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Archive for the ‘Parliament’ Category

Tuesday
Jun 16,2009

Today’s “Digital Britain” report has an interesting paragraph on “Securing Home Networks” which says:

“In addition, the market is increasingly providing a high level of after sales support to its customers through additional assistance in relation to dealing with technical complexity – a sort of “AA breakdown” assistance for your personal networking needs. As home networks become more complex, it is legitimate to expect that these types of service will continue to grow. Services such as “the Geek Squad” from Carphone Warehouse and “Tech Guys” at PC World provide consumers with fast and effective advice on a range of issues including computer optimisation, device set-up, software installation, parental control set-up and tuition, security and software installation, back-up services and many others.”

I expressed some reservations about this when the report was introduced in the House of Lords this afternoon by Lord Stephen Carter. saying:

“I note in the report the support for the after-sales services provided by a number of computer retailers, such as the Geek Squad, the Tech Guys and so forth.  Have the Government given any thought to the personnel who visit people in their homes and put things on their computers?  What steps are being taken to ensure that those individuals are quality-assured and regulated in the same way that physical security personnel are regulated by the Security Industry Authority? “

My concern was that at present the individuals who work in such areas are unregulated, there is no agreed quyalification standard, and there is no guarantee that they are honest.  Those people who rely on such services to protect or maintain their IT equipment are the least likely individuals to know whether something adverse (such as installing a key-logger) has been done to their systems.

The Minister’s response recognised that there was an issue, although he sidestepped the point about regulation,:

“I do not know what checks and balances those operators put in place, but I will do further due diligence to find out. My noble friend raises an interesting question; as people’s domestic IT systems become more and more sophisticated—which they will—the level of complexity, and therefore the level of security and trust that people will want to have with the providers of those services, will only increase. My view is that it will be four or five years before we have a sort of AA or RAC of the IT world providing that level of assistance at scale for many homes. It is an intriguing question.”

The issue may well be worth pursuing ….

Tuesday
Jun 16,2009

The “Digital Britain” report, published today has an excellent section on “Digital Security and Safety”.  The report makes it clear that there will definitely be a national Cyber Security Strategy, something I have been calling for for some time, when it says:

 

“The UK’s National Security Strategy describes how ‘cyber security’ cuts across almost all the national security challenges that it identifies, and the need to address them in a coherent way. To this end, the Government is developing a Cyber Security Strategy to build a safe, secure and resilient cyber space for the UK, through both the beneficial exploitation of cyber space and the reduction of risks posed by those who seek to do the UK harm: the forthcoming Cyber Security Strategy will set out how the Government intends to approach this task.”

This is an extremely welcome development.  When Lord Stephen Carter made his statement introducing the report in the House of Lords this afternoon, I asked him when the Strategy might be issued and he said he hoped it would be ready by the end of July.

Saturday
Jun 13,2009

I have had a call from a journalist at the Sunday Times who is apparently writing a story for tomorrow about Sir Alan Sugar and his surprise elevation to the Peerage.  He wants to know what the reaction of the Labour Peers Group has been.

I haven’t spoken to him directly, but have left him a message saying:

“Many Labour Peers are looking forward to Alan Sugar joining them in the Government voting lobby late into the evening three times a week. They are, in particular, looking forward to seeing him support Government measures, like the Equalities Bill now going through Parliament, or those strengthening employment rights in the workforce.”

Wednesday
Jun 10,2009

When I arrived in Parliament today, a friend pressed into my hand an organisational diagram showing the Ministerial appointments in the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (it’s DaBiz!).  My noble friend, Lord Peter Mandelson, who is now First Secretary of State (ie Deputy Prime Minister in all but name), Lord President of the Council, and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, rules over a Department with ELEVEN Ministers – an unprecedented number – the size of many nineteenth century Cabinets. 

Of the eleven, a majority (six) are unelected and members of the House of Lords (and that excludes Sir (soon to be Lord??) Alan Sugar who is “an advisor” not a Minister (so why does he need a peerage?). 

More significantly, five of the Ministers are also holding posts in other Government Departments: Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Ministry of Defence; Department of Children, Schools and Families; Department of Communities and Local Government; and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. 

This gives the First Secretary of State what has been described to me as a “tentacular” reach into most of the rest of the Government. 

And, of course, as Lord President he presides over meetings of the Privy Council. 

Not bad for a former Lambeth Councillor. 

There is nothing that a few years as a member of a London Borough Council does not equip you to do …..

