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Archive for the ‘Liberal Democrats’ Category

Saturday
May 26,2012

UNITE has produced a powerful and compelling video on police privatisation.

It should give a clear message to the Home Office as well as to Chief Constables and putative elected Police and Crime Commissioners that simply out-sourcing large chunks of the police service will attract substantial opposition and is potentially hugely unpopular with the public.

There are no doubt some functions currently performed by in-house staff or by warranted officers that could be provided more efficiently by external providers.  However, there are some functions which should never be allowed to fall outside the personal direction and control of the chief officer of police.  This means that any out-sourcing proposals need to be clearly defined and consensus should be sought on whether the areas of activity can genuinely be provided from outside the police service without harming the coherence and integration of police services.  The other key question that will have to be addressed explicitly is the accountability of those providing the service and the governance arrangements that are to be put around the activities.

So far, this has not been a convincing element of the proposals that have been floated.  However, the next few years are likely to bring unprecedented reductions in policing budgets.  These issues are not going to go away.  And that is why the debate should start now.  The UNITE video should be a catalyst for this process.

Monday
May 21,2012

My question on the disappearance of Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians in Bangladesh was taken in the House of Lords earlier today.

These were the exchanges, demonstrating that the UK Government is taking it seriously and has made representations to the Government of Bangladesh:

Bangladesh

Question

2.52 pm

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what diplomatic representations they have made to the Government of Bangladesh about the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Mr Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians.

My Lords, I am not going to have much time for any chillaxing today.

We are concerned about the disappearance of Mr Ilias Ali. On 9 May, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassadors of eight other European countries called on the Bangladesh authorities to conduct thorough investigations into disappearances, including that of Mr Ali. In meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have urged the Government to do all that they can to locate Mr Ali and investigate the circumstances of his disappearance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply and for the expressions of concern by the British Government, but is he aware that there are a series of similar cases, including that of Mr Nazmul Islam, a local leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who was abducted and murdered last December, and that according to the BBC 30 people have disappeared in that way in the past year? There are allegations, too, that the police’s Rapid Action Battalion is involved. In those circumstances, do Her Majesty’s Government accept that this reflects very badly on Bangladesh and its obviously fairly fragile democracy? What support can be given to ensure that the individuals concerned are rescued and restored to their families and that this sort of occurrence stops?
The noble Lord is right that this kind of development reflects badly on the political culture of any society in which opposition leaders are arrested or worse. He asked what can be done. The EU had a heads of mission visit in February to Bangladesh and stated its concerns very clearly. We are fully behind that. In addition, our senior Ministers, including my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, have been in direct personal contact with senior officials, including the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, and we take every opportunity to express our worries. It is a concern for us. People may ask why we are worried about Bangladesh. It is an important nation and the destination of one of DfID’s largest programmes, with £1 billion due to go to support Bangladesh development from this country over the next four years. It is a nation that we want to see stable and prosperous and to build on its economic achievements, which are beginning to show dividends. That is the rather encouraging side of an otherwise bad story.
My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Ilias Ali in Luton when he visited the United Kingdom a few months ago and raised human rights issues in Bangladesh with him, as I have with the Minister concerned. Sadly, we hear that Mr Ali has disappeared, along with his driver. However, this is not an isolated case. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the disappearance of at least 22 people this year. A Dhaka-based organisation says that more than 50 people have disappeared since 2010. Security agencies, including the—
Question!
Can these cases be investigated by an international human rights organisation, and can we pressurise the Bangladeshi Government to put an end to such human rights abuses? Finally, can the British Government ask—
Fair enough; those two will do.
A whole range of concerns have been expressed by my noble friend. I understand his feelings. This is not a good story at all. He asks whether we will press for impartial and transparent investigations into these disappearances. We do so, have done so, and will continue to do so. In some cases, we will be pressing at an open door and there will be investigations, but in other cases we may not be so successful. However, one has to accept that the drive for ending this dark atmosphere over Bangladeshi politics must come from within that nation. We support Bangladesh in its efforts to stabilise its politics, to move towards the best kind of elections at the next appropriate time and to develop and lift its people out of poverty and the appalling environmental challenges that they also face and with which, sadly, we are all too familiar.
Lord Avebury:My Lords, will my noble friend ask the Bangladesh Government whether they will issue an invitation to the United Nations working group on disappearances, which is the proper body to investigate not just the recent disappearances mentioned in the Question but those going back a long way, most of which are attributed to the RAB?
Lord Howell of Guildford:That sounds like a very positive thought. I will certainly consider it and discuss it with my colleagues.”
Saturday
May 19,2012

David Cameron’s flagship policy of having elected Police and Crime Commissioners is in danger of unravelling.  Despite the Tory claims that the elections would deliver high profile “serious” figures to hold local police chiefs to account, this now looks as though this is not going to happen – at least as far as the Conservatives themselves are concerned.

The latest news is that Colonel Tim Collins has dropped out of the selection process to be the Conservative candidate to be the Kent PCC – apparently he was too busy to attend the selection meetings (which does raise the question as to whether he would ever have been able to fulfil the role even on the part-time basis on which he was offering himself).

