Debates take place in the Main Chamber in the afternoon. These are Jenny’s contributions to date with Hansard links to the whole debate
17th October 2016 Investigatory Powers Bill – Report Stage (2nd Day)
My Lords, with this amendment I make a further attempt to introduce into the Bill a requirement on the authorities to demonstrate reasonable suspicion of a serious crime and a nexus between the communications data that are sought and the crime suspected before a targeted surveillance warrant can be authorised.
As I pointed out previously when speaking to Amendment 20, one of the greatest problems with the Bill is the lack of a requirement for reasonable suspicion in order for surveillance powers to be authorised for the purpose of preventing and detecting a crime. At the moment, intrusive powers can be authorised to prevent and detect serious crime, but this general purpose is left wide open to very broad interpretation, and therefore to abuse, without requiring the authorising authority to verify the existence of reasonable suspicion of criminality. A requirement of reasonable suspicion when the purpose of preventing and detecting serious crime is invoked would prevent the potential abusive surveillance of law-abiding citizens, which we have seen in the past, without unduly limiting the legitimate use of surveillance powers.
The threshold of reasonable suspicion has long been an important safeguard for both citizens and law enforcers against the risk of the arbitrary use of police powers. The “necessary and proportionate” standard invokes an important assessment of the extent of the intrusion but does not necessitate a threshold of suspicion. Although would one expect that in practice targets of surveillance would meet this very modest burden of proof, in my view it is a great mistake not to include the threshold of reasonable suspicion in the Bill, and it leaves these powers ripe for abuse. Therefore, I make no apology for returning to this issue once again.
The amendment simply requires, first, a threshold of reasonable suspicion that a serious crime has been planned or committed and, secondly, a factual basis for believing that the targeted communications data will contain information relevant to the criminal investigation. This would reassure the public that intrusive targeted surveillance could be used only where there was reasonable suspicion of a serious crime. To that end, I hope the Government will accept the amendment. I beg to move.
Spoke again later in debate: I thank all noble Lords who have given me some support: it is something that I feel very strongly about. I thank the noble Earl for his full reply. Needless to say, I am not convinced because all of the issues that he talked about are in fact potentially serious crimes, so the threshold would be satisfied.
If the noble Earl had spoken to some of the people who had been blacklisted, for example, and whose lives were basically destroyed because of illegal surveillance and co-operation by the police with various organisations, it is possible that he would have been influenced in the same way that I have been. However, in view of the noble Earl’s answer, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Spoke again later in debate: My Lords, I did not intend to speak on this amendment, which I strongly support, so I will be brief. Even I understand the need to balance civil liberties and national security, but comparing this with stopping a few cars simply does not hold water and is not a comparison that we can make—and, personally, I am totally in favour of stopping cars, so that is not an issue.
It is almost as if the Government went to the intelligence and security services and said, “What do you want? What can you imagine wanting to keep us safe?”, and they came up with a huge list. It is like asking children what they want for Christmas: they want a huge list of things and it is not always good to give them everything they want. In this instance, it is certainly not good to give the intelligence services what they want. Indeed, they do not even want some of what the Government are offering them, so the Government have actually gone one step further and offered them more, which to me is totally counterintuitive.
There is also the issue of practicality. When you have this much information coming through, it is incredibly difficult to pick out the vital points and the important things. This could be counterproductive and make us less safe as a nation than we are already. I feel very strongly about this amendment and deeply regret that there is not more support in the House.
13th September 2016 Pension protection fund – Question
My Lords, can the Minister explain what the Government are doing about the potential for stranded assets, particularly investments in fossil fuels? Greenpeace produced a report yesterday which pointed out that, when you look at the growing interest in climate action, the lack of infrastructure for the development of fossil fuels actually means that a lot of pension funds could find that their assets have simply gone.
12th September 2016 Investigatory Powers Bill – Committee (6th Day)
My Lords, the amendment seeks to put right a government oversight: there is no definition of national security under general definitions throughout the Bill. A principal statutory ground for authorising surveillance is, “in the interests of national security”.
Another is “economic well-being” as far as it relates to national security. Left undefined, national security is unnecessarily open, broad and vague and, I suggest, likely to be abused. As the decision will continue to lie with the Secretary of State, the test will be met by whatever she or he subjectively decides is in the interests of national security or the economic well-being of the UK, so that individuals cannot foresee when surveillance powers might be used, granting the Secretary of State a discretion so broad as to be arbitrary. In the past, domestic courts have responded with considerable deference to government claims of national security—and not just domestic courts but other political parties at times. They have viewed them not as a matter of law but as Executive-led policy judgments. National security as a legal test is absolutely meaningless if left without a statutory definition.
