Democracy Watch ~ Stories from the Press 2002 ~ warmwell.com
See also: http://www.sovereignty.org.uk/siteinfo/links/links.html for articles monitoring the State and Civil Liberties in the UK and in Europe
"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust." --Demosthenes
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Don't trust computers with e-votes, warns expertStuart Millar, technology correspondent Thursday October 17, 2002 The Guardian
A world experts in electronic voting will today warn the government that trusting computers with the democratic process is a recipe for fraud and error. Rebecca Mercuri is assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, who has given evidence to the US Congress. She is meeting the Cabinet Office in London today, and will urge reconsideration of alternatives to crosses on ballot papers, such as internet and text-message voting, because their results cannot be guaranteed to be secure and accurate.
She told the Guardian yesterday: "E-voting systems actually provide less accountability, poorer reliability and greater opportunity for fraud than traditional methods.
"People assume that electronic voting is just the same as other technologies we use in everyday life, like banking or airline ticketing, but there are crucial differences.
"With all these other systems there is a physical data trail, bits of paper that allow us to check that the transactions are accurate. E-voting offers none of these safeguards." ...more
Oct 17 02
Pupils urged to inform on problem parents
By Helen Hague
Pupils as young as 13 are being encouraged to disclose sensitive information about their parents to the Government to help discover why they might be failing at school.
Details of problems such as drink and drug abuse, depression, eating disorders and frequent domestic rows would be sought by advisers.
The data, gathered without the consent of parents by the Connexions Service, which supplies careers and personal advisers to schools, could be shared with a number of government departments, the police and health authorities.
The methods used to collect this data, its storage and future use, is worrying child mental health experts, lawyers and privacy campaigners.
Information is gathered by Connexion staff under orders from the Department for Education and Skills to compile profiles on 13- to 19-year-olds and identify problems over academic performance.
Documents seen by The Daily Telegraph say issues to explore include "evidence of suicidal thoughts", "issues around food/weight", "evidence of substance use by parent(s)/carers" and "evidence of living in a criminal environment".
Some of the 3,000 advisers in schools, colleges and one-stop advice shops have a background in youth work. Others are trained to NVQ level four, equivalent to the first year at university. To gain a diploma, they attend the equivalent of 17 days' training.
Helen Rimington, a member of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act Tribunal, said: "There are areas here where trained doctors, psychiatrists, educational psychologists and counsellors would tread very carefully."
Terri Dowty, from Action for the Rights of Children, said: "The equivalent of about three weeks' training can't possibly equip anyone to provide the level of containment necessary in such situations. It has frightening overtones of totalitarian regimes."
A DES spokesman said all 13- to 19-year olds had access to an adviser. Parental profiles could help advisers to identify the need for intervention from other agencies.Tue 15 Oct 2002
Now they want children to spy on their parents
THERE are various versions of the proverb "the way to Hell is paved with good intentions". Among them I like Ruskin?s "you can?t pave the bottomless pit; but you may the road to it". It?s a harsh saying, but a true one. A good example has been offered this week.
The authorities are rightly concerned that some children do less well than they might at school. It occurs to someone that this might, in part anyway, be due to troubles at home. We can all accept that this may be the case. So what next? What do the bright sparks come up with?
Easy: they encourage children to disclose sensitive information about their parents. It is gathered by something called the Connexions Service, which supplies careers advisers and personal advisers to schools in England and Wales, and the information provided may be shared with a number of government departments, the police and health authorities.
Apparently the new Department for Education and Skills has asked the Connexions Service to compile profiles on 13-19-year-olds and identify problems over academic performance. The agency?s staff are invited to look for such things as "evidence of suicidal thoughts", "issues around food/weight", "evidence of living in a criminal environment".
It?s all, as you can see, terribly well-intentioned; who can be against helping the kids to sort out their problems? A pity that the road taken leads straight to Hell, down into the bottomless pit.
One of the characteristics of dictatorial regimes has long been the use of children to inform on or denounce their parents. It happened in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, especially during the Stalinist years, and we, in the liberal democracies, rightly found the practice deplorable, disgusting, horrible.
But it goes further back, to Revolutionary France at least. A very good new book, The Lost King of France, by Deborah Cadbury, tells how the little Dauphin, otherwise Louis XVII, a child prisoner in the Temple, was brought to sign a declaration presented at the trial of his mother, Marie-Antoinette, in which he affirmed that he had been taught "pernicious habits of self-abuse by his mother and aunt, and that they took pleasure in watching him perform these practices ... and that very often this took place when the women made him sleep between them".
Perhaps this is just the sort of thing the Connexions Service will be looking for - even hoping for. It sounds like it. After all, to justify its employment by the Department of Education and Skills, it must persuade as many children as possible to offer evidence of their parents? incapability or vice. Any child who then subsequently suffered from guilt on account of having denounced his mother and father would, we may presume, be ready for other and still more intensive counselling from experts, some of whom, it is reported, have received as much as 17 days? training.
Only people with the very best intentions and a high sense of their own virtue could authorise this sort of thing, and not see how iniquitous it is. So far as I know, this policy of encouraging children to inform on their parents is restricted to England and Wales. One would like to be assured that a variant of it will not be adopted here in Scotland.
Meanwhile it is further evidence of how the state sees the family as its enemy, and prey.
Politicians waffle as EU onslaught continues....... Friday morning's Today programme offered yet another example of how, as the EU makes its final moves towards full political integration, Britain's politicians and media seem to inhabit a different planet from everyone else in Europe. Our Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, yet again praised his boss, Jack Straw, for coming up with the brilliantly novel idea that the EU should have its own constitution, without pointing out that this is precisely what the 105 delegates to the EU's "constitutional convention" in Brussels have been discussing since March.
Michael Ancram, the Tory spokesman, then came on to rehearse his weary plea that the EU must become "more flexible", giving more power to its member states, without pointing out that this is so far from anything that anyone other than Britain's Tories have in mind that it is like a man confronted by an elephant plaintively wishing it was a sheep. John Humphrys sat pettishly in the middle, allowing them both to get away with this twaddle.
So far removed from the reality of what is going on in Brussels were these "Little Englanders" that once again one is left utterly baffled. Do they actually hope to fool us with this vacuous wishful thinking? Or can it be possible that they really have so little grasp of what is happening in front of their noses that they genuinely know no better?....more
Oct 13 02
SHAYLERGATE: British Press Gagged on Reporting MI6's £100,000 bin Laden Payoff By Paul Joseph WatsonTony Blair has tonight ordered a D-Notice on British media reporting government officials signing court gag orders. This regards the case of former MI5 officer David Shayler, who has evidence to prove MI6 gave £100,000 to bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, arms to Iraq and had prior knowledge of several terrorist attacks on London in the 1990's.
The original articles stated that top Labour MP's had signed gag orders, whereby upon mention of this evidence in court, media have to immediately leave the trial. Newspapers all over the country, including the Guardian, the London Evening Standard and the Scotsman have either completely removed or amended their articles. This evidence is damning. The British government is trying to bury the story before it buries them. ....
Here it is in Shayler's own words plus the actual MI6 Gaddafi plot document - MI6 Plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi: Police enquiry confirms Plot is not "fantasy" - http://cryptome.org/shayler-gaddafi.htm ......
The Scotsman also released a report which remains online but both the title and the article have been amended!!! The new article talks about new MI5 head Eliza Manningham-Buller, only mentioning the Shayler case in passing. It certainly does not include information concerning the Labour MP's involved and government prior knowledge of terrorist bombings in London.
http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=1113312002 is the amended version - I archived the original at http://www.propagandamatrix.com/renegade_mi5_agent_to_face_jury.htm. The report was originally entitled 'Renegade MI5 agent ready to face jury' it is now called 'Has MI5 really emerged from shadows?' This is the report with the most damning information (the one they erased).
Here is the full text of the original Scotsman article.
Renegade MI5 agent ready to face juryKAREN MCVEIGH
DAVID Shayler, the former M15 officer branded a traitor by the government, is due to take on the legal establishment today, as his trial opens at the Old Bailey in London.
The renegade agent, who faces six years imprisonment for breaching the Official Secrets Act after making a number of sensational revelations about M15 to a national newspaper in 1997, will represent himself for part of the landmark case. The trial will centre around a number of allegations made by Shayler about M15 holding files on prominent politicians, including former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary. He also claimed the secret services ignored warnings that might have prevented bombings in the London in 1993 and 1994.
Shayler, 36, faces two charges under section one of the Official Secrets Act for disclosing documents and information about the work of M15 and another under section four, for disclosing information about telephone taps.
He has failed so far to win his argument that his revelations were in the public interest. The High Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, have all ruled that he cannot claim he disclosed information in the public interest or out of necessity. They also ruled out the main plank of Shaylers defence - that the Officials Secrets Act is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
Shayler, who made other allegations for which he was not charged, including a claim that M16 was involved in a plot to assassinate the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, will argue that he is only guilty of "exposing wrongdoing".
"I aim to persist in my argument that the Official Secrets Act as it currently stands is totally incompatible with the Human Rights Act," he told a newspaper yesterday.
Some of the hearing is expected to be taken up by an application by newspapers objecting to plans to hold parts of the trial in secret.
The prosecution applied for hearings to be held in camera after its concerns that Shayler will make fresh allegations to the jury to back up his public interest defence.
Shaylers decision to defend himself, against the advice of his legal team, for part of the trial was prompted by the belief that he will be freer to argue his case than his barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, whose hands are tied by earlier court rulings.
***************Even local papers such as the Leicestershire Mail and the Derby Evening Telegraph have removed the story from their websites! The original stories were here and here respectively. They were entiled ''SHAYLER AT OLD BAILEY FOR TRIAL' and 'SHAYLER ARRIVES FOR TRIAL.' As you can see by clicking the links, they are gone. As is a London Independent article that was entitled 'MI5 faces accountability test as new chief takes reins.' ***************UPDATE: It is now confirmed that all details relating to the Shayler case cannot be reported. The UK government have successfully gagged the cowardly pathetic mainstream media, but I will continue to track this story.
The Guardian reports - 'Shayler hearing'
'An Old Bailey court yesterday heard legal arguments relating to the trial of David Shayler, the former MI5 officer charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. The judge ruled that they cannot be reported. Mr Shayler's trial is now expected to be heard before a jury next week.' - Richard Norton-Taylor
Read this tiny blurb at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,806640,00.html (until they remove that too)
Labour website spin 'like Orwell's 1984'Professors accuse Labour of creating a 'social statistical utopia' David Walker
Tuesday October 8, 2002 The Guardian
The Labour party has "systematically manipulated" data on its website to show improvements in health, schooling and other services, according to an unpublished study. Starting in the run-up to last year's election and continuing since, Labour has guided the public to misleading statistics for crime and unemployment as well as spending on schools and hospitals.
Figures have been "mangled" to give a better impression of Labour's performance at the local level.
In a research paper circulating among academics, after being presented at a recent Political Studies Association conference, four distinguished geographers take apart the website's figures for local areas. Led by professors Danny Dorling of Leeds University and Ron Johnston of Bristol University, the team argue that Labour has consistently adjusted and manipulated data without acknowledging it. ...(See more)
Inspection as invasionThe US has been seeking to prevent a resolution of the Iraq crisis for the past eight years
George MonbiotTuesday October 8, 2002The Guardian
There is little that those of us who oppose the coming war with Iraq can now do to prevent it. George Bush has staked his credibility on the project; he has mid-term elections to consider, oil supplies to secure and a flagging war on terror to revive. Our voices are as little heeded in the White House as the singing of the birds.
Our role is now, perhaps, confined to the modest but necessary task of demonstrating the withdrawal of our consent, while seeking to undermine the moral confidence which could turn the attack on Iraq into a war against all those states perceived to offend US strategic interests. No task is more urgent than to expose the two astonishing lies contained in George Bush's radio address on Saturday, namely that "the United States does not desire military conflict, because we know the awful nature of war" and "we hope that Iraq complies with the world's demands". Mr Bush appears to have done everything in his power to prevent Iraq from complying with the world's demands, while ensuring that military conflict becomes inevitable.
On July 4 this year, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, began negotiating with Iraq over the return of UN weapons inspectors. Iraq had resisted UN inspections for three and a half years, but now it felt the screw turning, and appeared to be on the point of capitulation. On July 5, the Pentagon leaked its war plan to the New York Times. The US, a Pentagon official revealed, was preparing "a major air campaign and land invasion" to "topple President Saddam Hussein". The talks immediately collapsed.
Ten days ago, they were about to resume. Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspections body, was due to meet Iraqi officials in Vienna, to discuss the practicalities of re-entering the country. The US airforce launched bombing raids on Basra, in southern Iraq, destroying a radar system. As the Russian government pointed out, the attack could scarcely have been better designed to scupper the talks. But this time the Iraqis, mindful of the consequences of excluding the inspectors, kept talking. Last Tuesday, they agreed to let the UN back in. The State Department immediately announced, with more candour than elegance, that it would "go into thwart mode".
It wasn't bluffing. The following day, it leaked the draft resolution on inspections it was placing before the UN Security Council. This resembles nothing so much as a plan for unopposed invasion. The decisions about which sites should be "inspected" would no longer be made by the UN alone, but also by "any permanent member of the security council", such as the United States. The people inspecting these sites could also be chosen by the US, and they would enjoy "unrestricted rights of entry into and out of Iraq" and "the right to free, unrestricted and immediate movement" within Iraq, "including unrestricted access to presidential sites". They would be permitted to establish "regional bases and operating bases throughout Iraq", where they would be "accompanied... by sufficient US security forces to protect them". They would have the right to declare exclusion zones, no-fly zones and "ground and air transit corridors". They would be allowed to fly and land as many planes, helicopters and surveillance drones in Iraq as they want, to set up "encrypted communication" networks and to seize "any equipment" they choose to lay hands on. The resolution, in other words, could not have failed to remind Iraq of the alleged infiltration of the UN team in 1996. Both the Iraqi government and the former inspector Scott Ritter maintain that the weapons inspectors were joined that year by CIA covert operations specialists, who used the UN's special access to collect information and encourage the republican guard to launch a coup. On Thursday, Britain and the United States instructed the weapons inspectors not to enter Iraq until the new resolution has been adopted. As Milan Rai's new book War Plan Iraq documents, the US has been undermining disarmament for years. The UN's principal means of persuasion was paragraph 22 of the security council's resolution 687, which promised that economic sanctions would be lifted once Iraq ceased to possess weapons of mass destruction. But in April 1994, Warren Christopher, the US secretary of state, unilaterally withdrew this promise, removing Iraq's main incentive to comply. Three years later his successor, Madeleine Albright, insisted that sanctions would not be lifted while Saddam remained in power. The US government maintains that Saddam Hussein expelled the UN inspectors from Iraq in 1998, but this is not true. On October 30 1998, the US rejected a new UN proposal by again refusing to lift the oil embargo if Iraq disarmed. On the following day, the Iraqi government announced that it would cease to cooperate with the inspectors. In fact it permitted them to continue working, and over the next six weeks they completed around 300 operations. On December 14, Richard Butler, the head of the inspection team, published a curiously contradictory report. The body of the report recorded that over the past month "the majority of the inspections of facilities and sites under the ongoing monitoring system were carried out with Iraq's cooperation", but his well-publicised conclusion was that "no progress" had been made. Russia and China accused Butler of bias. On December 15, the US ambassador to the UN warned him that his team should leave Iraq for its own safety. Butler pulled out, and on the following day the US started bombing Iraq.
From that point on, Saddam Hussein refused to allow UN inspectors to return. At the end of last year, Jose Bustani, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, proposed a means of resolving the crisis. His organisation had not been involved in the messy business of 1998, so he offered to send in his own inspectors, and complete the job the UN had almost finished. The US responded by demanding Bustani's dismissal. The other member states agreed to depose him only after the United States threatened to destroy the organisation if he stayed. Now Hans Blix, the head of the new UN inspectorate, may also be feeling the heat. On Tuesday he insisted that he would take his orders only from the security council. On Thursday, after an hour-long meeting with US officials, he agreed with the Americans that there should be no inspections until a new resolution had been approved.
For the past eight years the US, with Britain's help, appears to have been seeking to prevent a resolution of the crisis in Iraq. It is almost as if Iraq has been kept on ice, as a necessary enemy to be warmed up whenever the occasion demands. Today, as the economy slides and Bin Laden's latest mocking message suggests that the war on terrorism has so far failed, an enemy which can be located and bombed is more necessary than ever. A just war can be pursued only when all peaceful means have been exhausted. In this case, the peaceful means have been averted.
Oct 8 02
Teenagers 'used to introduce ID cards by stealth'By Helen Hague and Philip Johnston (Filed: 04/10/2002)
Children's campaigners have accused the Government of using teenagers to introduce a national identity card by stealth.
The Connexions Card - a "smart" card that carries personal data - is being offered to more than two million 16- to 19-year-olds. More than 175,000 have already been issued. The project, described as the largest in Europe, is being run on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills by Capita, the company behind the new Criminal Records Bureau, which has recently been criticised over delays in recruiting teachers.
Teenagers are not required to possess the cards, although they may be obliged to if their school or college uses them to record attendance. They are also encouraged to apply by the prospect of rewards. Holders accumulate points for good work or attendance that can be exchanged for trainers, CDs or days out. Since it displays the date of birth and a photograph, it is also being championed by the Government as a proof of age card. The card has been introduced gradually across the country over the past few months and a high profile national advertising campaign is planned for December.
However, while the Government says the scheme is both benign and voluntary, it is causing alarm among some campaigners.
Terri Dowty, from Action for the Rights of Children, said: "We are concerned that the Government is playing a long game and using the Connexions Card as a means of introducing an identity card by stealth. There would have been fierce objections to the introduction of such a card for adults."
She added: "We are extremely worried by the agenda underlying the Connexions service. The extent of the information being sought from young people and then made available to every conceivable government agency is horrifying."
One of the aims of the Connexions project is to "track" every young person, and ensure their visibility to government agencies.
Three thousand retailers - including Playstation, Panasonic and the British School of Motoring - offer rewards through the Connexions Card website. The department has set aside £100 million to put 2.4 million cards into circulation.
To boost the take-up, the card issuers have offered colleges £1 for each student record they supply - including name, address, date of birth, special educational needs, student enrolment number and digital photograph.
Sue Sampson, a smallholder in Herefordshire, was perturbed to discover that her 16-year-old son John had been signed up for a Connexions Card at school. "It smacks of an embryonic national identity card, softening up young people to release personal data by offering trendy consumer goods," she said.
"With such inducements, teenagers are more likely to get a card without thinking through the implications of releasing personal data," Mrs Sampson added.
"I'm very concerned about the Government's obsession with gathering personal information, and that big business will get hold of spending patterns to target young people. It is an opt-out rather than an opt-in system."
John has since cancelled his card.
A Capita spokesman said: "It is an entirely permission-based initiative - no young person has to have a card. Data on cardholders is not passed on to third parties and the data in the system is protected by extremely rigorous processes that ensure it cannot be abused."
Oct 4 02
The Prince is rightSimon Heffer
.......The other day I was having lunch with a senior minister, and we got on to the fiasco of last year's foot-and-mouth crisis. Without blinking, he said it was the fault of the Civil Service. The old doctrine that ministers take ultimate responsibility for what goes on in their departments has been blown out of the water. Where he had a point, of course, is that the calibre of those in the Civil Service is not remotely what it was 20 years ago. There is a stark difference in tone now between mandarins in their late fifties, who joined the Civil Service in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and those a generation younger who have entered in the last ten years. The former include a high proportion of classically educated ex-public-school and Oxbridge types, themselves not from the old governing class, but shrewd enough to have imbibed certain aspects of it. The latter have been deliberately recruited from very different backgrounds, to make the Civil Service more "representative". It is not that they are not as clever as their predecessors, but that many of them have a different agenda. They are often highly politicised; they lack, for that reason, all the attention to detail that the truly objective tend to bring to their work. However, to blame them for the failures of the government is absurd. Last week's debacle at the Department for Education and Skills shows that for every spavined senior public servant there is always at least one completely incompetent minister. Executive abilities are almost entirely absent from the Cabinet, which is why it relies so heavily on the Civil Service; and if the Civil Service is declining in ability and morale at the same time, largely as the result of government policy, the outcome is sure to be ghastly. You would think that a generation of politicians so short on talent would welcome help from whichever quarter it comes, even if it is from a rich landowner like the Prince of Wales. However, the almost oriental desire that this new governing class has to save its own face in the aftermath of its own acts of incompetence prevents it ever from acknowledging such assistance. There will be no encouragement to the old governing class to bring their skills of disinterest, and their often extensive experience of what Lord Falconer has called "ordinary people", to bear on the problems of today. Their charitable role of old has been supplanted by the state; their political role by many utterly unsuited to it. And yet, ironically, when "ordinary people" cry out for a failed minister like Estelle Morris to "do the decent thing" after presiding over some catastrophe or other, they are still expecting very unaristocratic politicians to behave in an instinctively aristocratic way when they make a mistake. It shows a touchingly traditional, if now tragically anachronistic, interpretation of human nature
Oct 3 02
THE EUROPEAN UNION Secrecy and openness in the European Union the ongoing struggle for freedom of information
by Tony Bunyan,
Posted October 1, 2002 Summary
This project looks at the struggle for openness and freedom of information in the European Union over the past decade. It starts with the Code of access to EU documents introduced in December 1993 [Chapter 1] and the first challenges in the courts [Chapters 2 and 4] and to the European Ombudsman [Chapter 3]. Despite their public commitment to openness, EU institutions - especially the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) and the European Commission wanted to control which documents were released and which were not.
At the heart of the issue was whether citizens could have access to the documents in the policy-making process before the final decision was adopted. Governments and the Commission wanted to keep under wraps all documents until a new policy was in place - except for selective leaks to "friendly" media outlets.
Civil society groups - journalists, researchers, academics and voluntary groups - argued that a democratic EU had to be based on true openness, that is, full freedom of information. Only then could all sections of society take a view on proposals and put forward their views. Around a number of successful court cases and complaints lodged with the European Ombudsman against the Council a civil society network came into being - journalists, academics and researchers.
When the Amsterdam Treaty was agreed in June 1997 the right of access to documents was written in to Article 255 [Chapter 5]. But we knew from experience that the "Dinosaurs" (as Mr Soderman, the European Ombudsman called them) backing secrecy would try and use a new treaty-based measure to set the clock back.
Our fears were compounded when the European Commission who were responsible for drafting the initial proposal failed to publish a "Green Paper" (to launch a public discussion) as is the normal practice - though Statewatch was leaked, and published, two unpublished drafts. When the Commission proposal for a new Regulation appeared in January 2000 it reflected the in-built secrecy of their existing practice.