Friday
Jun 5,2009

I have recently got home to North London from speaking at a meeting of Lewisham East Labour Party.  The meeting was fixed months ago and at that time there was no indication that the political scene would be quite so volatile, so the topic I had originally been asked to speak on – “the outlook for the London Council elections in 2010” – was hardly relevant.  Instead, I talked about the events of the last few weeks, leading up to today’s reshuffle and the implications of the local election results emerging since last night.

The discussion was lively and the prevailing message was that the disunity amongst members of the Parliamentary Labour Party must not continue.  Party members were divided on what they wanted to happen next, but all were clear that the crisis around the Leadership must be resolved within days.

Some commentators are tonight, of course, saying that following the reshuffle the Leadership crisis is over.  I am not so sure.  The European election votes have yet to be counted and it will be critical what the mood is when MPs return to Westminster on Monday and, in particular, what happens at the meeting that evening of the Parliamentary Labour Party (at which Gordon Brown will be speaking).  I wouldn’t like to predict how the next 72 hours will play out, but what I am clear about is that – whatever else happens – Lewisham East Labour Party members are right: the lack of unity must not be allowed to go on beyond the next few days.

Thursday
Jun 4,2009

I have just received the following email:

“Please add your names by 10PM BST and forward to the address if you support the following.
 
 Dear Gordon,
Over the last 12 years in government, and before, you have made an enormous contribution to this country and to the Labour Party, and this is very widely acknowledged.
However we are writing now because we believe that in the current political situation, you can best serve the Labour Party and the country by stepping down as party leader and Prime Minister, and so allowing the party to choose a new leader to take us into the next general election.
Yours XXXX
 
Failure to do so will mean no seat is safe and a bigger Tory victory than would otherwise be the case. ”

It purports to be from Alistair Darling, but from a Googlemail address and it seems to have been sent indiscriminately to all Members of Parliament.

So I assume it’s a hoax …..

Wednesday
Jun 3,2009

I have been speaking in the Policing and Crime Bill Second Reading debate.  The Bill is a worthy measure.  It Bill draws together a number of disparate policy issues on policing and crime and , in particular, it:

  • Introduces new provisions to improve police accountability and effectiveness (although the Government’s plans for directly elected police authorities, which provoked some controversy, have not been included in the Bill)
  • Creates a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain and introduces new powers to close brothels
  • Modifies the law on soliciting
  • Tightens up the regulation of lap-dancing clubs by reclassifying them as ‘sex establishments’ rather than ‘entertainment’ venues
  • Amends police powers to deal with young people drinking in public
  • Introduces a new mandatory code of practice for alcohol sales
  • Amends the criminal asset recovery scheme established under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
  • Changes the arrangements for airport security and policing.

The proposals on prostitution are important but I focussed narrowly on those issues improving police effectiveness and accountability.

The Bill is – as I say – worthy, but does show some signs of being there because every Parliamentary Session is expected to contain a Bill on policing. 
For example, Clause 1 places a duty on Police Authorities to ‘have regard’ to the views of the public in carrying out their functions. This is fine. Welcome you may say, but there already exists a duty on Police Authorities to ‘obtain’ the views of the public.
So what is the point of Clause 1? How many Police Authorities obtain the views of the public and then fail to have regard to those views (even if on a particular issue those views are – for other reasons – over-ruled). ‘Have regard to’ does not mean ‘automatically accept’. It means considering those views before taking a decision and being clear, if those views are not accepted, why that it is. So what does Clause 1 add? The answer is not a lot.

Thursday
May 28,2009

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Mayor Boris Johnson is in the Chair.

Before the discussion of the G20 protests and the Tamil demonstrations in Parliament Square could begin, however, John Biggs AM – in full Mr Grumpy mode, although.  he was smiling – set a high moral tone, noting that one of the Mayor’s flunkeys had brought him his morning latte (or whatever it was) and that he (John Biggs) was still humble enough to make his own tea.

As the meeting went on, however, the Authority got quite tangled up on consistency: were the police too “rough” with the G20 demonstrators but being too “lax” with the Tamils?  How do you police Parliament Square if people are determined to protest and want to be arrested to fuel the publicity for their protest?  Should the legislation governing the area round Parliament be changed (apparently representations from the Mayor’s Office have led to the protestors moving from the GLA-controlled part of the Square to the Westminster City Council-controlled part and taking down their catering tent)?  No conclusions were reached.  It will all be referred to the new MPA Civil Liberties Panel that is to be set up.