And, if you look at the latest lists of runners and riders compiled by the Police Foundation, the Tory Party now has no significant high-profile candidates publicly in the running for selection.

By contrast, the Labour Party has already selected a number of impressive candidates and there are a number of well-known names in the frame for the remaining selections, particularly those which the Party is likely to win. (The LibDems, of course, have run away from the whole process and may not run candidates at all.)

So where does this leave the elections in November?  The turnout will undoubtedly be low.  The date chosen has only half the daylight hours of a more traditional May polling day and the weather may be unpleasant. The Government has vetoed a free postal distribution to candidates, so the elections will not be well-publicised.  And with the rejection of the other Conservative flagship policy of elected Mayors in all but one of the major cities that held referenda there will only be the Bristol Mayoral election on the same day to boost the turnout.

We can now expect the Tories to downplay the whole process and I suspect there will be a number of those in the Parliamentary Conservative Party scratching their heads to remember why they wanted to make these changes in the first place.

Wednesday
May 9,2012

The Metropolitan Police Federation have produced this video to highlight the concerns of their members about pay and conditions and about cuts in the police service.

The depth of anger that will be reflected in the number of officers joining the march through London – in their own time – should not be ignored by the Government.

The negotiations over the Winsor report have been seriously mishandled and the consequences for police morale (and ultimately public safety) are very worrying.

Wednesday
May 2,2012

As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.

I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening.  This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so.  This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.

Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:

“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.

The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”

This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.

No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively.  However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.

If nothing else, it should act as a spur to  the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.

As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups.  It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.

Monday
Apr 30,2012

If you like George Formby (which I do) but even if you don’t, you should watch this and be in no doubt about the depth of the anger within the Police Service about the proposed changes to police terms and conditions following on from the Winsor review:

Saturday
Apr 28,2012

I spent some time earlier today in Brick Lane meeting representatives of Britain’s Bangladeshi community to discuss the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh.

The apparent kidnapping was reported a few days ago by the Guardian who said:

“Ali was the latest in a series of political activists who have apparently been abducted, raising fears of a concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at opposition politicians. At least 22 people have gone missing so far this year, the local human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra said. In 2011, the number was 51. Estimates of the exact number vary though all indicate a rising overall total.

Many local and international campaigners have blamed security forces, accusing the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and local police of eliminating opposition figures to benefit the administration of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.”

The pattern of unexplained disappearances of opposition politicians is an extremely disturbing symptom of Bangladeshi politics and it is important that the international community makes clear to the Bangladeshi Government that such tactics – with which they deny any connection – is unacceptable.
I will be seeking to raise the matter in the House of Lords in the new session of Parliament, although obviously I would hope that Ilias Ali will have been restored by then to his family safe and well.

 

Thursday
Apr 26,2012

I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.

You can read it here, but the text is as follows:

London elects its Mayor in one week’s time.  The choice is a simple one.  Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?

The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors.  The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.

Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about.  Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page.  But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners.  And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime.  The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners.  Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.

Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.

On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners.   At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”).  With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly.  Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.

With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.

Sunday
Mar 18,2012

According to Andrew Rawnsley in today’s Observer, David Cameron has vetoed the introduction of a mansion tax so as to try and avert a defeat for Boris Johnson in May’s Mayoral elections in London:

“The Lib Dems are not going to get their mansion tax and probably knew from the start that the Tories were unlikely to be persuadable. George Osborne could see the intellectual case for taxing wealth via property and some Treasury officials were attracted to the simplicity of a tax that would be hard to avoid. The chancellor might have been willing to cut a deal with the Lib Dems, but the prime minister was not. David Cameron feared the reaction of Tory MPs and the Tory core vote, among whom are rather a lot of people living in the size of property that would attract the tax.  …  He also had a rather cruder, short-term electoral consideration that has been surprisingly overlooked in all the debate about the pros and cons of a mansion tax. Many of the homes worth £2 million or more are concentrated in London. There is an election for mayor of the capital coming up very soon. David Cameron did not want to do anything that could be said to jeopardise Boris Johnson’s chances of beating Ken Livingstone. The first thing that a defeated Boris would do would be to try to get back into the Commons, which is the last place that Mr Cameron wants to see his fellow old Etonian. A beaten Boris will be bad enough for the Tories; a martyred Boris able to blame his defeat on the prime minister and the chancellor would be much worse for them. So the mansion tax was blocked.”

 Good to know that personal intra-Party considerations trump everything else.

 

 

Sunday
Mar 18,2012

Nearly three years I posted about the threat of an electro-magnetic pulse that could permanently disable the electricity grid and most electrical systems.  I followed this up with some parliamentary questions and a further post this time last year that concluded:

“So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.”

At the risk of coming over all I-told-you-so-ish, we now learn in today’s Observer that:

“Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.

A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.

The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).

More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.

The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.

It says: “Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids.”

The register adds: “While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant.”

The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a “reasonable worst case scenario” for ministers.”

 Only took a year, so lucky that last week’s solar flare passed off without problems.