As if things were not bad enough, just as all the Brussels institutions went on their summer vacation Mr Solana, the Secretary-General of the Council steamrollered through major changes to the existing code to meet NATO demands for secrecy - by written procedure, the least democratic policy-making instrument available to the EU [Chapter 6].
When the European Parliament finally got down to discussing the Commission's proposal in the autumn of 2000 their first reading report was by common consensus a "mess" and the first drafts of the Council's position was no better. At the turn of the year there were three quite different drafts on the table from the three Brussels institutions. None of these positions met the standard that the new Regulation should build on the existing code, including all the improvements brought about by civil society challenges in the courts and to the Ombudsman, and truly "enshrine" the right of access to documents in EU law as the Amsterdam Treaty promised[Chapter 7].
Instead of sorting out these differences in public, the institutions set up a series of secret "trilogue" meetings which made slow progress. So in February 2001 the civil society network called a meeting in Brussels with the three institutions in the European Parliament and told them that none of the drafts were acceptable and that the Commission should be asked to come up with a new draft proposal.
The "trilogue" meetings were a public relations disaster for the institutions as most of the discussions were leaked to Statewatch. The Presidency of the Council lost patience in April and cobbled together a typical Brussels "compromise" in which the politicians and bureaucrats effectively closed ranks and said that "this was the best that could be achieved". With the support of three of the main parties in the European Parliament this "compromise" was then adopted.
In the end, after a four year struggle in which civil society coalition won all the arguments, some of these were reflected in the new Regulation but many were not.
It has now been in force since December 2001 and new battlegrounds have emerged [Chapter 8]. The current state of play is that more information is now available, especially from the Council of the European Union. But even here there are glaring holes - thousands of documents circulated to meetings are not on their public register of documents and many are only released after people appeal the decision not to release the text of a document. Whether the new regulation has clawed back what the EU rigorously defends as the "space to think" - and what we argue is in reality the "space to act" away from public scrutiny - remains to be seen.
Since June 2002 the European Parliament and the European Commission have been obliged to make available public registers too under the new Regulation. Three months on the European Commission register is nowhere near meeting the requirements in the Regulation and only time will tell if it has any intention of opening up the most secretive of the EU institutions.
This project reflects our belief that:
"Democracy and democratic standards are not static, they are ever changing. While governments and ministers may, or may not, be open and transparent democracy cannot rely on them. Rather it is sustained by lively parliaments and an ever vigilant and critical civil society.
The fight for openness, freedom of information, and against secrecy in the EU is a small, but indispensable contribution to the maintenance of democratic standards"
Straw: Britain does not need UN approvalFraser Nelson Westminster Editor
BRITAIN does not need a fresh United Nations resolution to attack Iraq and is approaching the Security Council for political rather than legal reasons, Jack Straw said yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary said that Saddam Husseins defiance of the 14 UN Security Council resolutions has given Britain "ample power" to take action under international law. He has also said that MPs will be given the chance to vote on Iraq - but not before military action.
In a hawkish performance in front of the foreign affairs committee, Mr Straw lined up with George Bush in making clear that he believes the UN resolution which sanctioned the Gulf War in 1990 remains valid now.
"We do not regard a new resolution as absolutely critical to any circumstances in which military action might take place," he said. "We think it is desirable, not least politically, to have a new resolution. But if you go through the existing resolutions there is ample power there and ample evidence of a material breach." The US has long argued that Saddams failure to surrender its weapons of mass destruction has violated the terms of the ceasefire agreed in 1991. Only the UK agrees with this interpretation.
Britain is this week expected to present a draft resolution for the UN, threatening military action should Saddam impede the task of weapons inspectors. It needs the votes of Russia, China and France, the three other permanent members of the Security Council.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, yesterday met defence ministers of Russia and France in a closed-door NATO forum on Iraq. He said he presented evidence linking Baghdad to al-Qaeda and the 11 September attacks. However, he refused to give any detail of the proof - save that it had been provided by the CIA and is classified.
Tony Blairs Iraq dossier, released on Tuesday, failed to mention al-Qaeda. Igor Ivanov, Russias foreign minister, yesterday said that even the limited information in the dossier represented a "propaganda furore".
Mr Rumsfeld has made clear that he does not see NATO playing any role over Iraq - drawing questions over its future after 11 September.
When asked about NATOs participation against Saddam, Mr Rumsfeld said: "It hasnt crossed my mind - I havent proposed it." The case against war was consolidating in Scotland yesterday as John Swinney, the leader of the SNP, said he was fundamentally opposed to an attack. ....
Sept 26 02
MPS TOLD RULES DON'T ALLOW VOTE ON CONFLICT09:00 - 25 September 2002
Father of the Commons, Tam Dalyell, failed yesterday to secure a vote allowing MPs to directly oppose military action against Iraq.
The Labour veteran appealed to Speaker Michael Martin for a vote on a substantive motion declining to back a war unless authorised by the UN Security Council and the Commons. But the move was rejected by Mr Martin, leaving MPs opposed to any possible military action only able to force a vote on a technical motion at the end of yesterday's emergency debate. That motion will be for the adjournment of the House, a device regularly deployed for debate and usually agreed without a vote. Any vote on it will be symbolic of the strength of feelings among the anti-war tendency but would not allow a direct expression of their views.
In a point of order, Mr Dalyell (Linlithgow) said: "There are many Members on all sides of the House who are opposed to military action against Iraq on various grounds. "Many others who represent servicemen and women, who may be called to fight in such a war, have anxieties on behalf of them and their families.
"Will you accept a manuscript motion that this House declines to support a war against Iraq using the Royal Prerogative unless it has been authorised both by the UN Security Council and a motion carried in this House. "Only in this way can Members discharge their responsibilities to their constituents."
Another senior Labour backbencher, Gerald Kaufman (Manchester Gorton), said precedents on Iraq showed that when the House was recalled in September 1990, after Kuwait was annexed, the debate was on an adjournment motion and this had happened on subsequent occasions too.
Turning down Mr Dalyell's call, Mr Martin said: "Our rules do not allow this to happen. "Under standing orders Government business has precedence over other business except in certain defined circumstances. This is not one of those circumstances. "When the House is recalled under standing order No 13 the only business to be debated is that of which the Government has given notice.
"In this case that is the motion for the adjournment of the House."
Labour's Paul Flynn (Newport W) protested: "My constituents will not understand why I cannot vote against following the Bush agenda today."
Sept 25 02
This is not a dossier but an act of desperation
We still wander in a daze. Democracies rarely stay up all night seeking reasons to go to war. Normally they do the opposite. They talk, negotiate, compromise, take refuge in the United Nations. They do not like fighting, unless driven by an overwhelming logic of events.
Yesterday's government dossier on Iraq reads like a desperate quest for such a logic. Ministers cannot be quaking with fear at the prospect of an imminent assault from President Saddam Hussein. A year ago they claimed that their bombing was "containing" him, stopping him from harming even his own people, let alone his neighbours or British interests. Of course he seeks nasty weapons. Paranoid dictators always do. But nothing in the dossier constitutes evidence of an early threat, let alone a casus belli between Britain and Iraq. What is going on? I am no pacifist sap. I was convinced when past British Governments told me of threats to the British state. One threat was from Soviet Russia, and came complete with target maps, lists of vulnerable cities and an armoury of all-tooeffective weapons of mass destruction. Yet where were Tony Blair and Clare Short and others in the Labour Party? They wanted unilateral nuclear disarmament and claimed that the "threat" was dreamt up by warmongering Americans. They were wrong. Unlike many in the Labour Party, I believed that the Falklands war had to be fought against a palpable assault on British sovereignty. I thought the Gulf War just in that the invasion of Kuwait could only be resisted by main force. I felt the same about domestic terrorism. Mr Blair, supported by Ms Short and others, believed in releasing IRA terrorists from prison on the strength of vague promises of disarmament. This seemed naive and reckless appeasement, and so it has proved. People need no lessons from Mr Blair or Jack Straw in being"tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism". But yesterday's dossier is not serious. Mr Blair told us yet again yesterday what a nasty person Saddam is. We know that. The task of leadership is not to write tabloid front pages but to judge how far a threat to the nation's interest is real and, if so, how the nation should respond proportionately. Neither Mr Blair nor George Bush has yet explained what has suddenly led them to abandon containment of Iraq and to demand Saddam's head on a plate.
I...... For the moment it might seem that America's hands are tied. Yet on the assumption that weapons inspection proves as unsatisfactory as it did before, then war is back in play. On that assumption, America would be vastly reinforced in its view that Saddam is a prima facie threat. Reinforced too would be the demand that he and his arsenals be neutralised and the UN's will enforced.
There is little doubt that a renewed failure of arms inspection would secure a UN Security Council mandate authorising military enforcement of Iraqi disarmament. Whatever strongarm tactics America and Britain might deploy to win that mandate, mandate it would be. America would have done as it was bidden. Opposing American action to enforce the mandate would mean opposing the enforcement of the will of the UN. That in turn would be an intolerable boost not just to Saddam but to global lawlessness. At this point supporters of the UN would have little option. However thin the evidence of an Iraqi nuclear arsenal, however minimal the overt threat to peace, 3appropriate force4 to punish a decade-long and blatant defiance of the UN would be hard to question. The content and security of Third World arsenals is a reasonable concern to Western democracies. The UN might seem humiliated into a forced acquiescence of American aggression against Iraq. That would be better than the UN being humiliated by Saddam. That route, and that route alone, would justify Britain joining a war against Iraq. The route is long and tortuous. It might take months, even years. But the British Government yesterday failed to make a case for any short cut.
Sept 25 02
What the Connexions PAs are askingConnexions Personal Advisers are trained to use something called the 'Personal Assessment Tool' or 'APIR'. This is a kind of questionnaire divided into 18 sections, exploring different areas of a young person's life, with a 'score' allocated for each section. These scores are then filled in on a little circular diagram. The PAs user-instructions for this Tool include 'suggested areas to explore' in each section.
Keep in mind that, unless the young person refuses consent, this information will be stored and shared with social services, health authorities, the police, probation & young offenders' services, LEAs, local authorities, youth services etc. Much of it depends on the subjective judgment of the Personal Adviser, who has to decide what is or isn't 'appropriate' - one of the most useful words in existence for making prejudice sound legitimate.
Generally, the first few sections are relatively predictable and factual: 'participation'; 'achievements'; 'basic skills'; 'key skills', 'aspirations'.
Others such as 'life skills', 'emotional/behavioural development' or 'identity and self-image' begin to feel somewhat intrusive, and allow for more subjective judgments on the part of the PA by suggesting exploration of such things as personal appearance and hygiene; self- confidence; relationships with others; 'intellectual effectiveness';evidence of 'parenting ability' where the young person is a parent - which the PA may well not be.
'Relationships within family and society' then come under scrutiny, with the PA looking out for 'age-appropriate' and 'age-inappropriate' friendships. This is followed by assessment of the likelihood of offending, seeking 'evidence of living in a criminal environment'.
One of the most offensive sections concerns the 'capacity of a young person's parents/carers'. If you are a parent, the PA will be 'exploring' whether you have aspirations for your child; demonstrate approval of education effort/achievement; ensure your child attends school and offer help with any difficulties. Are you ensuring that s/he has a positive self- image, and providing a stable family environment plus the right kind of guidelines and boundaries? Are you a role model? Emotionally supportive? Do you listen, show physical warmth, provide a hygienic, encouraging and stimulating environment, a proper diet...?' If, at this point, an overwhelming sense of failure is about to drive any parent to drink, stop at once! The PA is advised to 'explore' your substance misuse with your child, along with your 'parental strengths and difficulties'. The diploma training material advises PAs that if they 'identify developmental needs in parent/carers that could have an impact on the aspirations and development of the young person. ... then an offer to refer the parents to an appropriate agency or to offer information about the support available might be the way forward.'
As if this isn't bad enough, 'family history and functioning' wants to know all about a young person's parents and siblings. PAs are told to explore 'health experiences of parents'; 'education experiences of parents' and moves on to parents' 'life experiences'. Relationships between siblings - or between ex-spouses - are also fair game, and yet again 'substance misuse' crops up. And whether your household is 'disadvantaged' or poor.
Bearing in mind the right to privacy enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, how is it possibly acceptable that parents can have the intimate details of their personal life discussed between their child and a stranger without their knowledge, consent - or presence? Parents and siblings of a young person are also people who are entitled to their privacy. A young person may have given consent, informed or otherwise, to the storage and sharing of their own personal information, but there is no mention of seeking the consent of anyone else for the sharing of their private life in this fashion.
It is impossible to see how such potentially divisive behaviour provides any 'protection and assistance' to the family as 'the fundamental group of society' identified in the preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, nor how a young person's respect for parents is encouraged by seeing such indifference accorded to their dignity.
After this staggering piece of invasion, a few sections on the local neighbourhood, housing and income follow. The APIR then suggests exploration of a young person's physical health and medical history - including 'sexual history and activity'. Finally, if you thought that serious emotional difficulties such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm and eating disorders were matters for a skilled psychiatrist or therapist, think again. The PA will 'explore' a young person's mental health and experiences in depth. This mental health section is, in our opinion, downright dangerous. Several of the 'suggested issues to explore' are ones that counsellors recognise as up to the client to broach, probably over a considerable period of time, with several of them requiring careful containment coupled with swift psychiatric referral.
Included in this shopping list of human distress is 'experience of abuse', an area where inept or intrusive questioning can be a potentially devastating experience for a young person who has already endured the worst kinds of intrusion. Human beings build their defences against emotional pain for good reason, and to start tinkering with these is to risk triggering the very behaviour that is being investigated. Having been 'explored' during a session with a PA, how is the young person meant to go home afterwards and carry on with life? Does the PA have the skills to put the worms back in the can, having ill-advisedly prised the lid off in the first place?
PAs receive training that amounts to one evening per week for a year; the most basic 'counselling skills' course at a reputable organisation takes twice as long - and does not in any way amount to a working qualification in counselling, far less in psychotherapy or psychiatry.
A PA may be genuinely well-meaning and concerned for the welfare of young people; s/he might come from a background in educational or youth work, and may have read the Connexions prescribed books on cognitive behavioural psychology, but none of those factors provides anything approaching the expertise - or personal insight - necessary to contain the emotional turmoil of a vulnerable young person on the edge. The entire APIR document (a 3Mb pdf file requiring Adobe Acrobat) can be downloaded from the government Connexions website.
Sept 19 02
Why everybody who believes in liberty should marchBy Stephen Robinson (Filed: 19/09/2002)
This week I have been ringing some of the foot soldiers who toil within what might loosely be called the "freedom community" to see how many of them will be attending the Liberty and Livelihood March on Sunday.
John Wadham, head of the campaigning group Liberty, has been a good friend to The Telegraph's Free Country campaign since its launch last summer. His instincts are of the Left, though he is a scrupulously open-minded lawyer who has recently taken on the case, pro bono, of the metric martyrs as their judicial marathon heads to Strasbourg. But Mr Wadham and his colleagues will not be marching in defence of liberty or livelihood, and seemed rather surprised by the suggestion that they might.
There is a similar lack of urgency over at the offices of Charter 88, whose founding principles exhort the faithful to take action to protect "such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association". Karen Bartlett, Charter 88's director, said her group saw hunting "as less of a civil liberties issue as a question of cruelty versus utility".
So, no Charter 88 banner will be borne along the streets of London on Sunday, no messages of solidarity will be sent from its east London headquarters to the farmers and stable hands who have travelled to the capital from all over the country. "A lot of our members feel very strongly we should not form an alliance with pro-hunting groups," Ms Bartlett explains.
I have never attended a hunt, partly because as a townie I suspect I would feel out of place there, but also because I believe, if I am to be honest, there to be something distasteful about the ritual killing of an animal. I say distasteful because I do not think hunting is specifically cruel if you consider how quickly the hounds dispatch the fox, and if you bear in mind the alternative methods of eliminating a rural pest. And I certainly do not think it should be banned.
I apply a similar, though not very logical, distinction to shooting. When I lived in America, I would enjoy an occasional trip to the southern states to shoot, rather inexpertly, at duck. There is something invigorating about rising before dawn, setting off across the bayou, and blasting away at the wild duck as they fly across your field of fire. Then there's the fun of the communal cleaning and de-feathering of the birds before breakfast, always accompanied by several comradely nips of Jack Daniel's.
As much as I enjoyed this sort of shooting (or hunting as it is known in America), I detest the idea of the ritualised, driven shoots popular in this country. Standing in a line of men who have paid a fortune to shoot hand-reared birds has no appeal to me, and nor does all the nonsense about how you are supposed to hold your shotgun. But that does not mean I think this sort of shooting should be banned or that I think less of those who enjoy it.
I find it distasteful (as well as embarrassing and faintly menacing) when an eastern European woman thrusts her baby at me on a Tube train and asks for money. But it seems to me she has a right to do so or, at least, even if some public transport bylaw technically prohibits her behaviour, she should not be locked up for trying to feed her child.
All manner of human activity is distasteful to some. A diner in a restaurant might resent someone smoking nearby; a Muslim might abhor the sight of bare female flesh; judging by the postbag, many readers of this newspaper deplore the idea of homosexual sex. The only proper and well-mannered response to each of these aesthetic or moral challenges is tolerance. This does not imply approval of the action. Indeed, the word tolerance actually suggests a certain disapproval - that is, I will have to live with what you are doing, even as I believe what you are doing is wrong.
If a cable television entrepreneur proposed that bull fighting be transplanted from Spain to a purpose-built arena in Milton Keynes, I would oppose it not just on the grounds that it would make a horrible and incongruous spectacle, but also because it is culturally alien to us. How could you explain the occasion to an eight-year-old? Bull fighting has earned none of the historical and cultural protection that should now be afforded foxhunting, which is shielded not just by its own history and rural custom, but by our common law tradition.
The indifference of the guardians of our civil liberties to the plight of those whose families have hunted for generations is disappointing, though perhaps not surprising. Defence of civil liberties and individual freedom are generally regarded in Britain as metropolitan, Left-wing preserves.
In America, the issue of gun control alerts conservative, rural Americans to the importance of the Constitution. Travel across the heartland and nine out of 10 people will be able to recite the Second Amendment enshrining "the right of the people to keep and bear arms". We have no equivalent of that protection or that culture - one reason why, after Dunblane, the Conservative government could abruptly remove the right of law-abiding pistol shooters to own their weapons.
Because his members are so overwhelmingly of the Left, John Wadham at Liberty will not speak up clearly on behalf of foxhunting, but he is certainly troubled by what he calls "the general trend to criminalise activities without good reason". Mr Wadham favours a new Bill of Rights with a clause specifically granting "freedom of action" taking account of tradition, and barring the creation of new criminal offences unless they be demonstrably necessary in defence of a democratic society.
When I pressed Ms Bartlett of Charter 88 about her blindness to the illiberalism of a hunting ban, she told me that readers of this paper did not care very much about the rights of homosexuals or asylum seekers. This annoyed me, first, because it is a cop-out on her part, and, secondly, because on the whole she is right.
I am not suggesting that marchers on Sunday should carry banners demanding a fair deal for gay Kurdish asylum seekers. But it would be excellent if there were a general recognition on the streets of London that freedom cuts both ways, and is too important to be obscured by something as trivial as political prejudice.
Sept 19 02
The information revolution has brought us many benefits, which include the means to more efficient prevention and detection of crime. But this comes with dangers and one is the erosion of our privacy
John Wadham Saturday September 14, 2002
Your private life on show to civil servants? More bureaucrats, local and national, having access to your personal information - through data-sharing and data-matching bet- ween government databases, through access to your telephone and email data, through the national database that will lie behind a "smart" identity card. Your health records on tap to researchers by ministerial order - your doctor can't say no. Local authorities, even health trusts, able to put you under covert surveillance.
This, as Guardian readers will recognise, is not a Hollywood vision of 2054 but the UK, as the Government envisages it in the next couple of years. The data-sharing proposals came out in a Cabinet Office report in April; the first order on health records (under the Health & Social Care Act 2001) was scheduled for parliament in May; the proposed extension of communications data access was in the notorious "snooper's charter" RIPA extension order shelved under public pressure in June, but due back in the autumn. All capped in July by David Blunkett's plans for a compulsory identity card.
One of the problems in the privacy debate in recent months has been the linkage of everything to national security and tackling terrorism. No one is disputing the importance of getting the balance right in these areas - but it is only a valid argument in this context where the proposed extensions in authorities' access to personal data actually relate directly to terrorism (or, at the very least, serious crime).
Almost none of the government's proposals in recent months has anything to do with anti-terrorism - and yet it's still the touchstone to which the Home Office instinctively reaches. Even when it's patently irrelevant, it's a position from which the Home Office will only slowly, sheepishly withdraw. In truth, this repeated appeal to such deep and natural fears has restricted and undermined the broader debate that must be had on the right balance between individual privacy and the necessary functions of the state.
So let's be clear first about the issues of terrorism and national security in this context. The police and intelligence services - the only people who do (and should) - lead the intelligence and investigative fight against terrorism, can already access virtually all your information. Since the beginning of 2002, however, the government's proposals have extended the availability of your information to other bodies, and here the terrorism justification fails utterly. And the only wholly new element, the "entitlement card", as even Mr Blunkett has conceded, is not for tackling terrorism.
Still, with nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - Mr Blunkett tells us so. Only the guilty need worry. But his approach treats all citizens as suspects. If you've done nothing wrong, you won't - can't - mind who in government knows what about you; so you won't mind which researchers get your medical records, which investigators trawl through your financial records or communications data because they've mismatched your identity with someone with a similar name (more of that later). Even without the proven capacity for error, you might feel uncomfortable with the idea that so many people can find out so much about you for so little obvious reason.
As mentioned above, the government concedes that the proposed entitlement/identity card is not for tackling terrorism. Exactly what the card is for is harder to gauge - in recent months, ministers have claimed it will tackle any number of high-profile problems. The reality is that this vastly-expensive scheme will tackle none of them effectively - identity alone is almost never the issue, whether in relation to targeting terrorists, fraudsters, or illegal workers. That's clear from even a cursory look at the facts. But the card will have a serious impact on every innocent hard-working individual in the country.
The ID card, like the extra snooping powers above, won't make us safer. So what lies behind these initiatives? The obvious answer is that this government doesn't trust us - and wants to hoard as much information on us as possible, so it has as many ways as possible of checking up on us, for virtually any reason it chooses.
And peculiarly, a government that distrusts its citizens seems affronted that its citizens show less than absolute trust in return. How dare we question its need for this information, or its ability and commitment to ensure that information is only used where absolutely necessary, for the best possible purposes, with no possibility of misuse. Government hard-sells us advantages, but rarely acknowledges the drawbacks. True, Tony Blair has noted that the "great potential to make better use of personal information to deliver benefits to individuals and to society... will only be realised if people trust the way that public services handle their personal data". And the Cabinet Office report on data-sharing accepted, importantly, that "the level of public concern about privacy is on the rise". Yet ministers' actions continue to ignore the importance of these words.