The Joint Committee on the draft Bill recommended that the Bill should include definitions of national security and economic well-being. It is confusing even to use the measure of economic well-being, which should be subsumed, as recommended by the ISC, which found it “unnecessarily confusing and complicated”, saying that the agencies and Home Office had not “provided any sensible explanation” for including the term. I look forward to the Minister supplying that sensible explanation. Therefore, the core purposes for which extraordinary powers may be used remain undefined and dangerously flexible. The undefined tests of national security and economic well-being risk interference with political and other lawful activity that ought to be unimpeded in a democratic society. In an era when parliamentarians from both Houses have been subjected to inappropriate surveillance by security services and the police, the continued undefined use of these terms in enabling legislation is not appropriate or sustainable. I beg to move.
Spoke again later in debate: Why was the phrase “economic well-being” included as a rather loose term?
Spoke again later in debate: My point is simply that there was a recommendation that it was unnecessarily confusing. Therefore, there must be a reason for putting it in, and I would like to know the reason; that is all.
Spoke again later in debate: I thank the Minister very much for those answers. I also thank noble Lords, who obviously did not agree with me, for their comments. This definition was meant to be a prompt, guidance, not something to be set in stone. Without a definition, I find it difficult to understand how we can describe anything that is necessary for the future well-being of the country. The whole Bill is based on a definition. However, if you have not described it, how can you be sure that you are doing the right thing? Nevertheless, given the explanation provided, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
6th September 2016 Climate Change: Fracking – Question
My Lords, in fact there is mounting evidence that the methane leaks associated with fracking are far dirtier than those associated with energy derived from coal. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible for us to have clean energy and fulfil all our commitments if we carry on fracking. Is it not time that we followed the devolved countries of Scotland and Wales and abandoned fracking in England?
19th July 2016 Investigatory Powers Bill: Committee (3rd Day)
The amendment is about applications to intercept being made by a judicial commissioner, not the Secretary of State via the Prime Minister. Amendment 43B sets out some additional requirements to be taken into account.
The debate has been fascinating because there has been a lot of use of words such as “reasonable”, “proportionate” and even “democratic accountability”. We all probably draw the lines on those matters at different places, and I certainly do so. My amendments speak to the area that has been covered by the Wilson doctrine of 1966 on parliamentarians’ correspondence and communications. The doctrine was explored by the two Green parliamentarians, Caroline Lucas in the other place and myself in your Lordships’ House, at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. After successive Prime Ministers—even recently—have declared that the Wilson doctrine was still in force, we in fact found at the IPT that it applied only to targeted, not incidental, interceptions. The doctrine therefore has proved to be fairly worthless.
For me, the surveillance of parliamentarians is a constitutional issue, because it is our job to hold the Executive to account, without interference and without inhibition. In addition, of course, constituents have a right to privacy, which is not acknowledged enough at times. It goes without saying that criminals have to be caught. People always raise the issue of what happens if we have a parliamentarian who is a paedophile; of course, I would seek to see that criminal found and removed. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the current drafting,
“does not eliminate the risk of a partisan motivation, whether real or apparent”— that is if a Government Member does it—and it fails to supply,
“a safeguard commensurate with the importance of the public interest at stake”.
As I have explained in your Lordships’ House several times, I was targeted by the police and put on their domestic extremist database. I feel that, if somebody like me can be targeted as a domestic extremist—I was an elected politician at the time and was actually sitting on the Metropolitan Police Authority, overseeing the police—then I am very nervous about where such authorisation comes from. I would argue that there are simply not enough safeguards for unhindered scrutiny of the Executive by parliamentarians, which is obviously vital for any democracy.
We heard today the Prime Minster—now the previous Prime Minister—saying in his valedictory speech that he saluted the robustness of our challenging of our leaders here in Britain. This whole Bill puts that at risk; it does not allow us to do our job properly without the risk of interference. I hope that the Minister will not try to reassure me by telling me that the Government are in listening mode, because that is exactly what I am frightened of. I beg to move.
