Thursday, February 08, 2007

Data protection

If the home office is so deficient, why don't they get on with getting it right rather than flooding us with new legislation?

Yesterday's edition was the latest serious crimes Bill, which (other than allowing the courts to lock people up who they think might create a crime) allows government departments have free access to all the data that government holds on citizens, and allows the Audit Commission (why the Audit Commission?) to trawl through government data and data obtained from outside sources (such as credit card companies, banks etc) in search of criminal patterns of behaviour.

We seen to be totally unconcerned as a nation about this invasion of our privacy -- believing that it will only affect other people. We should learn a lesson from what has happened to motorists -- it isn't the Mr Bigs that get done in, indeed if you have over a hundred outstanding fines they don't bother to pursue you because they reckon they let you know how to avoid pursuit. It's the ordinary motorist who gets done at the slightest excuse, and all our lives are made that little bit more miserable.

I don't believe that we shall be able to make any serious changes to this Bill, my party are too concerned about the public mood, and though the Lib Dems shout imprecations at the government at a local level they want the surveillance the same as everybody else. What I hope to do, though, is to make sure that we have a fully documented record of all the surveillance that is taking place, so that we might at some stage be able to take a long look at what is happening and feel so sick and that we do something about it. Not that these powers couldn't be used well -- but in the hands of the Home Office ...

House of Lords reform

Well, at last we have an open debate. My sense is that despite some sturdy opposition reform will go through this time -- and a good thing to, if it removes the constant carping about Lords powers from the agenda for a decade or two.
Not that we are going to vote for anything but an appointed house ourselves -- we sound like a 1920s trades union meeting when our privileges are assaulted -- but if the Commons expresses a settled view then I do not see that in the end we have any option but to go along with it. We will though, I hope, be able to insist on proper supervision of appointments (presuming that there are to be any), proper guarantees as to the political make-up of the house, and an electoral system which does not amount to appointment under another name. Personally, I think we should aim for a fully open list system, with the contents of each list being subject to the appointments commission's scrutiny as to quality and balance.

The fate of the hereditary peers has been left in the balance. Jack Straw weighs the arguments for our expulsion and for our conversion into life peers at some length, and then reaches no conclusion. This seems to me to have been arranged as a dilemma for Cameron -- either he can side with tradition, and let us hang on in there for a few years yet, or he can let us go with a crocodile tear and have the pleasure of appointing 30 or so of his own supporters to the Lords, to balance up the numbers. Interesting - I feel like a defeated gladiator looking up at Caesar.

Interesting weekend too -- interviewing Iain Dale among others for the Conservative candidacy in East Hampshire.

Bailiff regulation in the mush

I must confess that the workings of government sometimes distress me. Everybody knows that giving bailiffs a dedicated regulator, at least to begin with, would make for the best possible start. Instead, the government has decided to put bailiff regulation in with the Security Industry A uthority -- a failed Home Office regulator with an appalling track record that looks after bouncers and wheelclampers. Ah well, it just is not within the practice of the House of Lords to refuse half a loaf, and I shall just have to do my best at third reading to make sure that the government promises that the regulator will have the powers and functions that it needs to have. Not at all clear yet, but I have had some very helpful meetings with civil servants.