They shouldn't - because that public trust isn't there. As the Guardian poll which launched the Big Brother series dramatically showed, most people are willing to give up some privacy if it can be proven to help in the fight against terrorism and crime. But only a small minority actually believes the government can be trusted to keep their personal data secure - and few would be happy to hand public bodies, other than law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the power to access their personal information.
Research accompanying the Cabinet Office data-sharing paper backed up these findings. It found that most people questioned about privacy were concerned about the government's use of personal information, and were not convinced of the virtue of data-matching or of the adequacy of safeguards. Their wide-ranging worries included: errors in data handling; infection with inaccurate data; misidentification; malicious provision of data from anonymous sources; "soft" data (eg professionals' opinions or assessments of individuals); being widely identified as a user of stigmatised public services; and unauthorised access to or disclosure of personal information.
So people are worried and they have plenty of reasons to be. The fact that 65% of records on the Police National Computer are inaccurate is just one example - there are enough documented cases of people failing security checks because their names and addresses were similar to those of convicted criminals.
The appetite for ever more information about all of us - both in government and the commercial world - combined with accelerating developments in technology, has created an urgent need for greater protection for privacy. It's not just email data: we have the highest concentration of CCTV cameras anywhere in the world (and rising); growing use of CCTV facial recognition technology; the ability to track the movements of individuals using the cell network of mobile telephones; the potential to put fingerprints, iris scans and other personal details on an entitlement card's chip; and so on. New technology increasingly threatens any individual's ability to keep their personal information to themselves. New technology can also protect personal information, using free and very robust systems of encryption. But now even encryption keys are subject to seizure by the authorities.
Perhaps ironically, given its bad press, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is the nearest thing we have to a privacy law. Liberty lobbied for its introduction because it does, along with the Data Protection Act, provide controls on the collection, retention and sharing of personal information. But both acts failed to deal with privacy and threats to privacy in a logical or structured way. Consequently, they have been heavily criticised both by those subject to them and those, particularly police officers, who have to use them.
And legal respect and protection for privacy is hopelessly inconsistent. It's a criminal offence to listen in to telephone calls without authorisation - but it's not necessarily a crime to place a listening device in a bedroom without authorisation. Independent checks aren't required before even the most intrusive kinds of surveillance. Telephone taps require the consent of a government minister, listening devices the consent of a commissioner and access to telephone records can be authorised by the police themselves.
The development of computer and communications technologies has changed our lives, in many ways for the better. But this doesn't come without dangers; and now is the time to stop the accelerating disappearance of our right to privacy. Otherwise, in the world of the Whitehall bureaucrat, you may soon be well-known beyond your wildest dreams.
John Wadham is the director of Liberty.
osted Sept 15 02
Blunkett attacks civil liberties lobby(Filed: 14/09/2002) Home Secretary David Blunkett has attacked critics of surveillance measures taken by the Government after September 11 which give law enforcement and other public bodies greater powers to monitor individuals.
Mr Blunkett accused the civil liberties lobby of "pocketing without so much as a thank you" legislation introduced by Labour on data protection and freedom of information as well as introducing a Human Rights Act. Writing in The Guardian, Mr Blunkett said: "Taken together, all this amounts to more protection for the British citizen against the state than virtually anywhere else in the world.
"I don't resent this, I value it as a citizen. What I occasionally find irritating are self-styled privacy campaigners who denigrate or ignore protections not available to most of our European neighbours."
He said he found it "surprising" that some Labour MPs were "instinctively aggressive about the role of the state and insist on their absolute protection against it". Mr Blunkett's attack on the civil liberties lobby came as he urged Britain's European neighbours to co-operate in the fight against terrorism.
Ahead of his meeting later today with US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mr Blunkett said that the threat of terrorism did not respect borders. He said Britain would support efforts for judicial co-operation between the European Union and the US. Mr Blunkett, in Copenhagen for the EU's informal Justice and Home Affairs Council, said: "We all know that to combat terrorism we have to tackle the global networks which now threaten all of us, and which transcend national boundaries.
"That is why European and global action is so important. Co-operation to tackle the organised criminal and financial networks as well as the terrorist cells, requires coordination and the use of the most advanced techniques, which are now being used by the terrorist themselves."
Mr Blunkett warned against complacency. "Recent weeks have shown that the threat has not receded, and underlined the need for countries to build on our combined efforts to eliminate terrorism at a global level," he said.
"The threat of terrorism does not respect borders, nor is any individual state immune."
posted Sept 15 02
Blunkett secrecy attackStuart Millar and Nick Hopkins Saturday September 14, 2002 The Guardian David Blunkett, the home secretary, today launches a scathing attack on critics of the government's post-September 11 surveillance measures which hand law enforcement and other public bodies greater powers to monitor individuals and their private communications.
In an exclusive article for the second issue of the Guardian's Big Brother supplement, published today, Mr Blunkett accuses the "civil liberties lobby" of "pocketing without so much as a thank you" legislation introduced by Labour on data protection and freedom of information as well as the enshrining of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law under the Human Rights Act. "Taken together, all this amounts to more protection for the British citizen against the state than virtually anywhere else in the world," he writes. "I don't resent this, I value it as a citizen. What I occasionally find irritating are self-styled privacy campaigners who denigrate or ignore protections not available to most of our European neighbours."
In another intervention, the director of the national criminal intelligence service claims that highly controversial new snooping and data retention powers do not go far enough and reveals that work to tighten and extend them is already well under way. John Abbott, whose agency has played a key role in lobbying for greater surveillance powers, becomes the first high-ranking law enforcement officer to publicly argue for stronger laws to compel communications service providers to stockpile their customer records for long periods in case they are required by the authorities.
The anti-terror legislation introduced last year in the wake of the US terror attacks established a voluntary scheme, which is the subject of sensitive negotiations between communications companies and the government, but Mr Abbott warns that this would be open to abuse and risked creating internet "safe havens" for criminals.
In a rare interview, he says: "There are problems with a voluntary code. It means criminals can shift from one service provider to another. I hope that it is successful but my concern is that it is not going to be. I would like to see consistency to prevent safe havens. Ultimately we want a global system covering all service providers."
He says there is "great merit" in making service providers retain information about clients for five years and phone companies keeping details for two. Drafts of the voluntary code call for the retention of this material for 12 months. Mr Abbott also calls for an EU-wide data retention regime within five years. "We have to be synchronised [over] uniformity of data retention. It has got to be sooner rather than later."
Last week, a Guardian/ICM poll revealed that voters are broadly supportive of data surveillance measures on the strict condition that they can be proved to increase security. The data includes logs of telephone numbers and email addresses both called and received, websites visited and mobile phone location data capable of pinpointing the users' whereabouts to within a few hundred metres whenever their handset is switched on. But the information commis sioner, the official privacy watchdog, has warned the Home Office that the current surveillance regime may be illegal under human rights law.
Some 60% of voters agree that police and intelligence agencies should have these powers, although only 20% believe they should be extended to public bodies such as local authorities and NHS trusts.
In his article, Mr Blunkett again admits that the row which erupted after the Guardian revealed these proposals in July was "politically embarrassing" for the government, but argues that data retention powers are necessary to fight terrorism and serious crime. He is particularly critical of opponents of his measures from within Labour's own ranks. "I still find it surprising that so many people who consider themselves to be on the left of the political spectrum find themselves instinc tively aggressive about the role of the state and insist on their absolute protection against it."
He says that establishing the proper balance between liberty and security is "more pressing now than at any time since world war two". Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The UK has taken away more previously existing rights in the last year than any other European country.
"That suggests we are overreacting rather than doing the minimum necessary. The home secretary never does his cause any good by being intemperate and aggressive towards their many reasonable critics."
Sept 15 02
Blair declares war on democracyWe may be on the road to war with Iraq, but have we bypassed democracy on the way? By MP and former SNP leader Alex Salmond
WE may be at the end of the beginning of the build-up to war in Iraq. That is my reading of Tony Blair's speech to the TUC, and of President Bush's address to the United Nations General Assembly. In both cases, heavy stress was laid on the importance of the UN in an effort to turn around the growing opposition -- both domestically and internationally -- to a unilateral US/UK strike. But,
significantly, Blair and Bush failed to commit to the necessity for a fresh UN mandate for military action, in the form of a specific Security Council resolution.significantly, Blair and Bush failed to commit to the necessity for a fresh UN mandate for military action, in the form of a specific Security Council resolution.
Tony Blair is being credited with the PR tactic of stressing UN resolutions as a justification for war, while carefully omitting the need for clear UN authority for military action.
The Prime Minister is thus deliberately fudging the central issue of the need for the kind of incontrovertible UN mandate that governed the Gulf war in 1991. Then, the aims and parameters of the campaign were defined in a UN resolution, which provided the basis for the 35-member coalition that ejected Saddam from Kuwait. This coalition encompassed Western, Muslim and Arab nations. It was because the Gulf war carried UN authority and a strong international consensus that the SNP supported Operation Desert Storm.
different situation now, with the only country giving explicit backing for the US/UK position being the state of Israel -- a country itself guilty of breaking UN resolutions.
This shows what is wrong with the Bush/Blair approach. Would Arab countries, if they were strong enough, be entitled to seize back Palestinian lands by force because Israel was in violation of UN resolutions? Or would Pakistan be entitled to attack India to enforce UN resolutions on Kashmir? Obviously not. But that is exactly the chaos that will reign if other strong countries take upon themselves the authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions, an authority that properly belongs to the UN itself.
The point is simple. Action in the name of the UN must be decided by the UN. The need to test the legitimacy of military action is exactly why we need a substantive debate on the Iraq crisis when Westminster reassembles the week after next.
The SNP were the first to write to Tony Blair demanding a parliamentary recall, but we wanted a proper debate resulting in a proper democratic policy for the UK. Instead of that, the only vote likely to take place is on the burning issue of whether the House of Commons should adjourn at 10pm or carry on into the wee sma' hours.
Of course, the reason for this madness is to ensure that all the power remains in the hands of Tony Blair and the executive. But in the recalled debate next week there should be a substantive government motion which is capable of being amended by MPs. In that democratic situation, the SNP and other MPs would propose the need for a UN Security Council resolution governing military action. Parliament would then decide on this basic point of principle.
In the United States, President Bush has promised Congress the final word and a proper policy debate on US action in Iraq -- just as his father carried a motion authorising the use of military force against Iraq in January 1991. There will also be public questioning of administration officials by up to six House of Representatives committees, starting in the middle of this month, in order to determine whether an invasion is justified and would work.
However, democracy American-style is not to be allowed in the House of Commons.
We are at the end of the beginning of war preparations. Let us hope it is not also the beginning of the end for the rule of international law, and for any semblance of democratic procedures at Westminster.
Sept 15 02
A free countryBy Stephen Robinson (Filed: 13/09/2002) It could be argued that every person in Britain should be compelled to lodge a sample of his DNA with the ever-expanding national database. It would not be an argument that would find support in this newspaper, but there is no denying the power of DNA evidence in solving some types of crime. Anyone who publicly advances the case for a compulsory database should be listened to, and vigorously argued against.
So far, Parliament has declined to introduce a compulsory database because of fears about the erosion of privacy. Not that this omission has troubled chief constables who, under an amendment to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, have retained all DNA samples taken from suspects who have been interviewed, but not charged, about a crime.
The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that this was in order on the ground that - as Lord Woolf argued - it "is obvious that the larger the databank of fingerprints and DNA samples available to the police, the greater the value of the databank will be in preventing crime and detecting those responsible for crime".
Even if it is true that a DNA databank might help detect criminals, it is difficult to see how it would prevent a crime. But this is not the central objection: yesterday's ruling stigmatises those who have been either acquitted or merely interviewed about a crime. It also endorses the creation of a national DNA database by stealth, and without Parliament's authority.
Kuwait is currently enforcing a requirement for all its citizens to supply a DNA sample to a central database. The emirate is not known for its commitment to privacy and liberty, but its government did at least feel it necessary to pass legislation, rather than create a national DNA database by the back door.
posted Sept 15 02
Our real oppositionWe all depend on the unions to confront privatisation and the advance of corporate power
George Monbiot A year and a day ago, the battle which may have determined the political future of Britain was about to commence. Tony Blair was to have told the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress that he would persist with his part-privatisation of public services, and the unions were due to respond with unprecedented anger. As Blair was waiting to speak, news of the attacks on New York reached the conference. The prime minister spoke briefly about his horror, then left. The TUC curtailed its conference, and the fight was postponed until today. Blair's reappearance at the conference this afternoon will be overshadowed both by the anniversary of the attacks and by rumours of war. The unions' response to his speech is likely to flicker across our television screens then disappear. So it will take us some time to grasp the significance of 9/10. This confrontation could prove to be the most important political event in Britain since the general election of 1997.
The battle the unions will resume this week is being fought, ostensibly, over low pay, the minimum wage, pensions, health and safety and the coming war with Iraq. But, as everyone in Blackpool knows, it is in reality about far more than this. Most of the unions fighting the transfer of staff from public bodies to private companies are concerned not only about poorer conditions for the workforce, but also about the quality and scope of public services. They see part-privatisation as symptomatic of the corporate takeover of Britain, and the government's capitulation to big business, in turn, as symptomatic of its willingness to side with power against the powerless. This is the week in which the trades unions become the United Kingdom's official opposition.
They are assuming this role not as a result of any grand ambitions (if anything they have been overcautious about making use of their resurgent power) but because no one else can do it. For the past five years the radical, progressive opposition without which all political systems succumb to corruption has failed to materialise. It cannot arise in Westminster: the three main parties, constrained by the distribution of marginal constituencies, are fighting over the same floating voters of the middle classes, while the smaller ones are obstructed by first-past-the-post elections and a funding system which relies on the benevolence of the rich. There is no sign of a sustained revolt among the senior civil servants who must implement the gradual demolition of public services. The government seems to have little fear of unaffiliated public protest.
The civil servants who run our public services know that the extra money the chancellor has found for health and education is likely to be swallowed by the massively inflated costs of permitting private companies to build and run our schools and hospitals. Three months ago this column listed nine serious and specific charges of public fraud and false accounting surrounding the "private finance initiative", and suggested that if the Treasury failed to answer them, the public should conclude that it has no defence to offer. The Treasury has not responded.
But they know too that, like nuclear waste, PFI is a problem which will trouble only future generations of administrators. By the time the costs of the initiative become unmanageable, most of today's senior managers will have retired. Their interests are best served by doing what they are told and hoping that they make enough money to buy private health insurance and insulate themselves from the inevitable collapse of the system they now run. They know it's wrong - I've seldom met a senior public servant who is not privately horrified by PFI - but they have no incentive to oppose it.
Nor will spontaneous public protest be sufficient to change the course of government policy. The private finance initiative is too complicated and too boring to generate a sustained mass movement among people whose professional interests are not affected. Part-time protesters struggle to compete with the businessmen who have all day, and plenty of resources, to lobby for privatisation.
The unions, by contrast, do have an immediate professional interest in confronting the seizure of the public budget: many public service workers whose jobs are transferred to private companies must work harder for less pay. It is greatly to their credit that the unions have, on the whole, resisted the government's attempts to divide this immediate interest from their longer-term concerns, by negotiating better terms of employment. They have not forgotten that their members cannot afford to buy their way out of the system when they retire.
The unions are also uniquely equipped to confront the privatisation lobbyists. Only they can afford to employ enough researchers and analysts, only they can sustain a mass mobilisation of the kind required to defeat a policy as complex and pervasive as PFI. The rest of us have, without admitting as much to ourselves, come to rely on the public sector unions to fight this battle on our behalf.
This tacit expectation appears to be reflected in the levels of public support for strikes which might, at other times, have generated only resentment towards organised labour. Six weeks ago, for example, a Guardian/ICM poll found that 59% of voters believed that the recent strikes by rail, tube and council workers were justified, while only 29% opposed them.
We have come to rely on the unions too to confront the corporations' other intrusions upon the public domain. The Enron and Worldcom scandals appear to have done nothing to dissuade Tony Blair of the superiority of big business over any other form of human organisation: perhaps, we hope, the unions can. And who, among the opponents of the impending unprovoked war with Iraq, has not secretly wished that organised labour will somehow prise Mr Blair away from Mr Bush?
Such hopes have been boosted by the recognition that the year's delay has enhanced the unions' position. Since Blair hurried away from the conference, his two most trusted lieutenants in the movement - Ken Jackson and Barry Reamsbottom, men who behaved very much like the business leaders they were supposed to confront - have been deposed. The TGWU has begun to rise from its slumber. Unison and the GMB are more confident than they have been for years.
The trades unions, in other words, should have no fear of inciting public hatred by exceeding their mandate. It may not be fair of us to expect them to fight our battles on our behalf, and it is certainly lazy, but when the public is ready to thrust greatness upon them, they should not be reluctant to accept it. We now expect them to articulate the concerns not only of their own members but also of all those whose needs have been subordinated to corporate greed.
In time, we should hope, a revitalised union movement will encourage the rest of us to organise more effectively, but for the moment the unions offer the most realistic means of confronting the complex of state and corporate power. So today, when Tony Blair flaunts his indifference at their conference, the unions shoud not fear their freedom.
Sept 10 02
Farmer takes case against Monsanto to Supreme CourtA Saskatchewan farmer is heading to the Supreme Court to try to appeal a lower court ruling that he violated a patent on herbicide-resistant canola.
Canadian Press Canada.com
On Thursday, the federal appeal court dismissed Percy Schmeiser's arguments that he did not violate Monsanto's patent on its Roundup Ready canola.
Last year, the Bruno-area farmer was ordered to pay $19,000 in damages for using the seed and another $150,000 to cover Monsanto's court costs. The farmer had argued that either the seed blew into his field from a passing truck or his crop may have been contaminated by pollination.
Schmeiser says the patent rights will be the "number one issue" of his application to ask the High Court to hear the case.
He says the stress from his legal battles with Monsanto has been hard on him and his wife, adding it's taken their life savings to fight the chemical giant to this point.
Sept 7 02
ID cards 'will sneak in fingerprint database'By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent
The Government wants to give police the power to access fingerprint records of any British citizen as part of the new national "entitlement card" scheme.
Police and law enforcement agencies would be allowed to check millions of fingerprints to help to track down suspects of serious crimes or terrorist offences. They could centre searches on cities and towns in which crime had been committed.
Fingerprint information is intended to be included in the proposed new identity cards.
But civil liberties groups say the proposal, which will be considered as part of the Government's consultation on whether to introduce the cards on a national basis, is a gross infringement of an individual's privacy and would turn innocent people into potential suspects. Yesterday, they denounced the Government for slipping out the announcement during the summer recess of Parliament.
Roger Bingham, of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "We are talking about a national fingerprint or biometric database by the back door. The Government admitted the overwhelming majority of crimes are committed by people the police know about, but they still want to treat the other 58 million of us as suspects.".
Sept 4 02
Why Brussels wants to clear the herbalists' shelvesBy Daniel Hannan
You may be one of the 20 million people in this country who, at one time or another, have taken a natural remedy. There is even a fair chance that you are one of the two million who regularly buy herbal medicines.
If so, your life is about to become a lot more complicated. Two directives are clanking their way through the EU machine which, taken together, will outlaw a good deal of what you are doing.
The Food Supplements Directive has passed through all its Brussels stages - although not without fierce opposition from Conservative MEPs - and is now awaiting implementation into British law.
It will ban hundreds of vitamin and mineral products, and restrict the dosage of others. The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive is scheduled to become law in 18 months' time. It will affect thousands of natural medicines.
The combined result of these two laws will be to prohibit many substances that have been on the market for years without the slightest evidence that they are deleterious to our health. Natural remedies will be reclassified as medicines, making them subject to a rigorous testing regime.
It is not only each substance that must be tested, but every single product. In other words, if a herbalist wants to sell echinacea, it will not be enough to prove that echinacea is safe. He - or, more often, she - will also be required to submit her particular version of it, at a cost of several thousand pounds.
Thousands of products will be driven off the market. The bigger firms will be all right: some form of St John's wort will still be available at Boots. But many smaller herbalists, unable to meet the compliance costs, will be driven out of business.
Even by the EU's standards, the criminalisation of an activity engaged in by millions of consumers may seem rather heavy-handed. To grasp why it is happening, you need to understand a little about the Brussels system.
MEPs are rarely happier than when telling others what to do. In the three years since I was elected, we have restricted the amount of time you can spend on a tractor, demanded that you wear ear plugs in noisy places, and laid down an approved way of holding ladders against walls. The idea that herbal medicine is "unregulated" is, to most Euro-MPs, simply a loophole that needs closing.
This is not because of any suggestion that the supplements in question pose a health risk. Rather, the EU is following what it calls "the precautionary principle".
At the beginning of the 19th century, it was widely believed that the noise of a passing train would cause pregnant women to miscarry. Had we applied the precautionary principle, we would never have laid a single inch of track. After all, the rail operators of the day couldn't prove that they wouldn't cause miscarriages, any more than today's health stores can prove that their wares are not poisonous.
Most of the products in question have been used in parts of the world for hundreds of years without evidence of harmful side effects. One of the threatened substances, for example, is cat's claw, which is traditionally prescribed in my native Peru as a cure for inflammation and rheumatism. If it were dangerous, Peruvians would surely have noticed by now.
There is more to this, though, than an addiction to regulation. Whenever you see an apparently insane Brussels directive, ask yourself: cui bono? Someone, somewhere, stands to gain. Thus, the attempt to ban the British double-decker was largely driven by a handful of continental bus manufacturers who had their eye on our lucrative export market. The campaign against British lettuce was enthusiastically supported by Spanish lettuce growers.
And so it is with the directives on herbal medicines, which will allow the large pharmaceutical corporations to squeeze out their smaller competitors. These firms, like other multi-nationals, have discovered that Brussels is a lobbyist's paradise. Because the people who pass the laws are almost untouched by public opinion, measures can be pushed through which would never withstand the scrutiny of a democratic national parliament.
The EU is thus, in many ways, the opposite of a common market. The essence of a market is mutual product recognition. In other words, if a widget is sold freely in Britain, it ought to be available in Germany, and vice versa.
Instead, more often than not, the EU's approach is to lay down highly prescriptive rules on the size, shape and contents of widgets, which can have the effect of banning products which were never intended for export in the first place. And you'd be surprised by how often those standards turn out to have been proposed by some European widget manufacturer who happened to meet all the specifications anyway.
For what it's worth, I am rather sceptical about most herbal remedies - although my wife, a regular user, has converted me to echinacea. But that is not the point.
