of new CCTV schemes. If that concern about a surveillance society was so important, why are there no restrictions on the use of private CCTV cameras? I do not want to labour the point, but this oh-so-cleverly-worked-out Bill makes it more difficult and more expensive for our already overstretched police service to prevent crime but does nothing to restrict the proliferation of privatised surveillance.

Finally, Part 1 restricts the retention of DNA samples and profiles taken during a criminal investigation. This will make it harder, not easier, for the police to catch and convict dangerous criminals. The Home Office’s own research produced last year contradicts what this Bill will do. It showed that, each year, 23,000 people who will be taken off the database under these proposals will go on to commit further offences. Of these, 6,000 will commit serious crimes, including rape and murder.

Whose civil liberties are we protecting here? It will certainly not be those of anyone like Sally Anne Bowman who was 18 when she was murdered close to her home in south London in 2005. The police investigation initially drew a blank. But a year later, Mark Dixie, a pub chef, was arrested following a brawl in the pub where he worked. No further action was taken for that pub brawl but his DNA was taken and subsequently loaded on the database. It produced a match to the DNA evidence retrieved from the murder victim and within five hours he was under arrest. He was subsequently charged, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. So what are we doing removing the ability to protect people like Sally Anne Bowman? There are plenty of other such examples.

This Bill repeatedly gets the balance wrong. Of course, we should protect freedom. But why is it that the only freedoms that this Bill seems to care about are the freedoms of the would-be terrorist, the manipulative paedophile and the serial rapist?”

Friday
Nov 4,2011

I’ve already asked what exactly was William Hague’s grand international conference on cyberspace for, but it is clear that my scepticism is shared by the journalists who were sent to cover it and came away disappointed or as the Daily Telegraph put it:

“So what did we learn over the course of the two-day meeting? Well, in short, almost nothing. ….

As the show limped to its finale on Wednesday, many of Mr Hague’s conclusions could have been written at any point in the last six months.

“All delegates agreed that the immediate next steps must be to take practical measures to develop shared understanding and agree common approaches and confidence-building measures,” the Foreign Secretary declared. Well, quite.”

And serious experts like Richard Clayton from Cambridge University were pretty underwhelmed too.
Tuesday
Nov 1,2011

In August, David Cameron wanted to block Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger.

Today, William Hague said:

“Some governments block online services and content, imposing restrictive regulation, or incorporate surveillance tools into their internet infrastructure so that they can identify activists and critics. Such actions either directly restrict freedom of expression or aim to deter political debate.”

And just in case the Prime Minister had missed the point went on:

““Human rights are universal, and apply online as much as they do offline… Everyone has the right to free and uncensored access to the internet.  … We saw in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that cutting off the internet, blocking Facebook, jamming Al Jazeera, intimidating journalists and imprisoning bloggers does not create stability or make grievances go away.”

Oh dear …..

Monday
Oct 31,2011

In July the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would be hosting an international conference on cyberspace.  The purpose was to bring together governments, international organisations, NGOs and businesses from around the world to “address the challenges presented by the networked world including cyber crime that threatens individuals, companies, and governments.”  William Hague said that it was “vital that cyberspace remains a safe and trusted environment in which to operate. This can only be done effectively through international cooperation, engaging both the public and private sectors. Together I hope that we can begin to build the broadest possible international consensus.”

In case you missed it this major attempt to build international consensus is taking place tomorrow and Wednesday – indeed the process of international bonding began over drinks and nibbles at the Science Museum earlier this evening.

However, looking at the programme, it is not clear what the programme offers that is going to be different from numerous similar gatherings over the last few years.  Nor is it apparent where the “broadest possible international consensus” is going to be hammered out.

But we are assured that it is going to look good …..

quorh.jpg

But this picture really does deserve a caption competition:

quorh.jpg

Printable suggestions only please.

Thursday
Oct 13,2011

Earlier today I chaired a fascinating seminar for patient groups and professional organisations which discussed healthcare acquired infections (HCAIs) and, in particular, what needs to be done to better prevent such infections in community (rather than hospital) settings.

As the meeting continued, I was struck by the surprising number of parallels that exist between what needs to be done to cut the risk of such infections and what needs to be done to improve information security.

For example, there were those a few years ago who thought the situation with HCAIs in hospital was so bad that nothing effective could be done.  They have been proved wrong by the success of the initiatives taken over the last five or six years to reduce dramatically the incidence of MRSA and C Difficile in hospitals (80% and 60% reductions respectively). Likewise there are those who throw up their hands in horror about the current tide of cyber security problems and seem to believe that our systems will always be irredeemably compromised.  Hopefully, they will also be proved wrong in a few years time.

The response to HCAIs was in the past seen as better and stronger technical solutions (i.e. ever more powerful antibiotics) and, whilst such solutions remain necessary for those who are infected, the sharp reductions have been achieved by other means – largely through achieving major changes in behaviour amongst staff and patients (i.e. better and more effective hand-washing, greater emphasis on cleanliness etc).  This is mirrored by the increasing recognition that social engineering and behavioural change is an enormously important component of better cyber security and information assurance.

Similarly, without being too Cameron-esque about it, we all have to be in this together. Everyone has to play their part.  Thus, patients and their visitors need to understand the importance of washing their hands with alcohol gel and remembering to do it.  In the same way, individual computer users need to adopt precautions to prevent their systems being compromised.  At the same time, product manufacturers must play their part in making their products less vulnerable to infection (e.g. catheter or commode design can be used to make HCAIs less likely, just as computer software and hardware can have security built in).

Likewise, you cannot help but notice that meetings, whether about HCAIs or addressing cyber security, always conclude that more public education is needed and that the message needs to start at primary school ….

Well, I thought they were interesting parallels ….