How to avoid vomiting emergency legislation over the Secretary of State’s shoes (for a third time)

Whitehall officialI spent Monday afternoon in Parliament because medConfidential (my day job) had written to the Home Affairs select committee regarding the Home Office fishing around in medical records. When we’ve deciphered what the Home Secretary said in response to the question, I’m sure we’ll say something.

There are also some other things happening this week…

I’ve asked some questions previously, and discussing the issue in advance with my MP (and a random Lord I sat next to on the train down), I’ve come to think there’s a bigger question and message being missed in the panic.

The process this week clearly stinks, but this Bill in not the source of the smell.

The top line coming from civil society is “there is no emergency”. Which, from some organisations, is similar to Jack Jones shouting “Don’t Panic”. So let’s try with a different question, which gives rise to a debate.

Is there an emergency?

If an alcoholic, or other addict, shows up in the back of an ambulance at A&E with a serious condition, the NHS doesn’t question whether it’s an emergency. They treat the patient with the condition in front of them. It doesn’t matter whether it was due to a random “act of god”, or act of mindless stupidity, they treat the patient. For that matter, they don’t ask whether the patient if foreign or domestic, they just treat the patient. This is what should happen.

Relevant people have independently verified to their satisfaction that what has gone wrong now constitutes an emergency, and some of the detail of what that is. I’m sceptical, but questions that undermine that case are being asked, and answers currently back them up. I understand and agree with the reasons for the 2009 regulations not being given the effect of primary legislation. In this case, it’d be the rough equivalent of swapping the neat gin for some neat vodka; a change, but doesn’t really change anything. After all, whether the alcoholic fell down the stairs or was pushed, that doesn’t really matter to the paramedic treating them lying semi-conscious at the bottom.

The whole process stinks, and it is clear that the Home Office has now hit the bottom. This bill is the drug addict equivalent of heroin into the skull veins.

One MP spoke furiously about “stupid animosity” in the corridor afterwards with a staffer when leaving for their next meeting. What they referred to was unclear, but it could well have been Theresa May’s approach to the committee. The Commons deals with politics, and on Tuesday it will probably be at it’s worst, and we saw a prelude to that with Theresa May’s approach.

Julian Huppert asked some pretty simple questions, the answers to which are already in the public domain, yet the Home Secretary refused to answer simple questions. That is fundamentally unhelpful to any perception of truthfulness.

The first step in an addiction is admitting you have a problem. The Home Office is in denial at multiple levels. When it tries the legislative equivalent of choking itself to inject heroin into veins in the forehead, desperate was some way back in the better past.

To quote Theresa May: “there are different areas of trauma at the Home Office”, but it seems no admission of a problem worthy of addressing is forthcoming.

That should concern the Lords.

A question that should be repeated until there is an answer: How did the Home Office screw up this so badly, that apparently a group of Communications Service Providers have credibly threatened to withhold cooperation? (in Home Office language, a Communication Service Provider can be either a telco/ISP or a website operator – ie anything to do with the internet)

As an example of how to lose co-operation and alienate people who you think are legally bound to help you, you need look no further than Theresa May yesterday, or Charles Farr at the Communications Data Bill in 2012, or… . The Home Office has catastrophically mishandled this for a long time. Drink after drink, night after night, until they ended up in A&E, vomiting stinking emergency legislation over their one friend’s nice shoes.

We saw it with PREVENT discussions, we’re seeing it again now. With organisations who have the legal rights to walk away, and the Home Office can’t do anything about it other than run to Parliament. They setup and started a game of chicken, and are now flapping towards the Rotisserie.

It may be an emergency, but it’s an emergency of the Home Office’s making.

Parliament has to fix that; but Parliament must also make sure it can not happen again. I don’t believe Parliament is currently doing that.

The Liberal Democrats have a number of commitments in their policies which the oversight board, RIPA review, SPOC reform, etc all meet. That is fantastic if whtat you happen to care about is delivering Lib Dem policy, but the country’s interest requires a non-screwed home office, and that is non-partisan. I’m not sure any party has it as a policy.

In 2007, Ministry of Justice got spun out and began to be fixed. What remained has continued to rot.

UKBA, Immigration, Passports, Butler-Sloss, Daniel Morgan, paedophile files, IDcards, G4S at the Olympics, PREVENT (twice), Tempora the Communications Data Bill, Emergency Bail legislation, undercover police abuses, undercover police relationships with targets, Leveson, Ian Tomlinson and many, many more – those are just the ones I could remember from this Government or current officials.

The Lords should say “Enough”. They’ll sober the Home Office up this time, but they will not allow the circumstances in which they got there to be repeated.

That means requires fundamental Home Office reform, and for that, there needs to be a blue print. Which doesn’t yet exist, but there is a year to create it.

The current Home Office doesn’t get data or technology. They insist on the ability to rifle everyone’s files but their own.

One possibility

With the labour amendment for putting the RIPA review on a statutory footing, should be a new Crossbench Lords led amendment which brings a statutory inquiry into the structure, culture and practices of the Home Office.

A cross-party with independent experts, designed to report on Monday 11th May 2015 and be implemented by a new Government. It doesn’t prevent this emergency admission, but it ensures that it doesn’t happen again. It can cover whatever it chooses within the remit of the Home Office.

The Home Office got the country into this emergency, and has left up to Parliament to get it out again.

Is the Lords going to do something to stop it happening again?

Jul 2014
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