The essence of liberty, and the focus of this newspaper's Free Country campaign, is that we stand up for rights which we do not ourselves want to exercise. Even if you have never been inside a health store before, go into one now and sign the petition on the counter. This is not about science; it's about freedom.
Conversely, if you are a regular buyer of natural remedies, but have never before campaigned against an EU measure, try extrapolating from this experience.
You are now being treated as fishermen, art dealers, abattoir workers, hauliers and countless other victims of EU meddling have been treated before. It is not just this law that is wrong; it is the system that spawned it.
Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for south-east England
Sept 3 02
Blair in MozambiqueBlair declined to reply to a question from the British Press Association concerning his government's attitude to a possible US attack against Iraq.
The press conference was extremely short, and only two questions were taken - one from the Press Association, and one from the Portuguese news agency, LUSA. None of the Mozambican media were able to ask questions. Had AIM been called upon to speak, it would have asked Blair what his government intends to do to ensure that African producers have fair access to the markets of the developed world.
Currently, the enormous subsidies that European and American governments offer their farmers sabotage African agriculture.
They lead to absurdities such as paying farmers in northern England to produce sugar from beet which is at least three times as expensive as Mozambique's cane sugar.
AIM would like to hear from Tony Blair whether the British government intends to move from charity to fair trade. Or will Britain's real, rather than rhetorical, relationship with Africa continue to be determined in Paris, by right-wing French farming lobbies
Sept 2 02
Blair losing control of party over IraqJason Beattie
TONY Blair was struggling last night to contain the growing revolt in the Labour Party over Iraq, with half of backbench Labour MPs in Scotland publicly warning against United States military action.
With Downing Street under pressure to distance itself from the hawkish line coming from Washington, Gavin Strang became the latest senior Labour figure to caution against a pre-emptive strike by the US military, warning of the "widespread unease" within the party about possible conflict.
Dr Strang, a former Cabinet minister, specifically criticised the recent sabre-rattling by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming they had not considered the implications for Middle East stability should the US try to topple Saddam Hussein.
Dr Strang, the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh MP, is one of 19 Scottish Labour MPs who have signed a Commons motion noting the "deep unease" about the prospect of Mr Blair supporting a pre-emptive strike by President Bush.
Malcolm Savidge, the Labour MP for Aberdeen North, used an article in Tribune magazine to launch a excoriating attack on Mr Blair's foreign policy.
"Britain must not be drawn into immoral or illegal wars. Labour must not sacrifice its principles, moral values or British interests and lives to the false god of a specious, special relationship with the US hard Right," he wrote.
Aug 31 02
Christopher Booker's Notebook(Filed: 25/08/2002) Tories challenge 'sneaky' asbestos legislation Customs officials continue to ignore new laws The pointlessness of the plastic cup
Tories challenge 'sneaky' asbestos legislation
In an unusual and dramatic move the leader of the opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, has intervened to stop the Government using the Parliamentary recess to sneak in controversial new regulations on asbestos which, as I revealed last week, threaten to become the most expensive law ever put on the statute book.
Mr Duncan Smith has taken the unorthodox step of writing to Andrew Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, demanding to see the still-unpublished regulations which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hopes to make law before MPs return from holiday in October.
In light of the cost of the new law, estimated by the HSE as £5.1 billion, although unofficial estimates put it far higher, the Tory leader has also asked Mr Smith to postpone signing the statutory instrument until Parliament has a chance to discuss it.
The main concern over the regulations, now shared by the Shadow Cabinet, is that they will impose astronomic costs on Britain's businesses by putting them at the mercy of 800 specialist contractors licensed by the HSE.
These contractors are already exploiting confusion over the dangers of asbestos by overcharging for work which often proves unnecessary either for legal or safety reasons.
In particular, contractors are peddling the myth that all types of asbestos are equally dangerous. In fact the most common form of asbestos product, the white asbestos cement widely used for roofing materials, poses no health risk at all in practical terms, unlike the hazardous blue and brown forms, based on a wholly different mineral.
By imposing draconian requirements on businesses, the HSE's regulations will only exacerbate the existing confusion which allows unscrupulous contractors to fool members of the public into paying ludicrous sums for work which can be safely carried out for a fraction of the cost.
Since my article last week, giving the e-mail address of a fully-qualified expert, John Bridle (firstname.lastname@example.org), his advice has already saved 80 readers of this column unnecessary expenses ranging from £80 to £9,000.
Mr Duncan Smith has appointed the combative John Bercow as shadow minister to spearhead a campaign to force ministers to redraft the HSE's proposals in a way that could save the country billions of pounds, without endangering public health.
Mr Bercow will also be calling for a full investigation of the racketeers who have been profiting from the confusion about asbestos.
Customs officials continue to ignore new lawsThere is no more glaring example of how officials are now a law unto themselves in modern Britain, than the contempt shown by Customs and Excise for the recent High Court ruling that it was breaking the law by persecuting motorists bringing back cigarettes and alcohol from the Continent for private use.
On July 31 two High Court judges found that Dover customs officials were doubly in breach of the law: first, by ignoring the rules of the European Union single market which permit free movement of goods; and, second, by reversing the burden of proof, whereby passengers were assumed to be guilty of smuggling unless they could prove to officials they were not.
More than 10,000 motorists, including the three who won the case, have had vehicles confiscated, the vast majority for legally bringing in goods for their own use. On August 13, two weeks after the ruling, Captain Christopher Ward, a reader who had gone over with a friend for "a good lunch in Le Touquet" and to bring back three months' supply of cigarettes and wine, was subjected by the Dover officials to the usual grilling.
What was his occupation? "Retired naval officer." What had he done in the Navy? He had served for 20 years in submarines. Implying that he must be lying, the official told him he was "too tall" to have served in submarines.
The captain was then given a political lecture. The lower price of cigarettes in Europe merely balanced their higher rates of income tax.
Tobacco taxes in Britain were high as part of the Government's campaign against the evils of smoking (obviously no one had told the officials that the net effect of encouraging cross-channel imports by making tobacco taxes so high has been to increase cigarette consumption while costing the Treasury more than £5 billion a year).
After a warning that they were lucky not to have their car seized, Captain Ward and his friend were allowed to drive home. All this two weeks after the High Court had ruled such behaviour to be illegal.
Steve Lawrence of Hoverspeed, also a party to the court action, confirms that the officials are "still acting unlawfully and in flagrant defiance of the High Court ruling". Their excuse is that they plan to appeal against the judges' findings and until the appeal is heard, they have licence to continue breaking the law as much as they wish.
The pointlessness of the plastic cup
Next weekend huge quantities of cider will be drunk at one of the west country's most popular annual events, the Great Steam Fair at Tarrant Hinton in Dorset.
Those who sell the cider, including the Somerset cider and brandy-maker Julian Temperley, have received a remarkable letter from Mr Hudson of the Dorset police which encloses a document from "my colleagues at Dorset county trading standards office".
This reminds the cider-sellers that under EU rules, they are not permitted to sell cider by the pint. They can serve it in an officially stamped pint or half-pint glass or plastic container, but may only refer to it as a "large" or "small glass", or as "568 millilitres".
To refer to a "pint" is a criminal offence, and trading standards officials will be "inspecting operations" to ensure the law is complied with.
From long experience, Mr Temperley knows it is unwise to serve cider at such events in glasses or plastic beakers, which break and become dangerous. He prefers to sell it in paper cups, as he is freely allowed to do at similar events in Somerset. But under the "unique Dorset rules" this is considered illegal, because the cups cannot be stamped.
Mr Temperley therefore plans to display a notice that customers will be served in "hard, plastic, dangerous and environmentally unfriendly, stamped containers", for which there will be an extra charge of 30p. If customers then wish to pour their cider into "our safe, biodegradable paper cups", they will get their 30p back.
Trading standards officials and their police "colleagues" (who have no legal status in matters concerning weights and measures) will no doubt be kept busy puzzling out how to bring charges against Mr Temperley for an arrangement which is entirely within the law. But, for good use of police time, it certainly beats catching burglars.
Aug 25 02
Blair 'can't be trusted to oversee ethics'By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent
A new committee should be set up to oversee ethical standards in government because Tony Blair cannot be trusted to do it, say the Conservatives.
David Davis said yesterday that No 10's refusal to comply with a request from the committee on standards in public life showed the need for a new watchdog.
As Prime Minister, Mr Blair is in charge of ensuring that ministers comply with the ministerial code, the rulebook of government behaviour. Mr Davis, a senior shadow cabinet figure, said a tribunal consisting of privy counsellors and probably a law lord should do the job.
"It is the inability of the Prime Minister to distinguish between what is politically expedient for the Labour Party and what is proper for the government of the country that highlights the need for an independent external scrutiny of both ministers and special advisers," he said.
The committee on standards in public life is holding an inquiry into special advisers. Earlier this year it invited Alastair Campbell, the most powerful special adviser in government, to give evidence.
Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, wrote back to say that Mr Campbell and other Downing Street advisers would not appear in public. Instead they offered to meet the committee in private.
Sir Nigel Wicks, committee chairman, rejected the offer. It was "established practice" to get evidence in public, he said. The committee will not hear from Mr Campbell before issuing recommendations.
No 10 said last night that a new watchdog was not needed.
Aug 22 02
What business has Labour got messing with parish councils?By Greville Howard
The village where I am a parish councillor is fortunate in having a full complement of able and sensible people doing the job. Not everywhere is so lucky: nearly 40 per cent of parish, town and community councils fail to attract enough candidates, according to a recent study by the University of Wales. There is a crisis in local government.
The Model Code for Parish Councillors, recently introduced by the Government, is bound to increase the problem. Worse, it will reduce the quality of candidates, as the better ones are usually the busiest and thus the most difficult to persuade to give up their time. It will be for these that the code is most likely to act as the final straw.
Throughout England, parish councillors, with no reward and only rarely any repayment of expenses, give time and energy to their local community. They have virtually no power to take decisions; those are taken by the next tier up. Their role is to be consulted: they attend a few meetings a year, frequently very dull, but they are the frontline of contact between their community and government.
Some politician or civil servant, in need of an "initiative", saw this group of public-spirited beings quietly giving their voluntary service and thought: "How shocking that they are unregulated. How can this be? They might misbehave."
There was no thought that parish councils have been going for 800 years, with scarcely a blip; no thought that the matters over which parish councillors actually take decisions are minimal, and therefore the cost-effectiveness of controls (in the unlikely event that they have the effect they are intended to have) would be zero; no thought that it is already difficult to find people to serve as parish councillors.
No, if you see something, regulate it, and so the Model Code for Parish Councillors and the concept of "quality councils" were born. The full effect has yet to be seen, but already whole parish councils are resigning over what they see as unwarranted intrusions into their private lives.
As if all this were not enough, the rules themselves are both silly and being deliberately misinterpreted by the Standards Board for England. Clause 15 of the code says parish councillors must report gifts of hospitality of more than £25.
This provoked an immediate hullabaloo, but the Standards Board for England pointed out that a Christmas present from one's spouse would not need to be declared because clause 1(2) says the "code of conduct shall not have effect in relation to the activities of a member other than in an official capacity".
When I got this information, I asked one of the delightful and helpful antipodean women at the Standards Board to confirm that, if the scope of clause 15 (the £25 gift clause) is limited by clause 1(2), then clauses 12 and 13 would similarly be limited. (These clauses state that all interests - your job, your directorships, charities where you are a trustee, trade union membership, professional associations, political affiliations etc - must be registered.) After discussion, I was referred upwards.
Surely, I repeated, if clause 1(2) stretches out to limit the scope of clause 15, then it must also limit the scope of clauses 12 and 13: it cannot just bypass them. I was told that no, this was not correct. The reason appeared to be that this was what the Standards Board for England had decided.
When my local district council issued forms for parish councillors to record their interests, the council advised that all interests must be included. On being asked, a charming woman said that was what they had been told to do by the Standards Board for England.
However, Dr Alan Whitehead (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions), in answer to a written parliamentary question, said: "The requirements about the discharge of this duty are set out in paragraph 13 of the Parish Councils (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2001. The Code does not have effect in relation to the activities of a member undertaken other than in an official activity."
This quite clearly shows there is no need for parish councillors to include all interests regardless. The Standards Board is exceeding its powers in demanding detail that does not relate to activity as a parish councillor.
If not impossible, it is certainly very difficult to conceive how membership of a trade union, trade association or professional association could have any relevance to the official activity of a parish councillor. Even membership of a political party would usually be irrelevant, as parish councils are not run on party political lines.
Another point that merits attention is "prejudicial interest". This occurs when the "personal interest" of a councillor could be regarded by a member of the public as likely to prejudice the councillor's judgment. So what is "personal interest"?
It is where (assuming my interpretation of the appalling drafting is correct) a parish council decision would affect "to a greater extent than other council-tax payers, ratepayers, or inhabitants of the authority's area, the wellbeing or financial position of himself"
Does this mean that anyone having more property - for example, a bigger garden - is automatically disqualified by the code from being a parish councillor? After all, virtually all decisions taken by a parish council will affect a larger property owner to a "greater extent" than a smaller property owner.
Following the argument through, are larger council-tax payers excluded because they will be affected to a "greater extent"? And how is one to know what "a member of the public" will think? What a treat for the lawyers to have to argue that one.
The code is yet another expensive, rotten piece of legislation, causing unhappiness and harm and administered by bureaucrats who are deliberately misinterpreting rules. It is difficult to believe that politicians and civil servants could think there is any point in introducing a code of conduct where there is no influence to peddle. Is there, as some have suggested, a hidden agenda to get rid of parish councils?
Two other impediments to the continued good working of parish councils have been introduced. "quality councils" and the one they tried to keep secret: "community vibrancy indicators". This last, if you have not heard of it, is an "indicator theme designed to measure the capacity of parish populations to fulfil their potential for improving their local quality of life".
Politicians and civil servants have already proved themselves incapable of running their bloated empires. Fat chance of their being any help in improving local life. The only contribution they can make is to leave well alone.
One of the rules of the code states that all complaints must be investigated. In my more mischievous moments, I contemplate gumming up the system by complaining about every parish councillor in England. What stops me is that the Government could use the cost of this to close all parish councils down on the grounds that they are too expensive to administer.
Aug 19 02
Re: Sidetracked by triviaDate: 18 August 2002
To judge the political ability of a parliamentary candidate, male or female, on how he or she converses with a supermarket checkout girl plumbs new depths of Tory despair.
To "instruct" constituency associations to ensure that short-listed candidates are capable of holding a five-minute conversation with this assistant presupposes that the said individual is capable of participating in the exercise or indeed is desirous of so doing!
This is humiliating and irrelevant, absurdity in a political party claiming to be grown-up. It does nothing for morale and reduces the standards which should be demanded and expected of Conservative candidates. It is trivia.
Beryl M Goldsmith, London
War on the peasantryMugabe's crimes pale next to what black small farmers endure in the name of development
George Monbiot Tuesday August 13, 2002 The Guardian
The most evil man on earth, after Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, is Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. That, at least, is the view of most of the western world's press.
Yesterday Mugabe insisted that 2,900 white farmers will have to leave their land. He claims to be redistributing their property to landless peasants, but many of the farms he has seized have been handed instead to army officers and party loyalists. Twelve white farmers have been killed and many others beaten. He stole the elections in March through ballot-rigging and the intimidation of his political rivals.
His assault on white-owned farms has been cited by the Daily Telegraph as the principal reason for the current famine. Now, the paper maintains, he is using "food aid as a political weapon". As a candidate for the post of World's Third Most Evil Man, he appears to possess all the right credentials.
There is no doubt that Mugabe is a ruthless man, or that his policies are contributing to the further impoverishment of the Zimbabweans. But to suggest that his land seizures are largely responsible for the nation's hunger is fanciful.
Though the 4,500 white farmers there own two-thirds of of the best land, many of them grow not food but tobacco. Seventy per cent of the nation's maize - its primary staple crop - is grown by black peasant farmers hacking a living from the marginal lands they were left by the whites.
The seizure of the white farms is both brutal and illegal. But it is merely one small scene in the tragedy now playing all over the world. Every year, some tens of millions of peasant farmers are forced to leave their land, with devastating consequences for food security.
For them there are no tear-stained descriptions of a last visit to the graves of their children. If they are mentioned at all, they are dismissed by most of the press as the necessary casualties of development.
Ten years ago, I investigated the expropriations being funded and organised in Africa by another member of the Commonwealth. Canada had paid for the ploughing and planting with wheat of the Basotu Plains in Tanzania.
Wheat was eaten in that country only by the rich, but by planting that crop, rather than maize or beans or cassava, Canada could secure contracts for its chemical and machinery companies, which were world leaders in wheat technology.
The scheme required the dispossession of the 40,000 members of the Barabaig tribe. Those who tried to return to their lands were beaten by the project's workers, imprisoned and tortured with electric shocks. The women were gang-raped.
For the first time in a century, the Barabaig were malnourished. When I raised these issues with one of the people running the project, she told me: "I won't shed a tear for anybody if it means development." The rich world's press took much the same attitude: only the Guardian carried the story.
Now yet another member of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, is funding a much bigger scheme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Some 20 million people will be dispossessed. Again this atrocity has been ignored by most of the media.
These are dark-skinned people being expelled by whites, rather than whites being expelled by black people. They are, as such, assuming their rightful place, as invisible obstacles to the rich world's projects. Mugabe is a monster because he has usurped the natural order.
Throughout the coverage of Zimbabwe there is an undercurrent of racism and of regret that Britain ever let Rhodesia go. Some of the articles in the Telegraph may as well have been headlined "The plucky men and women holding darkest Africa at bay". Readers are led to conclude that Ian Smith was right all along: the only people who know how to run Africa are the whites.
But, through the IMF, the World Bank and the bilateral aid programmes, with their extraordinary conditions, the whites do run Africa, and a right hash they are making of it.
Over the past 10 years, according to the UN's latest human development report, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than a dollar a day has risen from 242 million to 300 million. The more rigorously Africa's governments apply the policies demanded by the whites, the poorer their people become.
Just like Mugabe, the rich world has also been using "food aid as a political weapon". The United States has just succeeded in forcing Zimbabwe and Zambia, both suffering from the southern African famine, to accept GM maize as food relief.
Both nations had fiercely resisted GM crops, partly because they feared that the technology would grant multinational companies control over the foodchain, leaving their people still more vulnerable to hunger. But the US, seizing the opportunity for its biotech firms, told them that they must either accept this consignment or starve.
Malawi has also been obliged to take GM maize from the US, partly because of the loss of its own strategic grain reserve. In 1999, the IMF and the European Union instructed Malawi to privatise the reserve.
The private body was not capitalised, so it had to borrow from commercial banks to buy grain. Predictably enough, by 2001 it found that it couldn't service its debt. The IMF told it to sell most of the reserve.
The private body sold it all, and Malawi ran out of stored grain just as its crops failed. The IMF, having learnt nothing from this catastrophe, continues to prevent that country from helping its farmers, subsidising food or stabilising prices.
The same agency also forces weak nations to open their borders to subsidised food from abroad, destroying their own farming industries. Perhaps most importantly, it prevents state spending on land reform.
Land distribution is the key determinant of food security. Small farms are up to 10 times as productive as large ones, as they tend to be cultivated more intensively. Small farmers are more likely to supply local people with staple crops than western supermarkets with mangetout.
The governments of the rich world don't like land reform. It requires state intervention, which offends the god of free markets, and it hurts big farmers and the companies that supply them. Indeed, it was Britain's refusal either to permit or to fund an adequate reform programme in Zimbabwe that created the political opportunities Mugabe has so ruthlessly exploited. The Lancaster House agreement gave the state to the black population but the nation to the whites. Mugabe manipulates the genuine frustrations of a dispossessed people.
The president of Zimbabwe is a very minor devil in the hellish politics of land and food. The sainted Nelson Mandela has arguably done just as much harm to the people of Africa, by surrendering his powers to the IMF as soon as he had wrested them from apartheid.
Let us condemn Mugabe's attacks upon Zimbabwe's whites by all means, but only if we are also prepared to condemn the far bloodier war that the rich world wages against the poor.
Aug 13 02
West's greed for oil fuels Saddam fever
Anthony Sampson analyses the roots of America's fear of the Iraqi dictator,and warns that toppling him might cause less stability and more insecurity
Iraq - Observer special Sunday August 11, 2002 The Observer
Is the projected war against Iraq really turning into an oil war, aimed at safeguarding Western energy supplies as much as toppling a dangerous dictator and source of terrorism? Of course no one can doubt the genuine American hatred of Saddam Hussein, but recent developments in Washington suggest oil may loom larger than democracy or human rights in American calculations. The alarmist briefing to the Pentagon by the Rand Corporation, leaked last week, talked about Saudi Arabia as 'the kernel of evil' and proposed that Washington should have a showdown with its former ally, if necessary seizing its oilfields which have been crucial to America's energy.
And the more anxious oil companies become about the stability of Saudi Arabia, the more they become interested in gaining access to Iraq, site of the world's second biggest oil reserves, which are denied to them. Vice-President Dick Cheney, who has had his own commercial interests in the Middle East, baldly described his objection to Saddam in California last week: 'He sits on top of 10 per cent of the world's oil reserves. He has enormous wealth being generated by that. And left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not too distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons.'
If Saddam were toppled, the Western oil companies led by Exxon expect to have much readier access to those oil reserves, making them less dependent on Saudi oilfields and the future of the Saudi royal family. The US President and Vice-President, both oilmen, cannot be unaware of those interests.
Of course Western policies towards Iraq have always been deeply influenced by the need for its oil, though they tried to be discreet about it. The nation of Iraq was invented in 1920, after the First World War. The allies had 'floated to victory on a sea of oil' (as the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon put it), but they preferred to conceal their dependence on it: 'When I want oil,' said Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, 'I go to my grocer.'
But both Clemenceau and Curzon, while they talked about Arab interests and self-determination, knew that what really mattered in Iraq was the oil that was emerging in the North; and the British and French succeeded in controlling the precious oilfields at Mosul.
Iraqi oil became still more desirable after the oil crisis of 1973 which enabled the Arab producers to hold the world to ransom; and the discovery of huge new oil reserves in the South made Iraq more important as a rival to Saudi Arabia - and Saddam more exasperating as an enemy.
It is true that since the Seventies, as the shortage turned into glut, producing countries have become much more dependent on the global marketplace. Countries which hoped to develop political clout by allocating oil supplies soon found they had to compete to sell their oil wherever they could. And Western companies developed new oilfields nearer home, or in friendlier countries.
But America and continental Europe still depend on uncertain developing countries, mostly Muslim, for much of their energy, and in times of crisis the concern about oil supplies returns. Western oil interests closely influence military and diplomatic policies, and it is no accident that while American companies are competing for access to oil in Central Asia, the US is building up military bases across the region.