This new Civil Liberties Panel is going to be an interesting group.  The Panel was the idea of Uber-Vice Chair Kit Malthouse AM – no doubt it seemed like a jolly wheeze when it was first proposed (it would demonstrate the Conservative Party’s new-found enthusiasm for human rights and civil liberties and would be a convenient long-grass repository for difficult issues).  However, the Panel is acquiring greater prominence as the weeks go on.  There are now enormous expectations on what it will achieve and its agenda grows meeting by meeting. 

Yet, the terms of reference are only being approved at this meeting of the Authority and its membership (and even its size – the paper proposes a limit of six members) will not be confirmed until 25th June.  Critically who will chair it?  It is difficult to see Uber-Vice Chair Kit Malthouse being happy to cede ontrol of the Panel to a Labour, LibDem or Green politician and he doesn’t have much time for the Independent members.  However, would one of the Conservative members be acceptable to the rest of the Authority.  It looks increasingly likely that the Uber-Vice Chair may have to do it himself.

Tuesday
May 26,2009

There seems to be a media response to the current anger about Parliamentary expenses that says that what is needed is wholesale constitutional reform.  I tend to agree that many of the constitutional reforms suggested might be quite a good idea, but I am not sure that they are the response  that the public are looking for.  Tom Harris has it right when he suggests (with considerable humour) that this may be something of a diversion away from the real issue that has grabbed the attention of the public.

I suspect that the public will not be satisfied until there is a substantial change in personnel in all of the established political parties with those who are felt to have abused the spirit of the expenses system being exiled from Parliament.

However, having said that, if there is a mood for there to be constitutional reform as well, then that is no bad thing.  So here is my personal list of seven reforms to add to the pot:

  • fixed term Parliaments with general elections every five years;
  • retaining single member constituencies in the Commons but with elections on the alternative vote system;
  • a power to recall individual MPs if more than a certain proportion of the electorate (probably at least a third of the number who cast their vote in the previous election) formally request a fresh election;
  • powerful subject-based Select Committees that not only hold inquiries but scrutinise and amend Bills before they are passed into legislation and go through departmental budgets;
  • directly-elected regional governors with powers over transport, economic development, major planning issues, further education and skills training, health provision, policing resources etc;
  • a shift of taxation-raising powers with far more being raised by local and regional government than is currently the case (with proportionately less being raised centrally); and
  • a power of general competence for local government.

I deliberately haven’t mentioned the House of Lords – partly because I can hardly be described as disinterested, but also because I think there has to be some prior debate about what the Second Chamber is for.

Anyway, there is more than enough in what I have written for people to disagree with ….

Friday
May 22,2009

There was the start of an interesting discussion on Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning about celebrity independent candidates standing at the next General Election. I say “the start” because it did not really pursue the issue to its logical conclusion.  There is no question that public anger with politicians of all Parties is now at unprecedented levels following the expenses revelations in recent weeks. 

Two backbench MPs (one Labour, one Conservative – neither of whom have been named in any of the national newspaper articles so far) I was with a week ago were already traumatised by the reactions that they had faced in their constituencies.  Some MPs are said to be suicidal.

There are the stories that Esther Rantzen is prepared to offer her services to the nation (whether the nation will accept her offer remains to be seen).  Joanna Lumley is on her way to political sainthood.  Jeremy Clarkson has already been touted as a possible Prime Minister.

Where will it all end?

All the mainstream political parties have to face up to the fact that so far the public do not think they have done enough to clean up politics.  If a well-financed campaign (will the Barclay brothers be prepared to follow through what their newspaper has started?) centred round a popular and plausible figurehead, started now with a stated mission to purify the political system, it could by the time a General Election is called later this year or in the spring of 2010 have built up enough momentum to overturn the current orthodoxy.

Some may say that would be a good thing (Guido for example?).  However, the danger is that such a popular ‘revolution’ may throw up untested (maybe unknown) individuals that turn out to be far more venal than any of the MPs who have been named and shamed (UKIP’s track record on expenses in the European Parliament is hardly exemplary).  More significantly, the existing established political parties each have their own guiding philosophy and history and, whilst many would say that this is blurred these days (Is Cameron the heir to Thatcher or Blair?  What do the LibDems really believe?  Is Gordon New Labour?  Is New Labour Labour etc?), what would any new “Clean Hands” Party stand for apart from the overturning of the existing order?  What is more would what it stands for be subjected to any scrutiny at all in an election focussing on the alleged venalities of the existing Parliament and the mainstream political Parties?

Some people – and the newspapers – should be careful what they wish for.