In this security context the prospect of a 'terror network' controlling Saudi Arabian oil, which last week's briefing to the Pentagon conjured up, presents the ultimate night mare: a puritanical Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia, and perhaps in other Gulf states, would be prepared to defy the marketplace, with much less need to sell their oil than corrupt monarchies or sheikhdoms. Bin Laden, himself a Saudi, made no secret of his overriding ambition to rid his country of corrupt rulers and return to its austere Islamist roots.
In this scenario Americans would be more determined to get access to oil in Iraq, and the demands to topple Saddam would be reinforced.
There are undoubtedly many different and sometimes conflicting strands behind Washington's attitudes to Iraq. Certainly the public sense of outrage about 11 September, and the fear of terrorism, remains the most potent political force behind the moves against Saddam - reinforced by Israel's dread of Iraq's weaponry.
But there are also the longer-term geopolitical arguments in the Pentagon and the State Department, with commercial pressures behind them, about the need for energy security. And these have become more urgent with the growing worries about the Saudis.
The crucial question remains: would toppling Saddam safeguard Iraq's oil for the West? After all, both previous American Presidents - Clinton and George Bush Snr - were persuaded not to overthrow Saddam, because the alternative could well be a more dangerous power vacuum. That danger remains. If Iraq were to split into three parts, as many expect, the new oil regions in the South might be become still less reliable, in a region dominated by Shia Muslims who have their own links with the Shia in Iran. And a destabilised Saudi Arabia could make a power vacuum still more dangerous.
The history of oil wars is not encouraging, and oil companies are not necessarily the best judges of national interests. The Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953, which toppled the radical Mossadeq and brought back the Shah, enabled Western companies to regain control of Iranian oil: but the Iranian people never forgave the intervention, and took their revenge on the Shah in 1979.
The belief that invading Iraq will produce a more stable Middle East, and give the West easy access to its oil wealth, is dangerously simplistic. Westerners live in a world where most of their oil comes from Islam, and their only long-term security in energy depends on accommodating Muslims.
Anthony Sampson is the author of 'The Seven Sisters', about oil companies and the Middle East.
Lords reform by stealth(Filed: 10/08/2002)
Reform of the House of Lords has slipped into the clutches of spin doctors. In a recent newspaper interview, Lord Williams, the Leader of the House, spoke of weeding out the elderly by setting a retirement age and offering a pension.
Next, it seems, those who sit in the House of Lords are to forfeit their titles. There has been political chatter about dropping the prefix "Lord" and substituting the most modest suffix of ML (Member of the Lords). On the Lords website, this chatter is turned into reality. The prefix has been dropped, the suffix is in use. All this without serious discussion or debate.
It is plain that the Government seeks further changes in the Lords but, recalling how often past proposals for reform have been scuppered by controversy, reckons the best way of getting there is either by slipping changes past or simply imposing them. Lord Williams, again, sees no reason why receipt of an honour should entitle anyone to become a Member of Parliament. Knights, he argues, do not join the Commons, so why should Lords automatically become members of the Upper House?
Those attracted by the logic of this argument should also weigh the corollary. Once a Member of the Upper House becomes Bill Snooks ML, the way has been paved for the Prime Minister to appoint as many Snookses as he likes to the Upper House without the encumbrance of a title, and to call a whole load of other petitioners "Lord X" without giving them space on the red benches. The door to cronyism will be open wide.
All this rolls along, together with lighter hours for the Lords and talk of salaries in place of an expense allowance, but without any undertaking from the Government on meeting the desire of those who wish to see an element of the Lords removed from patronage and open to election. That, as ministers know well, would be controversial and troublesome. Easier by far to carry out cosmetic changes stealthily.
Aug 10 02
Earth summit agenda 'hijacked'
Big business is wielding its influence to water down plans for tighter regulation, says aid groupTerry Macalister and Paul Brown
The earth summit has been hijacked by big business and the original goals of enhancing the lives of the world's poor are fast disappearing, according to research by an aid agency seen by the Guardian. Christian Aid has launched a blistering attack on the business community in the lead-up to the world summit on sustainable development, which opens in Johannesburg on August 26.
Binding regulations on companies, covering such issues as human rights and the environment, have been dropped in favour of voluntary codes, its report says. The draft plan now calls only for the "promotion of corporate accountability and responsibility and the exchange of best practices".
It blames this on specially formed lobby groups including Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce.
"Business has greater access and influence than any other group and we are concerned that the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies and away from those of the poor," the agency says. Its report concludes: "Ten years after the Rio earth summit, the Johannesburg summit offers the chance to place corporate accountability at the centre of sustainable development. Corporate influence means this does not look like happening."
Business leaders last night said the summit was an intergovernmental conference and they had no more influence as observers than any other non-governmental organisation.
As for regulation of corporate accountability, BASD said: "It is up to individual governments to look at what is feasible, possible and desirable. NGOs have the best interests of developing countries and small and medium-sized companies at heart but they have not really thought through the consequences."
Tougher rules could set standards that many smaller firms could not meet, leading to decreased investment in developing countries.
But Christian Aid points to comments made by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, last September, who said: "We cannot leave companies to regulate themselves globally, any more than we do in our national economies."
The agency is not the only NGO to complain that the summit has come under the sway of big business. This week Friends of the Earth said a "creeping corporate takeover of the UN itself" was under way.
Meanwhile, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said yesterday he was delighted to have been picked as part of the five-strong ministerial team to attend the summit, after Downing Street announced it had reinstated him in the British delegation.
Mr Meacher had been dropped on the instructions of Tony Blair, who was concerned Britain was taking too many ministers in a delegation of 100 to what will be the world's biggest conference.
After the Guardian reported that Mr Meacher had been excluded, enraged environmental groups offered to pay his fare and hotel bill so Britain could be represented by the only minister they think fully understands the issues.
"Of course I am delighted to be going," Mr Meacher said. "Now we have settled the delegation I hope we can concentrate on the issues involved. I believe [these are] pushing forward the agenda on energy, water, health, food security and biodiversity to make the world better for the poor and underdeveloped countries."
Aug 9 02
Lords 'will block compulsory retirement age for peers'By Benedict Brogan, Nicole Martin and John Jelley
The House of Lords would block any attempt by the Government to impose a compulsory retirement age on its members, peers warned last night, amid renewed speculation about the future of the second chamber.
Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Leader of the Lords, said he was in favour of weeding out elderly peers by imposing a maximum age for membership and offering a pension as an inducement to retirement.
He promised to treat elderly peers - who could include the former prime ministers Lady Thatcher, 76, and Lord Callaghan, 90, - "with decency and dignity", but made clear he wanted to make room for paid, elected members.
An all-party joint committee of the Lords and Commons set up by the Government is due to produce recommendations for further reforms of the second chamber, including electing some of its members.
Of the Upper House's 572 life peers, 78 per cent are over 60, and 43 per cent are over 70 in a chamber that has no provision for retirement. The Government is under pressure from reformers to make the Lords elected or partly-elected.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, the Liberal Democrat peer who is on the joint committee that includes Kenneth Clarke and William Hague, said retirement would have to be optional.
"I would be very surprised if any retirement mechanism was other than voluntary. Personally I would be against any form of compulsory retirement, but it would have no chance of getting through the Lords.
"Voluntary retirement would be an option. It's one of the strange things about this place that there is no mechanism for retirement. You either die or take a leave of absence."
In an interview with the Financial Times, Lord Williams called for peers to be given salaries rather than an attendance allowance. In exchange, he was "strongly in favour" of separating the award of a peerage from membership - raising the prospect of members of the Upper House serving without a title.
"I don't think that having an honour has got anything to do with being a member of Parliament. After all, if you're elected an MP, you don't get a knighthood - immediately."
Lord Blake, 85, a constitutional historian, said it was wrong to suggest that elderly peers became redundant senior citizens once they reached a certain age. "I accept that there is the danger of people going gaga, but in the Lords, so far, common sense has prevented anything silly happening," he said.
"There is no retiring age for the Commons, and the two houses should be treated exactly the same."
Lord Deedes, 89, a former editor of The Telegraph who still writes regularly for the paper, said it would be unfair to set an upper age limit because people aged in different ways.
"We all know of people aged 65 who are not very useful, and others in their 80s and 90s who are still well. Take Lord Callaghan, for example, and Lady Castle, who was still very bright when she died," he said.
"I agree that the House of Lords has been seen as a retreat for geriatrics. Throughout its history, it's carried a number of pretty senile characters. But at what age can we say that people are no longer any use?"
Tony Benn, 77, the former Labour MP, who is in favour of an elected House of Lords, said: "I don't think there should be any age limit for elected peers. Why should you discriminate? The key in the House of Commons is that you have to be elected. If you want to elect an older person, you should be able to."
Mr Benn added: "Some old people are gaga, but some young people are a menace. I'm 78 next birthday and life gets better every year. I left parliament to devote more time to politics and I'm busier than I've ever been."
Aug 6 02
The logic of empire - The US is now a threat to the rest of the world. The sensible response is non-cooperationGeorge Monbiot
There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years. It has scuppered the biological weapons convention while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and has destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test ban treaty. It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms treaty, undermined the international criminal court, refused to sign the climate change protocol and, last month, sought to immobilise the UN convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Even its preparedness to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the UN security council is a defiance of international law far graver than Saddam Hussein's non-compliance with UN weapons inspectors.
But the US government's declaration of impending war has, in truth, nothing to do with weapons inspections. On Saturday John Bolton, the US official charged, hilariously, with "arms control", told the Today programme that "our policy ... insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not". The US government's justification for whupping Saddam has now changed twice. At first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was "assisting al-Qaida". This turned out to be untrue. Then the US government claimed that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of mass destruction, and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find out if this were so. Now, as the promised evidence has failed to materialise, the weapons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is Saddam Hussein's very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.
Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without strategic purpose. The US government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein, however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world now than he has done for the past 10 years.
But the US government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. The second is that the people of all super-dominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice-president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be working rather well.
The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex that is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses. In other words, if the US were not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The US will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.
Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion. By appeasing George Bush, he placates Britain's rightwing press. Standing on Bush's shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain's anomalous position as a permanent member of the UN security council. Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent role of broker and interpreter of power.
By invoking the "special relationship", Blair also avoids the greatest challenge any prime minister has faced since the second world war. This challenge is to recognise and act upon the conclusion of any objective analysis of global power: namely that the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush. The nation that in the past has been our firmest friend is becoming instead our foremost enemy.
As the US government discovers that it can threaten and attack other nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries that have numbered among its allies. As its insatiable demand for resources prompts ever bolder colonial adventures, it will come to interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial states. As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other governments and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement that impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new generation of nuclear weapons, and appears to be ready to use them pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East, into which the rest of the world would be sucked.
The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power. Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming resistance.
For Britain to abandon the special relationship would be to accept that this is happening. To accept that the US presents a danger to the rest of the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British government has undertaken for over 60 years.
We can resist the US neither by military nor economic means, but we can resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe should impede, at the diplomatic level, all US attempts to act unilaterally. We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement, gangster capitalism and excessive military spending will reduce America's power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its doormat. Only when the US can accept its role as a nation whose interests must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a friendship that was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of justice.
Aug 6 02
Glenys, queen of the desert (from Booker's Notebook)
Just as Neil Kinnock gets into hot water over the sacking of another senior EU official for trying to blow the whistle on EU fraud, his wife, Glenys, seems to have got involved in a curious little episode of her own, in her role as international development spokesman for the Socialist group in the EU Parliament.
For some years, that highly professional campaigning organisation Survival International has been battling on behalf of the few thousand remaining Bushmen of the Kalahari, who are being forced by the Botswanan government out of the Central Kalahari game reserve, set aside by Britain in the 1960s as their last refuge. Last year the EU threatened to withhold a £4 million development grant to Botswana unless forced removals ceased.
Last November, however, Brussels gave the go-ahead for the grant, even though Survival had produced voluminous first-hand evidence that persecution of the Bushmen, including torture, was continuing.
Before recently visiting the Kalahari, Mrs Kinnock was fully briefed by Survival on the gulf between the official line that the Bushmen are being well treated and the horrific reality of the dismal New Xhade camp where they are dumped after eviction, which they call "the place of death".
During her brief visit, it was the government's district commissioner who acted as her interpreter. The Bushmen's chief spokesman, Roy Sesana, had the microphone snatched from him when he tried to speak. She was then locally reported echoing the government's propaganda line, and on the day that she left Botswana, July 1, Brussels handed over the money.
When Stephen Corry, Survival's director, wrote to Mrs Kinnock asking whether she had been fairly reported, she replied that she had seen no evidence of physical force being used and that Survival should accept the Botswanan government's invitation to visit the settlement for themselves.
A disbelieving Mr Corry responded by pointing out that over the past five years he and four other Survival staffers have made innumerable visits to every part of the Kalahari, recording hundreds of hours of interviews with scores of Bushmen.
He then listed some of the forcible measures the Botswanan government has recently used to evict the Bushmen, ranging from emptying their water tanks to threatening that, unless they agree to leave, they would be shut up in their huts and burnt. The persecution of the Bushmen was, he said, the worst case of neo-colonial oppression Survival had investigated.
Last week Survival's Miriam Ross returned from the Kalahari with a further stack of interviews describing how Mrs Kinnock's visit looked to the Bushmen. They were astonished how easily she had been hoodwinked. As Roy Sesana put it: "She wasted money coming from London. I am crying when she says these things. She should pay the money back."
Aug 4 02
Whitehall spin machine expandedAlan Travis and Avi Silverman
The electronic information and rebuttal system used by the government to help Whitehall stay on message is to undergo a dramatic expansion, according to Cabinet Office documents seen by the Guardian.
The system, known as the "knowledge network", has been used for two and half years to give ministers, their special advisers and key policy officials instant access to the "most up to date key messages" from individual departments.
But the document shows that while the government has sworn to abandon spin, behind the scenes it has been developing ever more sophisticated ways of getting its message across.
The system's creators now want to extend it to enable Downing Street to tighten its grip over Whitehall by ensuring that civil servants "get a broader feel of wider departmental and government policies, rather than simply their own area or department".
It says that cross-government initiatives using these new information-sharing techniques have become "immensely stronger".
The primary aim of the knowledge network is to share information between government departments but in practice it has been used by Downing Street to ensure that all ministers and press officers are putting out the "most up to date messages".
The documents show that it has already proved useful to ministers in dealing with hostile criticism from MPs and the media: "Journalists will still call out of the blue on unfamiliar subjects, but we are far better equipped and less vulnerable to bolts out of the blue," the Home Office said.
The Department of Food and Rural Affairs said: "Access to information on the department's key messages and aims has certainly been improved... it proved useful in coordinating departmental responses to media coverage."
But plans to develop "knowledge-enhanced government" also include developing secure computer networks enabling key figures in local authorities, the NHS, and other agencies to join planning during crises. .................... .....In the blueprint seen by the Guardian, the ambition is to use the newly developed secure government intranet to "manage new and existing policies in conjunction with key stakeholders in the wider public, private and voluntary sectors".
The system was used in the foot and mouth crisis to ensure that the views of ministers and their advisers were shared with local officials. The blueprint says this provides a model to improve the ability of public sector officials to contribute to the debate about priorities - but cautions that the right members must be picked to take part in the first place.
Aug 3 02
Blair's worries over Iraq invasion revealedFraser Nelson Westminster Editor
TONY Blair is privately opposed to bombing Baghdad and has deep concerns about the consequences of any invasion of Iraq, according to King Abdullah of Jordan.
The king has said the Prime Minister told him he harbours deep reservations about the position adopted by President George Bush and the hawks in his administration.
The disclosure has shattered the image of unity between Mr Blair and Mr Bush, and left the Prime Minister accused of a duplicitous diplomatic policy, telling each world leader what he thinks they want to hear.
King Abdullah met Mr Bush yesterday and preceded the talks by giving an interview to the Washington Post, where he made clear Britain is among the countries worried about the US's rhetoric.
The president, he said, does not realise how much opposition there is to a war with Iraq because world leaders are reluctant to make their true feelings known to him.
"In all the years I have seen in the international community, everybody is saying this is a bad idea," he told the newspaper. "If it seems America says, We want to hit Baghdad', that's not what Jordanians think, or the British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese and everybody else."
He then detailed the extent of opposition to Mr Bush and singled out the Prime Minister: "Mr Blair has tremendous concerns about how this would unravel".
His comments flatly contradict the image of unflinching support for the US which Downing Street has been careful to nurture since 11 September. No 10 believes that this position delivers the most leverage with the White House.
Downing Street yesterday did not dispute the king's version of events and would only say there is no shift in position. A spokeswoman said: "The situation hasn't changed. The Prime Minister met the king on Monday, when they had a constructive dialogue. The Prime Minister believes that weapons of mass destruction is an issue that has to be dealt with." When asked whether she accepted that Mr Blair has never before admitted to any reservations about attacking Iraq, she said: "I would refer you to what he said last week."
Last week, Mr Blair gave an press conference where the topic of Iraq emerged several times. He would then say only that "no decision has been taken", but did make clear he would not require parliament's consent before making such a decision. The Conservatives said that Mr Blair has been caught trying to give two different messages to two different audiences. ......
Aug 2 02
A toast to libertyMany a bottle of (legally) imported champagne will have been cracked open to celebrate the defeat of HM Customs and Excise in the High Court yesterday.
Customs officers will no longer be entitled to stop and search anybody returning from the Continent without reasonable grounds for suspecting those individuals of smuggling goods for commercial resale in order to avoid duties. Though Customs has been given leave to appeal, there can be no doubt that the court came to the right verdict.
Alan and Pauline Andrews, whose car and its contents were confiscated at Dover last year, should be the toast of all tourists, along with Hoverspeed, which bravely brought the case on their behalf.
It was characteristic of the arrogance that seems to have infected the Board of Customs and Excise that it should issue a statement claiming that the court had "upheld" its rights. John Healy, the Economic Secretary, even claimed that "those who bring back large quantities of tobacco must accept an evidential burden to provide a satisfactory explanation".
This is nonsense. One of the court's findings was that Customs "wrongly reverses the burden of proof". It is for the authorities to prove that an individual is engaged in smuggling, not the other way round.
Customs and Excise should cease forthwith the practice of arbitrarily seizing alcohol and tobacco as contraband, and especially of impounding and selling vehicles, without strong evidence of criminal intent. The court found that the principle of proportionality is abandoned in such penal confiscations.
The most notorious recent case, highlighted in this newspaper, was that of Mrs Kim Cundle, whose Mercedes van was confiscated and auctioned after she was unable to prove that the wine and beer she was bringing home from France were intended for her own and her husband's birthday parties.
One of the most sinister aspects of this affair has been the treatment of travellers as if they were criminals. Interrogations, sometimes lasting many hours; "lock-ins", in which passengers are forced to endure long delays; intimidating tactics, paramilitary uniforms and "intensification exercises" - all the trappings of a police state have been deployed to terrorise law-abiding people.
Ever since Gordon Brown gave the green light to such "deterrence" several years ago, the Government has been impeding the free flow of people and goods. It has abused its powers, merely to preserve the grotesque imbalance in excise duties between Britain and the Continent. As Edmund Burke observed: "The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." It has been left to the courts, invoking European laws, to put a stop to this very British abuse.
Aug 1 02
Suspects held illegallyFraser Nelson Westminster Editor
NINE suspected terrorists arrested without trial under David Blunkett's new emergency legislation were told yesterday that the Home Secretary had detained them unlawfully. The foreign nationals who were detained under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act were told that they had been discriminated against because they were not British.
However, they will not be released and will continue to be detained in a high-security prison in London while the Home Secretary appeals against the ruling.
In a damaging blow for Mr Blunkett's post-11 September policy, three judges in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said that the detention of the nine was "not only discriminatory and so unlawful ... but also it is disproportionate". Using the European Convention on Human Rights, they argued that Mr Blunkett cannot detain a Briton without trial, and therefore should not be allowed to imprison anyone else. The Home Office said this distinction is a cornerstone of the English legal system. "We are disappointed that the court has found that these powers discriminate against foreign nationals," it said. "Our law has always distinguished between UK citizens and foreign nationals. We will be appealing to the Court of Appeal on this issue." The nine could not be deported to their country of origin because of European Convention obligations not to deport to states which practise torture or the death penalty. Mr Blunkett's compromise was to detain them without charge in the UK - while stating that they were free to leave the country at any time if they could find a safe haven. Liberty, the civil rights pressure group which has opposed Mr Blunkett's legislation, said the ruling has inflicted an important blow on what it sees as his increasingly draconian policy. "The government did not have the guts to say they were going to intern British people because they didn't think they would get it through parliament," said John Wadham, the organisation's director.
"They took the easy option and said they were only going to intern foreigners. This violates Article 14 of the Human Rights Convention, and today's ruling is a huge victory."
This is the first time that the specially-appointed panel of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has examined the legality of the act. Its hearing took place in secret with even the applicants' lawyers banned from hearing some of the evidence against their clients. The government had been correct to state that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation", said the panel. But it added: "We have decided that the 2001 act ... to the extent that it permits only the detention of foreign suspected international terrorists, is not compatible with the convention." Lawyers for the Home Secretary were granted leave to take the case to the Court of Appeal, while the applicants were granted half their costs.
July 31 02
Blair to ignore warning on media ownership lawBy Dominic White and Benedict Brogan (Filed: 29/07/2002)
Tony Blair will this week defy calls from an influential committee of MPs and peers to scrap plans that would allow foreign businesses to buy up British media companies, including television channels.
The joint committee set up to study the Government's Draft Communications Bill is expected to recommend on Wednesday that the media market should only be opened up if other countries open their markets in return. It is believed that the committee, chaired by the film producer Lord Puttnam, will criticise the plan to give major figures such as the naturalised American Rupert Murdoch a chance to increase his hold on broadcasting in Britain. The verdict recommending the proposal be scrapped is an embarrassment to ministers.
The committee's main target is the United States, which has strong bars on foreign investment in its media market. With the US unlikely to change its laws, the committee is effectively calling for a bar on companies such as Disney, AOL Time Warner and News Corporation investing in Britain.
Last night the Government made clear it was not prepared to compromise. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, indicated that she was prepared to ignore Lord Puttnam's report. "The provisions on media ownership were not tentative proposals, they were decisions," she said. "Of course we will look very closely at what the committee says and the evidence they had.
"But the Government believes the broadcast industry and the public will benefit enormously from the foreign investment that would flow from the recommendations." The move will open the Prime Minister's relationship with the media to fresh scrutiny. It will also raise doubts about the purpose of the committee.
July 29 02
Gibraltar is not British enough for BlairBy Jenny McCartney (Filed: 28/07/2002)
The Government's shambolic show-down with Gibraltar first sprang, I suspect, largely from Mr Blair's desire to avoid social embarrassment. Every time he meets his new friend and European ally Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, Gibraltar is there too: a spiky lump of gravel in the seafood terrine.
How nice it would be, Mr Blair must have mused over his Rioja, to give Mr Aznar something to make him smile again, and how pleasant to be rid of the outmoded Gibraltarians and their faraway flag-waving. With ill-concealed enthusiasm, Mr Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Minister, began hastening towards an arrangement to share the sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain (pending future discussions) and to sedate the Gibraltarians with the painkiller of a large pay-off.
Then - boom! - last week's row erupted, and the British government was left looking like a man who has rubbed violently at a small stain on his tie, and knocked a pot of soup over himself in the process.
How could Mr Blair not have foreseen it? By almost any interpretation, this government has behaved with extraordinary arrogance towards Gibraltar, and - when its people protested - it simply ratcheted up the crassness.
Mr Straw placed joint sovereignty on the negotiating table with Spain, regardless of Gibraltar's wishes. Then last week Peter Hain, the Europe Minister, indicated that London would organise a Gibraltar referendum after a few years, once its people had "time to reflect".
An outraged Peter Caruana, Gibraltar's chief minister, rejoined that Gibraltar would organise its own referendum within three months, and instantly became Public Enemy Number One. Mr Hain bluntly informed him that his referendum wouldn't count, and the British government would ignore the results. So that was that.
Except that it wasn't. Many fellow-Britons suddenly turned upon their government, elbowing their way on to the Today programme to vent their ire at Mr Hain. The anger came from Right and Left alike: Bill Morris, the leader of the TGWU, called the Foreign Office's rejection of the referendum "an insult to democracy" and announced that he personally would travel there "to campaign for a No vote".
A number of Labour back-benchers - including Lindsay Hoyle, the Labour chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar - also fiercely attacked the negotiations with Spain.
Yet Spain, at least, has been eminently frank in the pursuit of its popular interests: our government has not. The fact that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office so grossly miscalculated the national response is very telling, for there is a blind spot in New Labour: a streak which masquerades as anti-colonialism, but is in fact brutally colonialist in its thinking.
It is best summed up by the phrase "Not British Enough": a category reserved for groups of people who have a historical British identity but create a diplomatic difficulty. New Labour treats such groups as obstreperous children, whose sticky hands must be kept away from the levers of decision-making, especially when those levers are being worked to eject them from the British state.
In Northern Ireland, the Labour party still refuses to allow British citizens the chance to organise or vote for Labour, even as it governs them from London. Indeed, the blueprint which is taking shape for Gibraltar - exclusive British government negotiations with Spain, followed by a fait accompli and a heavily-managed referendum - is startlingly similar to that which was implemented in Northern Ireland. The Foreign Office, however, appears not to have twigged that this deal is much less saleable to the British public.
There is no significant minority in Gibraltar campaigning to be part of Spain: at the last referendum, in 1967, more than 99 per cent of its population voted to stay British. Nor is mainland Britain asked to endure a bombing campaign as the price of keeping the Rock, as it was with Northern Ireland. When Mr Average in England is informed that everyone in Gibraltar wants to stay British, and realises that he is not suffering one jot as a result of them so doing, his gut reaction is: "Why the hell shouldn't they?".
None the less, something evidently niggles Messrs Blair, Straw and Hain about Gibraltarians per se, and I think it is rooted in that notion of "Not British Enough": a faint, visceral contempt for anyone who wants to remain a member of Club Britain without being born on the mainland. Somewhere deep inside their political instincts, they can't help thinking of Ulster Unionists as a bunch of mad Paddies with union flags, and Gibraltarians as wannabe Englishmen taking afternoon tea in a tinpot state.
But I have visited Gibraltar, and its people are a great deal more complicated than that. They speak English, Spanish and llanito: a dialect which combines both languages. Their peculiar history has been shaped by seafaring and sieges, Nelson and Franco. I wonder, however, what it says about New Labour's blinkered definition of Britishness, that there is no room in it for the inhabitants of the Rock
July 28 02
Blair doubles cost of spin
The amount of taxpayers' money spent on government advertising has more than doubled since Labour came to power, confirming fears that No 10's current inhabitant is obsessed with spin.
In the past year Tony Blair shelled out a staggering £147m more than John Major did in his last year of office, on advertising ranging from recruitment campaigns for teachers and soldiers to public information ads during the foot and mouth crisis last spring and summer.
July 26 02
A free countryBy Stephen Robinson
Last week, Privacy International received a disquieting complaint from the mother of an 11-year-old child attending a London primary school. She claimed all children in the school had been electronically fingerprinted for a new library system without the consent of parents. Some parents were angry, saying the use of such systems softens children up for such initiatives as ID cards and DNA testing.
This fingerprinting system has been sold to 1,000 schools, or as many as 300,000 children from the age of seven. It is being used to replace library cards and to increase efficiency of library management. Each child places a thumb on an electronic scanner, and the identity of the print is then stored in a computer.
That thousands of children are being fingerprinted for school administration is worrying enough. But the most bizarre twist is that the Office of the Information Commissioner, the official responsible for the protection of information privacy in Britain, has come out in support of the practice.
In a letter to the system vendor, Micro Librarian Systems (MLS), a commission compliance officer praised the use of the technology in schools, arguing that fingerprinting "aids compliance with the Data Protection Act".
In the furore that followed, senior staff of the commissioner enthusiastically lined up publicly to "encourage" schools to fingerprint their children, arguing that it would be an example of "best practice" in information handling.
So, it seems fingerprinting of children is good for privacy. Perhaps the newly appointed Information Commissioner, who takes up his post later this year, should examine his office's raison d'etre. On the basis of what we have heard this week, it should be regarded with suspicion by anyone who cares about privacy.
July 26 02
Archbishop will not give blessing for war on IraqBy Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
DR ROWAN WILLIAMS hinted at future confrontation with the Government after being named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday when he insisted he would only support military action on Iraq which had been cleared by the United Nations. Dr Williams, who is currently Archbishop of Wales, recently signed an open letter condemning any possible attack on Iraq.
He also said he had no regrets about taking part in direct action against nuclear weapons in a protest organised by CND during the 1980s.
The Archbishop outlined his vision for the future of the Church of England, saying that he was determined that Christianity should once again "capture the imagination of our culture".....
July 24 02
Blunkett may be a listener, but he's certainly no liberalThe white paper on criminal justice is a further erosion of our rights
Hugo Young Thursday July 18, 2002 The Guardian
People who take seriously the civil liberties and human rights agenda have often, perhaps usually, voted Labour. They see themselves as progressive, on the left not the right, and have tended to assume that Labour, like them, believed in the importance of defending axioms that range across such issues as free speech, race and sex discrimination, the protection of the individual against abusive state power, and trial by jury. The assumption always was that, given the choice between the two main parties, anyone who cared about these things knew where they had to stand.
This was a triumph of optimism over experience never easy to understand. Beginning with Herbert Morrison, postwar Labour governments have found no shortage of authoritarians to run the Home Office. Few showed natural sympathy for victims of state power, or resisted populist diatribes against fundamental rights and freedoms. Jim Callaghan was in the Morrison line, and so was Merlyn Rees. It turns out that the entire weight of libertarian trust in Labour rests on the performance of one man, Roy Jenkins, whose record was epic in many of these fields, but who is now a Liberal Democrat - as is almost every politician now prepared to take risks for civil liberties.
The Blair government is, in this respect, old, old Labour. With one exception, it has run away from every libertarian challenge. It is profoundly illiberal. As home secretary, Jack Straw always wanted to make clear early in the conversation that he was not a liberal. Nor is Tony Blair. Liberal is a word that crosses Blair's lips as infrequently as socialist. The third way he seeks between these terms is the only one available: reliably and fiercely conservative.
A conservative stance was central to Blair's strategy before 1997. His most tenacious work as shadow home secretary was to prepare the end of Labour's annual opposition to renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He also persuaded John Smith to abstain rather than oppose when Michael Howard's most extreme criminal justice bill came to a final vote. As prime minister, he maintained and extended his unreliable trajectory, insisting, for example, that the Freedom of Information Act, of which he spoke in opposition as a fervent supporter, should be operationally delayed for several years. With his support, Home Secretary Straw abolished the defendant's right to silence in criminal cases, again a reversal of the previous party line.
The exception to this pattern is the Human Rights Act, importing the European convention into domestic law. It was a big reform. But it was driven forward by the inescapable demands of history, together with Lord Chancellor Irvine's conversion to its merits. Straw seized on it, perhaps as cover for the anti-progressive things he wanted to do. Blair has never made more than passing reference to it. It doesn't grow out of the bowels of Labour, old or new, and certainly not out of the mind or sympathy of the present home secretary, David Blunkett, who refers to its libertarian impulse as "airy-fairy", and furiously tried to wriggle round the constraints it placed on his anti-terrorism legislation.
This is the historic context in which to read Blunkett's white paper on the criminal justice system. The progressive agenda places heavy reliance on the importance of law and judges; Blunkett has spent much time scorning what they say and do. Never has a home secretary done more to destroy confidence in the legal profession. Morrison and Callaghan were careful what they said about judges. Time and again Blunkett has whined and sniped at judgments that went against him. It shouldn't be surprising that a defining theme of the white paper is the government's belief that the justice system has become a lawyers' ramp.
That hasn't produced a bad document. Blunkett's rarest virtue is that he's a listener, sometimes prepared to change his mind and challenge other people's conventional wisdom. The paper takes a radical and constructive swipe, long overdue, at some grotesque inefficiencies. At every stage from arraignment to trial, too many thousands of cases are bedevilled by multiple failures on the part of police, prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers. Seeking more reliable satisfaction for victims, and a better clear-up rate for crimes of every kind, is a worthy objective of government. The white paper has many sensible ideas.
It is also good and grown-up about sentencing. Financial as well as social crisis has driven this home secretary to try to do something about the exponential growth that makes Britain the prison capital of Europe. Not a new aspiration - and the message is confused by doubling, as part of the strategy to speed up trials, the length of sentences magistrates can give. But most of the language and would-be policy on prisons is practical, not tabloid.
Blunkett has also listened on juries. Six months ago, in line with Lord Justice Auld's report, he proposed a system that might have halved the number of jury trials, drastically abolishing a fundamental right. Now he's gone back on that. That does not mitigate, however, the crucial shift this state paper expresses. The rule that determined the balance of the judicial system hitherto was this: it was worse for an innocent person to be convicted than for a guilty person to go free. Now that has been reversed. What drives the Blunkett white paper is a demand for more convictions, no matter what collateral damage may be done to people who are not guilty.
That was the purpose of Labour's serial assaults on jury trial, two by Straw and one by Blunkett. Juries were thought to acquit more read ily than magistrates. Though Blunkett was forced to pull back, he continues to eat away at his target. Juries will now be removed, if judges agree, not only from complicated fraud cases but complex cases of any kind that involve money: a burgeoning category. They will also be excused if in danger of "intimidation", something easily manipulable by unscrupulous policemen. The truth is that these ministers dislike juries almost as much as they mistrust, and airily defame, the lawyers whose professional duty is to ensure defendants get a fair trial.
Even more offensive is Blunkett's willingness to open the way to more disclosure of previous convictions. This may already be done in narrowly restricted circumstances. Judges are now invited to extend them, to satisfy an explicit impatience with juries' present performance. The presumption of innocence is not being cleaved away with the axe that tabloid populism might like. But an insinuating needle can destroy the fabric of the system just as well, which Blunkett, detesting lawyers, seems only too happy to countenance.
These are a liberal's objections to his plan. To say the conviction of the innocent is more intolerable than the acquittal of the guilty sounds, these days, outlandish. But any system will be loaded to have one effect or the other, and Blunkett has made his choice. It's regrettable but not entirely surprising: the logical conclusion of Labour's unprincipled and treacherous history.
July 18 02
Blunkett's notion of justice: guilty until proved innocentBy Peter Lilley (Filed: 17/07/2002)
Asked by a judge whether his client was aware of some legal maxim with a Latin tag, the famously insolent barrister F E Smith replied "Your Honour: in the little village from which my client comes, they speak of little else."
The sarcasm was well placed. Most people know little and care less about legal matters. Four legal principles are so fundamental to our liberty that they have impressed themselves on the public consciousness: that we have the right to trial by jury; we are innocent unless proved guilty; we cannot be imprisoned without charge (habeas corpus); and we cannot be tried twice for the same offence (the double jeopardy rule).
What is remarkable is that precisely those four pillars of our liberties are now under threat from this Labour Government. Driven by a combination of saloon bar populism and zeal for modernisation, David Blunkett will today further undermine their foundations.
The Government pursues a populist line by sounding "tough on crime" through deliberately blurring the distinction between those accused, and those guilty, of crime. He claims that juries acquit more people than magistrates do, so he intends to reduce the number of jury trials. In fact, as Jack Straw admitted, the conviction rate for similar offences is much the same whether a trial is before a magistrate or a jury.
When Home Secretary, he none the less brought in two Bills to abolish our right to choose trial by jury. The Government argued that this right to an expensive jury trial was exploited by hardened criminals to get a lesser sentence than if they were tried by a magistrate. So, removing that right would ensure criminals got their just deserts and save money. This argument disintegrated when it emerged that the expected savings would be largely due to the shorter sentences that magistrates can give.
Mr Blunkett appears to have stepped back from a third attempt to abolish the right to jury trial. Instead he plans a squeeze on jury trial from both ends. At one end he will say that most offences carrying sentences of less than a year will be deemed too simple to merit jury trial. At the other end, he will say that, beginning with fraud trials, complex cases should be taken away from juries. The Government seems to have fallen for the myth that juries are so bewildered by complex fraud cases that they let guilty fraudsters go free. In fact, the Serious Fraud Office has had a 92 per cent conviction rate over the past four years, far higher than all other offences.
Despite its protestations of support for juries in principle, it is clear that a government that considers juries unsuitable for either simple or complex cases has little attachment to them at all. Yet juries, precisely because they are ordinary people, are trusted, independent of the state, fairest and the best safeguard against onerous laws, which they may simply refuse to enforce.
Above all, they are the only way, apart from voting, that citizens can participate in the process of government. A million people carry out jury service every five or six years - and in this way power is diffused into the community. We ought to be widening participation, not restricting the jury's role. Anyone summoned for service should be required to nominate a period in the coming year when they can serve.
The Government is also committed to abolishing the guarantee against double jeopardy - at least for murder. This was triggered by the Lawrence case. Stephen Lawrence's parents took out a private prosecution that failed. Hard cases make bad law; yet the Macpherson report proposed that the 800-year-old rule should be set aside to allow retrial if the police found new evidence against the same suspects. The Government decided to sound both tough and politically correct by arguing that, if new evidence is found, a new trial is called for.
The double jeopardy rule persisted for eight centuries for four very good reasons. It protects the individual from harassment by the state; it forces the prosecution to get all its ducks in a row before taking a case to court; and it reassures all innocent people, once acquitted, that they will not face a second trial. Finally, any second trial would inevitably be prejudiced if a judge first ruled that the new facts were "compelling evidence" of guilt.
We may hear rather less about the old habeas corpus rule, which protects us from arbitrary imprisonment. Yet the new European arrest warrant will enable Continental governments to arrest and extradite British citizens. It is extraordinary that we shall have less protection against arrest by a foreign government than we do against our own.
The most fundamental basis of all our freedoms is the presumption of innocence. As the great Lord Chancellor Lord Sankey wrote: "Throughout the web of the English criminal law, one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt." But, of course, it is far more convenient for governments to require us to prove our innocence. So this golden thread has been set aside in the EU directives placing the burden of proof on the accused in sex and race discrimination cases.
Steven Spielberg's current blockbuster, Minority Report, portrays the world in 2054 when everyone's iris can be identified wherever they go, and where police can try people for crimes they are predicted to commit. Now Mr Blunkett wants to store images of our irises on the state's computers. And the Government has rammed through legislation empowering police to arrest people who have committed no offence and require them to prove they are not going to behave like hooligans at some future date. Today he will bring us nearer to 2054.
Peter Lilley is the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden
July 17 posted here July 18 02
Proposal for European Arrest Warrant
UK ID Card Proposals Consultation Paper ReleasedThe Home Office issued its consultation paper on an "entitlement card" on July 3. Home Secretary David Blunkett said he was "enthusiastic" about adopting it. The card would be mandatory to obtain for all persons over 16 and would be required for employment and health care and cost over 33 billion pounds to install, not including all the devices to use it. The proposal has already been criticized by members of all political parties and major media.
This is a new website
July 16 02
The great charadeAs the West prepares for an assault on Iraq, John Pilger argues that 'war on terror' is a smokescreen created by the ultimate terrorist ... America itself
It is 10 months since 11 September, and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the 'war on terrorism' - when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them.
The fanatics who attacked America came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. No bombs fell on these American protectorates. Instead, more than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan, the latest a wedding party of 40 people, mostly women and children. Not a single al-Qaeda leader of importance has been caught. .........
Should anyone need reminding, Iraq is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as the dictatorship over which Iraqis have no control. Contrary to propaganda orchestrated from Washington and London, the coming attack has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction', if these exist at all. The reason is that America wants a more compliant thug to run the world's second greatest source of oil.
The drum-beaters rarely mention this truth, and the people of Iraq. Everyone is Saddam Hussein, the demon of demons. Four years ago, the Pentagon warned President Clinton that an all-out attack on Iraq might kill 'at least' 10,000 civilians: that, too, is unmentionable. In a sustained propaganda campaign to justify this outrage, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been used as channels, 'conduits', for a stream of rumours and lies. These have ranged from false claims about an Iraqi connection with the anthrax attacks in America to a discredited link between the leader of the 11 September hijacks and Iraqi intelligence. When the attack comes, these consorting journalists will share responsibility for the crime. It was Tony Blair who served notice that imperialism's return journey to respectability was under way. Hark, the Christian gentleman-bomber's vision of a better world for 'the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.' Hark, his 'abiding' concern for the 'human rights of the suffering women of Afghanistan' as he colluded with Bush who, as the New York Times reported, 'demanded the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population'. Hark his compassion for the 'dispossessed' in the 'slums of Gaza', where Israeli gunships, manufactured with vital British parts, fire their missiles into crowded civilian areas.
As Frank Furedi reminds us in The New Ideology of Imperialism , it is not long ago 'that the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation.' The quest went wrong when it was clear that fascism was imperialism, too, and the word vanished from academic discourse. In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed. Today, the preferred euphemism is 'civilisation'; or if an adjective is required, 'cultural'. From Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an ally of crypto-fascists, to impeccably liberal commentators, the new imperialists share a concept whose true meaning relies on a xenophobic or racist comparison with those who are deemed uncivilised, culturally inferior and might challenge the 'values' of the West. Watch the 'debates' on Newsnight. The question is how best 'we' can deal with the problem of 'them'.
For much of the western media, especially those commentators in thrall to and neutered by the supercult of America, the most salient truths remain taboos. Professor Richard Falk, of Cornell university, put it succinctly some years ago. Western foreign policy, he wrote, is propagated in the media 'through a self righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence'.
Perhaps the most important taboo is the longevity of the United States as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists. That the US is the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (in Nicaragua) and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law, is unmentionable. 'In the war against terrorism,' said Bush from his bunker following 11 September, 'we're going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes.'
Strictly speaking, it should not take long, as more terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the United States than anywhere on earth. They include mass murderers, torturers, former and future tyrants and assorted international criminals. This is virtually unknown to the American public, thanks to the freest media on earth. ...... We, too, watched with shock the horrific events of September 11. But the mourning had barely begun when our leaders launched a spirit of revenge. The government now openly prepares to wage war on Iraq - a country that has no connection with September 11. 'We say this to the world. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist. We draw on the inspiration of those who fought slavery and all those other great causes of freedom that began with dissent. We call on all like-minded people around the world to join us.' It is time we joined them.
July 14 02
Rock's long wait for a say on its futureGILES TREMLETT IN MADRID
JACK Straw's historic Gibraltar speech to the Commons yesterday may have set Tory opponents, and not a few on his own benches, screaming: "Traitor!" But even those who shouted loudest yesterday will not have been surprised.
Foreign Office mandarins - even Mr Straw - have admitted in private for months that co-sovereignty was the stone on which the Rock's new future would, if negotiations with Spain worked out, be founded.
For Gibraltarians wandering down Winston Churchill Avenue or Prince Albert's Road or for the taxi drivers who gather in Casements Square by the latest monument, erected just a few years ago, to the Rock's Second World War heroes, there was nothing new in Mr Straw's words.
They knew Spain would never settle for a deal that did not hand it sovereignty. That is why, when the Foreign Secretary bravely decided to show his face in Gibraltar two months ago, a cordon of helmeted Gibraltarian bobbies had to prevent the crowd from mobbing him. One of the last things Mr Straw will have seen as his limousine pulled out of the back door of the governor's residence and raced to the airport would have been a tough-looking, Gibraltarian granny waving a sharp wooden stake menacingly in his direction.
Gibraltarians want nothing to do with Spain. And that is a problem that neither Mr Straw nor his new Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio, can fix by just sitting around a table and negotiating.
The depth of Gibraltarian hatred towards Spain can be measured by the results of the last referendum which proposed they might swap nationalities. This, admittedly, was carried out while the right-wing dictator, General Francisco Franco was still in power in 1966. But the result - 12,138 against and only 44 in favour - was as good as unanimous.
The 44 did not escape lightly. Gibraltarians knew who they were and attacked their shops, cars and yachts. Another measure of Gibraltarian dislike of Spain is the wealth gap that separates them from their Spanish neighbours in La Lmnea, a few yards away across the frontier. Gibraltarians earn almost double the Spaniards' income. Why should they want to become Spanish?
It is not the Gibraltarians who want to be Spanish, it is the British government who wants them to be Spanish, or at least partly so. The reasons for this are straightforward. Gibraltar has become a nightmare for Britain in its dealings with Brussels. Often, when the 15 member states finally agree to something after years of negotiating - be it the open-skies policy or financial regulation - a last-minute cry comes up from the Spanish delegation. The deal cannot be signed, they say, until Gibraltar has been excluded.
Thus, a deal that may benefit 60 million Britons is stalled while the government tries to defend the interests of 30,000 of them. Those 30,000, obsessed with conspiracy theories about future "sell-outs", do not seem terribly grateful.
Spain's claims on Gibraltar are not completely unfounded. It ceded part of the Rock in the 1714 Treaty of Utrecht, but the other part was simply grabbed by Britain years later. That treaty also says that if Britain one day decided to give up sovereignty over Gibraltar, it must hand it back to Spain. All this adds up to the "festering dispute" described by Mr Straw yesterday. His solution - which has its precursor in the so-called Brussels process set up by Baroness Thatcher's government - is to negotiate away all, or some, of British sovereignty.
Joint sovereignty, on paper, looks like an inspired solution. Gibraltarians would keep their British passports and get the best that not just Britain but Spain - which is, after all, closer to hand - can give them. Gibraltarians already have a reputation for struggling through the frontier and then collapsing on the other side so that they can get hospital treatment, which is better, on the Spanish side. Throw in increased self-government and, argues Mr Straw, everybody should be happy.
But things are not that easy. Gibraltarians have some very good reasons for disliking Spain. For 13 years, again under Franco but also during the early years of Spanish democracy, the frontier to Spain was closed. Gibraltarians wanting to see relatives in La Lmnea had to travel via Tangiers or shout to them through the fence on Sunday afternoons.
Even now, crossing the frontier can be exhausting. Whenever the political situation gets tough, Spanish border guards are ordered to slow down their checks. Queues can last for hours.
All this could be forgotten, however, if Spain was prepared to accept sharing as a definitive solution to the problem or, even if it publicly acknowledged Gibraltarians' rights to vote in a referendum on the proposed agreement. But Spain will not even go that far. Josi Marma Aznar, the prime minister, has made it clear that sharing is a short-term solution for his government. The end goal remains total possession of Gibraltar. The referendum, he says, is a matter for Britain. Spain will have nothing to do with it.
Mr Straw has promised Britain will not ratify any agreement until the Gibraltarians themselves have backed it in a referendum. Gibraltarians see they are being invited to back a deal that will eventually hand them over to a country that treats them with, at the very best, disdain.
That is not Mr Straw's fault. But he does not want to face humiliation at a referendum and has already signalled that, if Gibraltarians do not like the deal, it may take a very long time for that referendum to be called.
If 60 million Britons have to wait years for a referendum on the euro, then 30,000 Gibraltarians can wait even longer for their referendum.
There are only two ways out of this deadlock. Either Spain drops its long-term demands for full sovereignty and starts showing some consideration to the Gibraltarians, or the talks should be cancelled. Mr Straw, despite the bravura shown yesterday, may not even have to do that himself.
Mr Aznar this week sacked Josep Piqui, the foreign minister who had been an enthusiastic negotiating partner. It was a sign that he did not consider Gibraltar a major priority. He has his own troubles with the Basque country and, now, with Morocco's claims to a series of Spanish enclaves on the north coast of Africa.
The precedent set by co-sovereignty may create problems for him on both those fronts. So Gibraltarians need not hold their breath: Mr Piqui's successor, Ana Palacio, may well pull the plug first.
Strategic position has ensured a turbulent history
THE history of Rock of Gibraltar has been governed by its physical size and its geographical location.
Standing as it does at one of the northern hemisphere's strategic crossroads, it has always attracted the attention of the world.
Gibraltar itself is a tiny outcrop of British history attached to southern mainland Spain. Its 2.3 square mile land mass is dominated by the Rock, a 426 metre-high block of limestone.
It is currently a British dependency, but has changed hands many times over the last 1,000 years. In 911 AD, Moors from North Africa conquered Gibraltar and settled there for almost 600 years.
The 14th century saw the Rock change hands as the Spaniards conquered it in 1309 only to lose it back to the Moors again in 1333.
Spain, fighting on behalf of the King of Castile, re-conquered the peninsula in 1462 and held it until the 18th century, when they were defeated by the British in 1704.
The Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, officially handed Gibraltar over to Britain "forever".
During the course of the 19th century, Gibraltar developed into a fortress of renowned impregnability, the phrase "As safe as the Rock" became commonplace in the English language. At the same time, a civilian community grew up within its walls, earning its living primarily from commercial activities.
In 1830, responsibility for Gibraltar's affairs was transferred from the War Office to the Colonial Office and the status of Gibraltar was changed from "the town and garrison of Gibraltar in the Kingdom of Spain" to "Crown Colony of Gibraltar" with powers vested in a governor.
In 1963, the question of Gibraltar's status came before the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and Spain seized the opportunity to revive her claim for the reversion of the Rock to Spanish sovereignty. In 1967, Spain, now under General Franco, held a referendum over future sovereignty of the island. Famously, 12,138 votes were cast against joining Spain, while only 44 were cast in favour. Despite the result, the Spanish increased restrictions at the border with Gibraltar, which culminated in the complete closure of the frontier and all other means of direct communication with the mainland.
July 13 02
Gibraltar still besieged(Filed: 11/07/2002) Tony Blair's strategy was to counter Franco-German dominance of the European Union by forging alliances with other countries, especially Spain. Gibraltar stood in the way of this plan, so would have to be sacrificed by Britain's agreeing to share sovereignty over the colony with Madrid.
Jack Straw was to deliver an agreement on principles to the Prime Minister by the summer; Josep Pique, his Spanish counterpart, would do the same for Jose Maria Aznar. This would then be put to the Gibraltarians in a referendum in which, it was hoped, a mixture of carrot and stick would produce the desired result.
On Tuesday night, Mr Pique was sacked as foreign minister, a move that a former aide to Mr Aznar interpreted as the knell for one of his key policies, a Gibraltar deal. In fact, the betrayal of the Rock by the Government had already run into formidable difficulties: the steadfast opposition of the Gibraltarians, the brilliant advocacy of their chief minister, Peter Caruana, and American misgivings about the defence implications of shared sovereignty. To these must be added Spanish fears about the knock-on effect of a Gibraltar referendum on sovereignty on their own secessionist-minded regions, in particular the Basque country.
Mr Straw will fail to meet his timetable for a deal. But that will not necessarily let the Rock off the hook. To save face, the Foreign Secretary may seek to emphasise the points of agreement with Spain, rather than conceding that the attempted deal is dead. That would leave a sword hanging over the Gibraltarians: they would be under the threat of resumed negotiations while continuing to suffer harassment from the mainland.
The Government's attempt to appease Madrid over Gibraltar is thoroughly reprehensible and has left Mr Straw looking both unprincipled and ineffective. Part of the reason why Mr Pique went was his failure to deliver on his promises regarding the Rock. The Foreign Secretary, by contrast, is likely to remain in office. He should use the time left to him to reverse his earlier follies and reassure the people of Gibraltar.
July 11 02
Blunkett's mission to control(Filed: 10/07/2002) David Blunkett's latest concession on the Police Reform Bill is another welcome retreat by the Home Secretary in the face of a well argued case by Opposition MPs and peers.
Whether he has stepped back far enough, however, is another matter. Not for the first time, Mr Blunkett wants to have his cake and eat it. He wishes to retain the power to intervene in the workings of a local constabulary deemed by Whitehall to be "failing"; on the other hand, he wants us all to stand back and admire his willingness to show flexibility by partially amending a measure that threatens to undermine 150 years of independent policing in England and Wales.
This country has had cause down the years to be grateful for the autonomy of its chief constables. So why does Mr Blunkett think he is the Home Secretary who should change an arrangement that has served us well? Like many occupants of the Home Office, he is frustrated that he gets the blame for rising crime - as he will when the latest figures are published on Friday - while having no obvious control over the police. (This does not, of course, stop him taking the credit when crime falls.) Why is it, he asks, that, when I pull a lever, there is nothing on the other end apart from an adverse opinion poll? One may sympathise with his predicament, but it comes with the political territory.
If the Home Secretary wishes to have more power over the police, then he is going in the right direction, albeit more slowly than he intended. But if he seriously wants to reduce crime, then he is heading the wrong way, placing too much emphasis on the narrow performance indicators - so loved by Labour ministers - that have had a baleful influence on policing in recent years. They mean more red tape and less long-term planning, and are inimical to the one thing that is likely to cut crime: the presence of more police on the streets, since the one "performance" that cannot be scientifically measured is the deterrent nature of the patrol officer.
No doubt Mr Blunkett will feel his concession is being uncharitably received should the Lords continue to resist his blandishments. But the Upper House should not lose sight of the grand design that is taking shape under Mr Blunkett's stewardship of the Home Office. He wanted to take control of the courts, but was beaten back by the Lord Chancellor; he desired to extend throughout the public sector the power of the state to pry into the lives of ordinary people, but retreated when it blew up in his face; he wants everyone to possess an identity card and register with a central population agency. Notwithstanding the occasional enforced detour, Mr Blunkett's path is clearly marked out and is consistent with the culture of intervention and control that pervades many of the policies of this Government. The line must be drawn before he gets his foot into the door of the chief constable's office.
July 10 02
Scotland 'weak link' if ID card rejectedMURDO MacLEOD POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT email@example.com
Scotland on Sunday
DAVID Blunkett last night warned Scotland that it risks becoming "the weakest link" in the fight against crime if it tries to block the introduction of identity cards.
The Home Secretary said the country would become a "haven for fraudsters" if the Labour-Lib Dem coalition failed to implement a national ID card scheme.
Whitehall has insisted that Scotland must not be allowed to go it alone in rejecting the proposed 'entitlement' cards despite the opposition of Scottish justice minister Jim Wallace to the scheme.
The outburst has provoked fury from MSPs and human rights campaigners, who have accused Blunkett of bullying.
A spokesman for Blunkett said: "At a time when organised crime and human trafficking are becoming ever more sophisticated, the UK is alone among European countries in not having a national system of ID cards. Were England, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt the cards, Scotland could become the weakest link in the fight against fraud. I don't think anyone wants to see that happen.
"There will be a number of issues which we shall have to discuss with the devolved administrations, and that is why we are having a consultation, there's no reason for any conflict in this."
Blunkett also told MPs last week that criminals would flock to Scotland if Holyrood refused to introduce the scheme. He said: "Were we able to introduce a card that dealt with organised fraud, and were Scotland not to have such a card, Scotland would become an absolute haven for fraudsters. Not even the Scottish National Party would want that."
Under the current proposals, UK citizens would have to sign up for compulsory "entitlement cards", which could combine the functions of driving licences and passports. Labour MSPs refused to comment on Blunkett's statement, saying the issue of ID cards was a reserved matter, but their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were furious. Mike Rumbles, the Lib Dem MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, claimed the ID scheme was "unworkable".
"This is not about Scotland not wanting to combat fraud, this is about Scots knowing that ID cards will not work. I think that David Blunkett has forgotten all about devolution," he said.
"If they are supposed to be voluntary, then why is it an issue that Scots might not have them? One minute we are told it is an inoffensive and voluntary scheme, then we are told we must all have them so as to fight terror.
"This shows that Blunkett's policy is all over the place. This system is unworkable." A source close to Jim Wallace said the minister "would wait and see" what Blunkett's final proposals contained.
"Right now Blunkett's plans are so vague and pretty chaotic," the source said.
"Jim and the rest of the group will wait to see exactly what they come up with."
Michael Matheson, the SNP's shadow justice minister, accused Blunkett of attempting to "bully" MSPs.
He said: "I think that the bullying tactics being employed by the Home Office are completely unacceptable. The justice minister has made it clear that the issue of ID cards was a devolved matter. I hope that the Scottish Executive will show some backbone and stand up to the bully-boy methods of the Home Office, and consider the issue from the viewpoint of the good of the people of Scotland."
Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tory justice spokesman, said: "David Blunkett's claims are absurd. To suggest that Scotland would become an open door for crooks, conmen and other criminals is a gross exaggeration. "This is obviously targeted at Jim Wallace. Maybe Mr Blunkett is aware of Jim Wallace's weak approach to crime and justice issues, and feels that Scotland is under threat."
John Scott, the director of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, condemned the intervention by Blunkett.
He said: "The last thing that Scotland needs is to be told by David Blunkett what we have to do. We have a young parliament, and we hardly need to be railroaded into a supposedly 'voluntary' scheme. This is one of the examples of how Scotland could and should go it alone, and avoid this badly thought-out scheme."
However, David Cairns, the Labour MP for Greenock and Inverclyde, claimed that it would be "nonsense" for two separate ID card regimes to operate on each side of the Border.
He said: "It is crucial that the same system should operate in England and in Scotland. We have driving licences, National Insurance cards, and NHS cards issued on a UK-wide basis, this system should operate on the same principle.
"It would be utterly illogical and perverse to deal with this matter on anything other than a UK-wide basis."
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "We are studying the proposals and will make our views known in due course. There may be issues which will have to be legislated for by the Scottish parliament, that is something which will become clear over time."
July 7 02
Corruption at heart of freedom bidEAMONN O'NEIL
Scotsman on Sunday
A SCOT at the centre of the UK's longest-running miscarriage of justice case is on the verge of having his conviction overturned, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Investigators from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) have concluded that there were substantial weaknesses in the 1977 prosecution of Robert Brown, from Glasgow.
Brown, now 45, was jailed for the murder of Annie Walsh, a 56-year-old factory worker from Manchester.
The CCRC report, which will now be sent to the Courts of Appeal in London, concludes that there is a "real possibility" Brown's conviction will be overturned when his case is heard later this year.
The report reveals that a key officer in the original case, Detective Inspector John Butler, was the subject of several internal investigations for alleged dishonesty at the time of Brown's trial in 1977.
The report also contains details of a new analysis of Brown's confession - which was later retracted - by a linguistics expert which concludes that Brown did not voluntarily admit guilt.
The report was greeted by Brown with a mixture of jubilation and frustration. "I've got it!" he said by phone from the prison near Preston where he is being held. Brown, who has now applied to be released on bail, added: "My God, it's been a long time coming... Can someone tell me why it's taken until now to be believed?"
He also revealed that his 1977 defence team had urged him to agree to a deal which would have seen him accept guilt on reduced manslaughter charges in return for a lesser sentence. "I refused that deal because I was innocent. So I was led into the court on a conveyer belt like a lamb to the slaughter."
July 7 02
Re: Existing service already worksDate: 6 July 2002
SIR - The Government is proposing the creation of a Health Protection Agency. Far from establishing a new agency to protect the population from infection, this new creation will mean dissolving the Public Health Laboratory Service.
This service consists of linked laboratories covering England and Wales that carry out microbiological investigations for local health authorities, hospital trusts, environmental health departments and private sector companies.
The network shares the workload and the cost of the service it provides. The laboratories liaise with each other to monitor and control communicable diseases, food poisoning incidents, "super-bug" outbreaks and environmental pollution.
When the HPA is implemented, in less than a year, each laboratory will become part of its local hospital trust, with its links to its sister laboratories severed. They will no longer provide food and environmental services, there will be no division of labour to keep down costs and turnaround time and the supply of growth media and test reagents - currently provided in-house - is in doubt.
As the all-party select committee comments, it would be better - and more cost-effective - to strengthen an existing, already efficient service. Public health is at risk as Government policy forges ahead with little or no consultation with the people who spend every day protecting the population from infection.
Johanna Water, Medical laboratory scientific officer and 26 others, Norwich Public Health Laboratory
July 6 02
Identity card 'would not stop welfare fraudsters'By Andrew Grice Political Editor
David Blunkett is facing a cabinet revolt against his plans to introduce a universal identity card, amid warnings that it would do little to combat social security fraud.
Andrew Smith, the Secretary for Work and Pensions, is sceptical that the "entitlement card" announced by the Home Secretary would help to stamp out bogus welfare claims, which cost the Government up to £5bn a year.
A Whitehall source said yesterday: "The Department of Work and Pensions [DWP] will oppose the idea. It believes this is a solution in search of a problem." The source added: "If people are going to work and claim benefits, an entitlement card is not going to deter them. They will just turn up, show the card and carry on working."
DWP officials believe the Home Office plan might encourage fraud by creating a market in stolen or fake cards.
Plans by the Tory government for a "smart card" for all claimants were scrapped in 1999 by Alistair Darling, Secretary for Social Security at the time. Ministers dismissed the £1.5bn Tory scheme as an "expensive and unsuccessful gimmick".
Instead, the DWP is trying to persuade people to have benefits paid into their bank accounts, to try to cut fraud using stolen or fake Girocheques and benefit books.
DWP officials believe an entitlement card would cost the department millions of pounds and could jeopardise plans to upgrade its computers for example, to handle a new system for child support payments.....
July 6 02
Labour's identity crisis(Filed: 04/07/2002)
Exactly half a century after Winston Churchill abolished identity cards, David Blunkett yesterday proposed to reintroduce them. Why? Recalling the unpopularity of the wartime national registration cards, and anticipating fierce resistance from public opinion, the Home Secretary insists that his "entitlement cards" will be quite different.
They are not an Orwellian nightmare, but an opportunity for "positive engagement with citizenship". His voluminous consultation paper is supposed to inaugurate a national debate, in which the Government will be "neutral" - though Mr Blunkett admits: "I am not going to disguise my own enthusiasm for an entitlement card system." He claims that his commitment is not "ideological" and that the new cards need not be compulsory. The cost - up to £100 a head - is dismissed as a mere bagatelle. And Mr Blunkett naturally glosses over the fact that the scheme would be administered by such notoriously incompetent branches of bureaucracy as the Home Office and the Passport Office.
The official rationale for the latest attempt to reinvent the ID card is "identity fraud". Mr Blunkett is rightly exercised about the growing incidence of fraud and identity theft. His officials have persuaded him that ID cards would help to combat these problems.
Unfortunately for the Home Secretary, the entitlement card might create as many problems for the criminal justice system as it solves. Holding so much information on one card would make it a highly desirable prize: instead of mobile phone theft, we would have ID card theft. A thriving black market in forged or stolen cards would quickly emerge. Most benefit fraud does not depend on false identity. Mr Blunkett would soon discover that the fraudsters are usually at least one step ahead of the Home Office.
The gentlemen in Whitehall, however, have been dogged in their pursuit of the Holy Grail of ID cards ever since they were abolished. Michael Howard and Peter Lilley both tried versions of the scheme now dusted off by Mr Blunkett. The Home Office is not institutionally racist, but it is institutionally illiberal. The very name "entitlement card" is odious, implying as it does that our liberties are in the gift of the state. Has Mr Blunkett forgotten that in Britain, uniquely, people sing they never, never, never shall be slaves? That in Britain everything that is not prohibited is permitted? That the British are prepared to suspend their freedoms only in the face of a national emergency, and then only temporarily?
Such an emergency might, perhaps, be argued to have arisen on September 11. Though Mr Blunkett insists that the attack on America did not prompt his conversion to ID cards, it clearly was an underlying factor. If ID cards were a foolproof safeguard against international terrorism, that could conceivably justify their introduction. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that they would hinder or deter organisations as sophisticated as al-Qa'eda or the IRA. Moreover, provisional anti-terrorist measures tend to become permanent.
Have the Home Secretary's mandarins convinced him that ID cards would resolve the asylum crisis? He confesses that he is "obsessed with asylum and illegal immigration". Our European partners, and the French in particular, have been demanding that Britain introduce ID cards for some time, though Mr Blunkett indignantly denies that his espousal of the scheme was prompted by pressure from Paris. Whether or not such pressure was a major factor, ID cards are not a substitute for a sensible immigration and asylum policy. None of the options proposed would require people to show their card on demand, so it would pose little or no deterrent to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. Yet Mr Blunkett may believe that the promise of ID cards would persuade the French to close the Sangatte refugee camp. We doubt it, but to curtail ancient liberties for such a short-term gain would, in any case, be a national disgrace.
If the Conservatives are serious about freedom, they should abandon the Major government's flirtation with ID cards and campaign vigorously against them - just as Churchill did in 1951, under the slogan: "Set the people free!"
July 4 02
Brussels follows Labour's spin modelBy Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels (Filed: 01/07/2002) The European Commission is to counter the growing mood of Euroscepticism across Europe by abandoning neutral presentation of facts and instead creating an aggressive spin machine modelled on the Downing Street methods of Alastair Campbell.
A leaked strategy document obtained by The Telegraph outlines a plan to spend 267 million euros (£173 million) over four years to devise a core catechism of "messages", and harness all elements of the European system to "improve the perception that citizens have of the European Union".
The new unit will begin operations in early 2003, in time for the expected euro referendums in Britain and Sweden.
An "action plan" will start in September involving the use of focus groups in each member state. It will work with the opinion poll departments of each EU government and co-ordinate "informational vigilance". The document, written in French and entitled An Information and Communication Strategy for the European Union, calls for a pre-emptive use of public relations to promote "the legitimacy, image, and role of the union".
"A true EU communication method cannot be limited to mere diffusion of information: it must give a sense to things and put the EU's actions and policies in perspective," it says. "If factual, neutral information is necessary, it is not sufficient. Experience shows that information cannot remain neutral because of the constant distortion by the media, intermediaries and other multipliers of opinion." The EU already has hundreds of information outlets scattered across the 15 states. But the document says that the machinery has not been properly "exploited" to project the EU message. The new propaganda body is to be a revamped version of the Inter-institutional Information Group (GII), a little-known group that already meets twice a year.
A British official, Jan Royall, who is a political appointee at the Commission, working for vice-president Neil Kinnock, played a key role in preparing the strategy report. The text, which is to be debated by the 20 European Commissioners in closed session tomorrow, calls for careful "targeting" of opinion-makers. These would be key figures in civil society, business and women's rights, with a special focus on the education system to counter an alarming increase of anti-EU sentiment among the young.
It said that since "the EU cruelly lacks a 'face' viz-a-viz the ordinary citizens", it must recruit opinion leaders in every state as a sort of visual viceroy - "intermediate personalities" - to help Brussels reach out to the people. The new pro-active strategy follows three disastrous years that have seen the rejection of the Nice Treaty by Irish voters, a victory of the "no" campaign in Denmark, and the eruption of violence at the Nice and Gothenburg summits. The document acknowledges that the EU is "suffering the full blast of public disaffection" and is the lightning rod for the anti-establishment feelings across the Continent.
"Many citizens simply do not understand what the functions of the EU are supposed to be: some think the union ought to do more to address their concerns, others think it meddles too much in details that should be left to member states or regions. "Some see the community as a threat to their national identity." The new plans are certain to outrage eurosceptics. Last week Britain's Bruges Group launched a pamphlet in Brussels - Federalist Thought Control - accusing the commission of spending 250 million euros a year on "blatant propaganda" promoting closer integration.
July 1 02
An ineffective, illiberal and expensive idea that just will not go away01 July 2002
Consultation, openness, debate. These are good things, and so should we not be pleased that the Home Secretary is to publish a discussion paper outlining the various options for identity cards and inviting responses?
No, because the basic premise of identity cards is flawed, and has been found to be so by governments of both political colours and all shades of concern for liberty since they were abolished in Britain in 1952. Peter Lilley, the former Secretary of State for Social Security, explained yesterday with his usual clinical logic why the Conservatives rejected the idea. He is personally liberal, but was a member of a government which was potentially quite as authoritarian as the present one. Yet not even Michael Howard could be persuaded that identity cards were a good idea.
The essential point is simple. Making them compulsory would represent an increase in the power of the state over the individual, making it an offence to be forgetful or inefficient. Far from helping to fight crime, a compulsory scheme would create thousands more criminals.
If carrying identity cards is not made compulsory, on the other hand, and David Blunkett insists he has no intention of doing this, what is the point of them? It has come to something when 27 Labour MPs are unwilling to take their own Home Secretary at his word, having signed a House of Commons motion opposing compulsory identity cards, which they must suspect is Mr Blunkett's ultimate objective.
That is the context for the options which have been floated for a middle way between compulsory and voluntary cards. Mr Blunkett says he does not want to make it compulsory for people to carry identity cards, except for asylum-seekers, although his document this week may canvass the idea that, if someone is found not to have a card on their person, they may be escorted home or required to produce it at a police station later.
It is true that the main category whose members cannot readily confirm their identity any other way is that of asylum-seekers. Individuals often arrive here without any papers at all. But they have to record their fingerprints when they apply for refugee status. What is the point, as Mr Lilley asked yesterday, in insisting that they carry cards with their fingerprints encoded on an electronic chip when they are likely, if asked for them, to have their real fingerprints about their persons?
Dressing up identity cards as "entitlement cards" which have to be shown when claiming state benefits makes no difference to the underlying idea - although it gives a clue to the simplistic thinking in Whitehall which is constantly returning to this impractical, expensive and illiberal non-starter.
The simplicity of a universal means of checking identities is deceptive. It seems to offer a simple way to detect crime, stop benefit fraud and control illegal immigration all at once. But the police say that, when they apprehend people, establishing their identities is rarely a problem and not a serious factor in today's low clear-up rates. Identity cards would only cause tensions between them and ethnic minorities. As for benefit fraud, the Government already has a hard enough time keeping track of National Insurance numbers - why should a new layer of records make enforcement easier?
We believe one of the options in this week's consultation paper will be to decline to introduce identity cards at all. That is the option Mr Blunkett should choose - and he should concentrate on policies which are likely to work.
July 1 02
A free countryBy Stephen Robinson
The House of Lords yesterday ruled against the Daily Mirror in a case that raises disturbing questions about the freedom of the press. The case arose out of a Mirror article published in December 1999, which included details of the medical records of the Moors murderer Ian Brady while he was on hunger strike in Ashworth secure hospital.
Certainly, as a cause celebre, this episode may be found wanting. Breaching the confidence of an individual's medical records is a serious matter, even if - as in this case - the subject had himself released details of his own medical history. Moreover, the Mirror paid its source for the information, which concerned Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, in giving the lead judgment yesterday. The concern here is not so much with the specific case as with the principle, for, as Lord Woolf conceded: "Any disclosure of a journalist's sources does have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press."
The Brady case goes to the heart of the confusion about the limits to press freedom in this country, where there is no American-style First Amendment protection. In the absence of constitutional guarantees, British journalists can turn only to the Code of Practice of the Press Complaints Commission, the newspaper industry's self-regulatory body, which maintains that reporters "have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources".
Journalists who fail to honour the code are liable to be sacked by their employers. Newspaper executives and reporters who fail to answer court orders to name sources are liable to go to prison, whatever that code may say. And in future, members of the public who might once have turned whistleblower to disclose a serious crime may opt instead to keep quiet. firstname.lastname@example.org
While Britain SleptWhile the British people's attention was elsewhere their government has agreed the final form of the European arrest warrant, leaving parliament powerless to block or amend the measure.
The warrant was formally adopted at a meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council and so becomes part of European law, to be implemented in Britain, and escaping from any scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people.
As detailed previously in these pages the arrest warrant will be used by the EU to suppress all opposition to the diktats of Brussels. Indeed as Lord Scott, a law lord, says "the definition of xenophobia would almost certainly cover the distribution of Biggles and probably the Old Testament".
CIB Vice Chairman, Lord Pearson said "One of the most sinister and little-known aspects of our relationship with the EU is that when the executive agrees something on Britain's behalf, parliament is powerless to change it. If we voted against the warrant it would be enforced by the European Court. This is a very important example of our subservience to Brussels. Parliament is irrelevant in the law-making process.
A Home Office spokesman said parliamentary scrutiny committees had already discussed the subject but Lord Pearson called these debates a "sham" because even though few who spoke in them agreed with the measure, parliament was unable to change it.
Those who have done this are either incompetent fools who "know not what they do" or malign knaves who have deliberately evaded parliament in order to push through a measure which will transfer even more power to the dictators of Brussels. They have betrayed British democracy and are a disgrace to this nation. Those who support the use of the European arrest warrant in this country are at the very least Lenin's "useful idiots" or, more likely, arrogant pseudo fascists who seek supreme power for their elite club at the expense of the democratic rights of the people.
Unless the British wake up soon it really will be too late.
June 25 02
At the seat of empireGeorge Monbiot Tuesday June 25, 2002 The Guardian
Africa is forced to take the blame for the devastation inflicted on it by the rich world
In the Canadian fastness of Kananaskis this week, the messianic cult of empire will solemnly worship itself. The leaders of the G8 nations will declare that they have come to deliver the world from evil. They will announce that they are sacrificing themselves for the good of lesser nations. They will propose solutions from on high, without acknowledging any responsibility for the problems.
It is traditional, when empire celebrates, that its vassal states come to pay tribute and beg for deliverance. This time, the African leaders who will be admitted to the summit on Thursday are prepared to suffer the final humiliation by blaming themselves for the disasters visited upon them by the G8.
"Africa," according to the Canadian government, "will remain a central focus of the Kananaskis summit." The discussions will revolve around a plan called the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or Nepad, drafted by the African leaders and enthusiastically endorsed by the G8. The enthusiasm is not entirely surprising, as Nepad places nearly all the blame for Africa's problems and nearly all the responsibility for sorting them out on Africa itself. In the hope that it might win them a few crumbs of aid and extra debt relief, the continent's leaders appear to have told the rich world everything it wants to hear.
Nepad accepts that colonialism, the cold war, and "the workings of the international economic system" have contributed to Africa's problems, but the primary responsibility rests with "corruption and economic mismanagement" at home. Few would deny that these have played a significant role, but nowhere in the document on which the plan is based is there any mention of the far more consequential corruption and mismanagement by the nations to whom they are appealing.
Africa's underlying problem, as the continent's leaders acknowledge, is debt. Nepad implicitly accepts the rich world's explanation for this debt: that previous African leaders have frittered away their economic independence through poor planning and personal graft. Nowhere is any context given: that Africa's deficit is merely one component of a vast and growing global debt, affecting consumers and nations in the rich world as well as nations in the poor world. The US, for example, owes $2.2 trillion: almost as much as the entire developing world's debt put together. No mention is made of the debt-based banking system which has caused this crisis, and which ensures that the only way debts can be discharged is through the issue of more debt.
This problem, as poor nations know but dare not acknowledge, is compounded by the policing system developed by the rich world at Bretton Woods in 1944. Rather than the self-correcting mechanism proposed by John Maynard Keynes, which forced creditors as well as debtors to discharge the debt, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were introduced as a means of persuading only the debtor nations to act, in the knowledge that this couldn't possibly work.
This system granted the rich world complete economic control over the poor world. The power that nations wield within the IMF is a function of their gross domestic product: the richer they are, the more votes they can cast. The World Bank is run entirely by "donor" states. These two bodies, in other words, respond only to the nations in which they do not operate.
The consequences for national democracy are devastating. African voters can demand a change of government, but they cannot demand a change of policy. All the important decisions affecting the continent are made in Washington, and they always boil down to the neoliberal demolition of the state's capacity to care for its people. So when the African leaders announce that "Africa undertakes to respect the global standards of democracy", they are accepting a burden they cannot lift. Democracy in Africa is meaningless until its leaders are prepared to challenge the external control of their economies.
But far from denouncing the authors of their misfortunes, they appear only to embrace them. "Structural adjustment", the IMF policy which has forced countries to repay their debts instead of investing in healthcare and education, is now almost universally acknowledged as the nemesis of development in Africa. Nepad's fiercest criticism is that it "provided only a partial solution" to poverty. Africa's leaders have pledged to support not only its successor policies (such as the IMF's demand that Malawi privatise its food reserves, with the result that millions of its inhabitants are now at risk of starvation), but also the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act passed by the US Congress. This seeks to complete the job which structural adjustment began: forcing African nations to dismantle state support and privatise their economies in return for minimal concessions on trade and aid.
Without addressing any of these obstacles, Nepad blithely promises to eliminate poverty, enrol all children in primary school, reduce child mortality by two-thirds and supply the continent with clean water and effective infrastructure. It will achieve these worthy aims, it claims, largely by means of "public-private partnership", the mechanism which is now failing so spectacularly in the rich world, while being forced on Africa by the G8.
Agricultural development depends, Nepad tells us, "on the removal of a number of structural constraints affecting the sector". One might have expected this to mean the dumping of subsidised produce on the African market by Europe and North America, which is widely acknowledged as a crippling impediment to effective farming on the continent. But this is never mentioned. Instead, the plan insists, the "key constraint is climatic uncertainty". Quite how the African leaders intend to "remove" this constraint is not explained, but that objective is arguably just as realistic as any of the others they propose.
Apart from a few timid requests for an increase in aid and a little more debt relief, the continent's leaders absolve the G8 nations of all responsibility. Instead, they proudly proclaim that "we will determine our own destiny" and call on the people of Africa "to mobilise themselves in order to put an end to further marginalisation of the continent". Self-determination is an admirable goal, but without control over economic policy it is bombast.
Some might say that this self-flagellation is a realistic means of engaging with the imperial powers in Kananaskis: the G8 nations, after all, do not take kindly to being lectured on their responsibilities. Nepad could be viewed as a white lie: the lies of the whites, repeated, with the best intentions, by the leaders of Africa. But development cannot be built on a lie, for development is a matter of reality. So while their plan has admitted them to the imperial court, it merely reinforces the dispensation that ensures Africa stays poor while the G8 stays rich. The continent's leaders will be forced to kneel on the stony ground of Kananaskis. But at least they've brought a Nepad.
7 George Monbiot will be away until August. His website can be found at www.monbiot.com.
June 26 02
Top mandarin: Blair circle acts like the Third ReichKamal Ahmed, political editor Sunday June 23, 2002
Tony Blair's government has been compared to the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich by a senior civil servant who worked for the Government until 2000. The remarkable accusation is made by Sir Richard Packer, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture who was made a knight by the Prime Minister when he retired from his job.
His comments, which brought immediate condemnation from Downing Street, will re-ignite the row over 'control-freakery' at the heart of the Government.
Although Packer insists that his allegation is only true 'in one respect', the fact that he makes the link will bring astonished responses from former colleagues who still work in Whitehall. It is highly unusual for such a senior former member of the civil service to speak out publicly so soon after his departure from office, particularly when the comments are so controversial.
'It is true they've shaken up departments and there's a lot more power in the centre,' Packer says in an interview with BBC1's On the Record programme, broadcast today. 'In one respect it did remind of the Third Reich where there were overlapping responsibilities and nobody quite knew where ultimate responsibility lay.
'There are groups at the centre with the Prime Minister's ear and I rather think that from those out on the periphery, it seems as though, if something goes wrong, departmental responsibility is clear, but if something goes right, they read in the newspaper that it was all the Prime Minister's idea.'
Packer hit the headlines earlier in the year when he accused the Prime Minister of giving 'grossly disproportionate' support to the Indian multi-millionaire and Labour Party donor Lakshmi Mittal over his bid to buy a Romanian steel plant.
'One of the problems is that the present administration when it first came in, immediately suggested that it was going to improve the delivery of policies radically,' Packer said. 'That was a very large claim. I don't think it was well thought through and so far it hasn't happened.'
Packer's comments reveal a deep-seated dislike of the Labour government among some parts of the civil service. Many officials feel that they are under-valued by Number 10, which has set up a de facto Prime Minister's department to control the Government from Downing Street.
The Government's special advisers, political appointees whose role became notorious after the Jo Moore episode, also brief against civil servants who they say are not up to the job, are too stuffy and lack a desire to change. Tony Wright, chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, said there was a need for a new Civil Service Act to give Whitehall officials constitutional protection from political pressure.
The Conservative Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Tim Collins, demanded that political appointees, such as Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of communications, and Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, were stripped of their civil service powers.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman yesterday rejected Packer's claims saying that although they were 'colourfully put' his opinions were now 'wholly out of date'.
June 23 02
Warning from WalesSir.
Western Morning News. Saturday Jun. 15 '02
Central Government proposes to set up regional assemblies throughout England. To be able to manage your own affairs sounds like a great idea. We, in Wales, thought exactly that. The reality is not what we expected. Be warned. Shortly before our assembly was set up, all our County Councils were abolished. A whole tier of local government was taken from us.
The assembly took over their role and has no more power than the former councils did. The money that ran the county councils now runs the assembly. There was no new money. With the assembly unable to pass any new laws, or raise any local taxes, we are unlikely to become any better off than we are at present.
Next our historic counties themselves were abolished. Counties like Glamorgan that had existed for more than a thousand years were swept away. They were replaced by a hotchpotch of so called "unitary authorities". The boundaries of the new authorities were drawn up on flat maps. Things like large rivers, or mountain ranges, were not taken into consideration. All that mattered to the planners was to put a certain number of people into each new authority area. We now have people who formerly lived in different counties, on opposite sides of a mountain, lumped together in the same authority area.
Some of the new rural authorities now cover such large areas money has to be spread very thinly. We have seen several cottage hospitals and village schools close. Some authorities, like my own, Merthyr Tydfil, are no longer large enough really to be viable. Several are already in financial difficulty. This year in Merthyr we have seen a 7.9 percent increase in our council tax while services decline. Any E.U. money due to wales cannot go directly to our assembly. It goes to London and they decide if we get it under a system known as "reciprocal funding".
After your assembly is set up, you will still send M.P.'s to London. If you have occasion to write to your M.P., or any Government department, your letter will be automatically returned to your assembly to be dealt with. London washes its hands of you. You are out of their hair.
It was recently reported that London is now the richest city in Europe, generating £159 billion this year alone. Why does the Government not distribute this around the country? That's true democracy.
James F. Addis, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.
Breathtaking examples of stupidity and brutalityIN HAMLET, Shakespeare wrote that there was Providence in the fall of a sparrow. I'm not much of an expert in falling sparrows, but I do know a bit about the way in which American politics works. And when it comes to major bone-chilling announcements about the prospect of a "dirty bomb" attack on the American capital, then it is worth taking a step or two back and asking what exactly we are being told - and why are we being told it? We'll get to the hype in a minute, but first, the facts.
An American citizen and small-time gangster with a violent past, Jose Padilla, converted to Islam, changed his name, and - according to the FBI - became involved in a plot with al-Qaeda terrorists to explode a bomb filled with radioactive material in an American city. Padilla has been held for a month without charge and has been declared an "enemy combatant" by the US authorities. This means they can interrogate him without offering him legal representation, and - pending challenges from civil liberties groups - they can do so more or less indefinitely.
President Bush has already acted as judge and jury. "This guy Padilla's a bad guy," was how Mr Bush put it.
Now, Padilla may be the devil incarnate for all I know. But usually in democracies even Satan would get the right to legal representation, a hearing in court, and a fair trial. In the current mood in America, such sentiments are not very popular. Most Americans want to congratulate their intelligence services for averting a terrorist attack of indescribable horror.
But what has Padilla actually done that is illegal? If he has done something illegal - conspiracy to cause explosions, perhaps - why not bring him to trial? And if he merely thought about doing something illegal, is the US government going to make a habit of arresting its own citizens for Thought Crimes?
Then there is the hype over the "dirty bomb" itself. Some media accounts this week referred to the "dirty bomb" as a favoured weapon of terrorists. In their dreams, possibly. No-one has yet shown any evidence of any such weapon ever having been used by any terrorist group anywhere.
Before scaring ourselves witless, perhaps we should ask: how many people have "dirty bombs" killed this week? Fewer people than badly-wired toasters and accidents with lawnmowers.
Then there is the question of the credibility of the FBI. In the same week that J Edgar Hoover's FBI took a big bow for preventing some kind of terrorist holocaust in Washington, on the other side of the United States there was a different kind of FBI on display. A court in California awarded two radical environmentalists £3 million in damages after the jury decided that six FBI agents and three police officers tried to frame the environmentalists for planting a bomb in 1990.
It took 12 years for the environmentalists to achieve justice in the courts. Perhaps it is just as well that the environmentalists were not alleged to have been operating with al-Qaeda. Under such circumstances they might merely have been interned without trial and the key thrown away.
Besides, the legacy of US federal law enforcement incompetence, stupidity and brutality in the past decade or so is quite breathtaking. There were the intelligence failures leading up to 11 September itself. The FBI has been restructured - again - to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
Then there was the mess at Waco, Texas, in February 1993, when dozens of federal agents stormed the compound of the Branch Davidian sect led by David Koresh. The FBI finally moved against the Branch Davidians, claiming, among other things, child abuse. This started a fire which killed 76 people, including many children.
Then there was the less well-known siege of Ruby Ridge in 1992, in which federal agents, including more than 100 from the FBI, were involved in a messy shoot-out with white supremacists in Idaho. Now, of course, in a civilised society we all need to be protected from the illegal activities of religious fanatics, white supremacists and, most especially, al-Qaeda.
But we also need to be on our guard against government agencies in the United States and elsewhere who seek to protect our freedom by destroying it. The supposed big success of the FBI over Padilla blew the scandal of the FBI agents in California right off the front pages of newspapers. How convenient.
Gavin Esler is a presenter on BBC News 24.
posted June 18 02
Monstrously illiberalIt has been nearly a year since this newspaper launched its Free Country campaign. But never before have we been faced with a proposal as illiberal, disproportionate and dangerous as the extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The Government intends to allow our internet use, emails and telephone calls to be monitored by a whole range of officials, with virtually no judicial control. Not only the security services, but also such bodies as the Food Standards Agency and even local councils will be allowed to access our personal communications.
The burden of proof ought always to rest with those who wish to take away a given freedom. It is up to the Government to explain how we will be made any safer by giving, say, the Post Office the right to monitor our private communications. So far, it has barely attempted to make this case.
"If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear," comes the old refrain. If only this were true. In fact, almost every day we read of innocent people who have suffered from the bungling of some state agency.
"Personal information - seeking advice about a medical condition, making disobliging comments about someone else, visiting a pornographic website - will now be rather less personal. The opportunities for blackmail or abuse of power are immense.
In a letter elsewhere on this page, the Tory leader in the House of Lords writes of his readiness to oppose this monstrous measure. We hope that peers of all parties and none will back him.
The first duty of an upper chamber, however constituted, is to protect the citizen from badly drafted and invasive legislation. It is difficult to think of any clearer example than the proposal that will come before the Lords tomorrow.
June 17 02
On the road to a totalitarian state
While we quibble over the PM's role at the Queen Mother's funeral, our freedom is being erodedLiberty Watch - Observer special
Anthony Scrivener Sunday June 16, 2002
The big news of the week has been the Prime Minister's denial that he was becoming more royal and trying to muscle in on the funeral of the Queen Mother. It was not as if he was demanding his own cassock or the right to nominate relatives for decent accommodation at the Royal Palace at a bargain rent. It was all about where he should greet the coffin. I am sure that this earth-shattering issue justifies the time and expense in producing a 29-page dossier which should make an excellent Christmas present. This concentration on a matter of such utter triviality demonstrates how out of touch with reality the administration and some parts of the media have become. There are in fact some earth-shattering constitutional issues around, about which the Government has issued no dossier at all.
While the debate goes on as to where the Prime Minister should stand at royal funerals, Big Brother is being quietly ushered in, not by the dreaded Conservative Party responsible for a whole raft of other illiberal measures including the Investigation of Communications Act 1985, but by New Labour, the self-styled party of human rights. Snooping is to become official. Soon we shall all be able to sleep easier in our beds in the knowledge that seven Government departments, including Transport, Work and Pensions and Health, all local authorities, the Postal Services Commissions, the Office of Fair Trading, the Environmental Agency, the Financial Services Authority, the Health and Safety Executive, to name just a few, as well as the police, will be able to demand communication data on any one of us from telephone companies, internet service providers and postal officers.
All of these public bodies and many more will be able to obtain, simply on demand and without a court order, details of any phone call we have made or received, the source and destination of any of our emails, the identity of all websites visited and - best of all - all mobile phone location data which will reveal our whereabouts at any given time within a few hundred metres.
We shall have attained a unique position in the free world - not a police state but a state whose citizens are constantly monitored by public officials without any control by the courts. Before leaders of councils begin to laugh with glee at the possibility of digging up the dirt on the journalist who gives them such a hard time, or perhaps their political opponents, they should bear in mind that the Town Hall Big Brother will know where they were on that Saturday night, too. If you want just to have the privacy you enjoy now, then it is back to the carrier pigeon although, no doubt, New Labour will allow public officials to shoot them down humanely. No wonder John Wadham at Liberty has said 'it is practically every public servant who will be able to play the game'.
The Government was forced into enacting legislation covering such covert investigations as phone tapping under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights. There was no right to privacy under the common law, but in 1984 that court declared that phone tapping was a breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention because the law was not sufficiently clear 'to provide an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which and the conditions on which public authorities are empowered' to obtain evidence by covert means. At the time there was only a Home Office circular governing such matters and the Convention was not part of our law.
By 1996 some fragmentary statutory provisions had been stitched together but in that year in a case involving phone tapping, Lord Nolan said 'the lack of a statutory system regulating the use of surveillance devices by the police seems astonishing'.
The crisis came when in 1998 we adopted the European Convention and Article 8 became part of our law. A clear statutory scheme was necessary for covert surveillance and along came the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We were told this Act would be a bastion for freedom and that access to communications data would be confined to anti-terrorist investigations. All of this was pie in the sky. Next Tuesday, Parliament will debate a draft order to be made under this Act which will establish public officials as national monitors. The argument is that democracy is under attack so we should suspend democracy to protect it. After all the Americans, by their canny use of a declaration of war, not against a country but against a group, have managed to dodge the rule of law.
If China announced the introduction of such measures in Hong Kong we would be marching on their embassy with banners. Here, we have forgotten the principles on which freedom has been built and we shall do nothing. We shall concentrate instead on where the Prime Minister should stand in relation to a royal coffin. Those concerned with individual freedom will have to rely in Parliament on the Lib Dems and a handful of old Labour.
This proposal - together with a sustained attack on juries, a blunted Freedom of Information Bill, the proposed abolition of appeals for some asylum seekers and even the removal of their right to judicial review - is a dangerous milestone on the road to a totalitarian state. New Labour, which promoted human rights so vigorously in Opposition, has shown itself willing to cast aside those proud principles now it is in power. It is a particularly remarkable change for two members of the Government - Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, both former senior officials of Liberty
June 16 02
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