Continued later in debate…Still on the Wilson doctrine, we heard in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that the Government could not guarantee that parliamentarians’ communications would not be intercepted. They simply could not do it, because the intelligence services cannot remove our addresses and phone numbers from their bulk interception. So it is quite possible that parliamentarians’ communications are intercepted on a regular basis by accident. It is only when they are targeted that the process with the warrants kicks in. That was the ruling from the tribunal. I thank all noble Lords who have commented on my amendments, and the Minister for his answers.
Continues later in debate…When we debate here, we often forget what it looks like to outsiders. I am naturally extremely law-abiding—I stop at red lights, I do not drop litter—but I am also highly suspicious of authority. As far as I can represent a constituency outside, I represent people who are suspicious of politicians. They are probably also suspicious of lawyers, but possibly not quite as much. When we have politicians signing off on other politicians, we must accept that it will not look that good to some people. You might argue that those highly suspicious people are not the people who put us here, which is of course quite right, but at the same time, we must be aware of what it looks like for our reputation. I accept that the amendment is not particularly popular, so I beg leave to withdraw it.
7th July 2016 Motoring Offences Review – Question
My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether the concept of the driver’s duty of care towards vulnerable road users will also be included in the consultation?
25th May 2016: Immigration: Detention of pregnant women – Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many pregnant women are currently held in detention under the Immigration Act 2014
11th May 2016: Hinkley Point – Question
My Lords, I am sure the Minister is well aware that the global solar industry is doubling every two years. In spite of this Government’s withdrawal of subsidies, there will be sufficient global capacity in 12 years to cover all demand on the planet. Does that not make Hinkley Point obsolete? We will probably not even have it built in 12 years’ time
27th April 2016: Investigatory powers bill – Question
My Lords, will the Minister explain Clause 217 a little more clearly? It suggests that a warrant might be sent overseas from the UK. Does the opposite apply as well—that UK tech companies might get an overseas request to break encryption, with which they have to comply?
18th April 2016: Cyclists: Road Traffic Laws – Question
My Lords, I am sure the Minister is well aware that the Transport Committee of the House of Commons said last month that it was very concerned about the ever-increasing number of pedal cyclist casualties, which has gone up by 8.3% in the past year. What are the Government doing to reverse that trend?
23rd March 2016: Housing and Planning Bill – Committee 9th Day
My Lords, I support everything that has been said on this side so far and, in particular, Amendment 102D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick. I suspect that I will be supporting every amendment that comes forward on Report but this particular amendment adds value. Personally, I would like to scrap the whole Bill—it can be consigned to my wood burner any time. However, if that is…
24th February 2016: Local Authorities: Fossil Fuel Holdings – Question
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in the past five years, the value of four of the biggest coal companies in the United States has fallen by 99.6% and that many firms have gone out of business? Is it perhaps time for the Government to give local authorities constructive advice on how to divest themselves of fossil fuel holdings that could well crash in the next few years?
3rd February 2016: Sugar Tax – Question
My Lords, the Mayor of London, a well-respected member of the Conservative Party, has already put a sugar tax on sugary drinks at City Hall, so might the Government consider doing the same for the rest of Britain?
25th January 2016: Flooding Relief Effort – Question
My Lords, the noble Baroness mentions unprecedented floods, but in Cumbria this is the third once-in-a-lifetime flood event in the past 10 years. Is it perhaps time that the Government improved their attitude towards climate change and introduced some policies that would help people to prevent such floods in future, which can be done?
11th January 2016: Rough Sleeping – Question
My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Prime Minister has actually chosen to deal with some of the symptoms of problems in our society but not the causes? He has suggested that he is going to knock down sink estates, whereas in fact what we need is poverty alleviation.
18th November 2015: Emergency Services: Central London — Question
My Lords, while it is all very well for the Minister to say that he knows the value of community, the current Commissioner of the Met Police has said that three-quarters of intelligence, whether it is about drugs, trafficking in people or terrorism, actually comes from the community, and yet the Government are savagely cutting the police budget. How do we square that circle? I do not…
4th November 2015: Daft Investigatory Powers Bill — Statement
My Lords, this has been described as a tidying-up Bill, and the reason for it is that the security services and the police have overstepped the mark and misused their past powers. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, talked about trust. What guarantees can the Government give that the security services and the police will not overstep these powers as well?
20th October 2015: Police funding formula — Question
My Lords, I am sure the Minister knows that part of the counterterrorism funding is for the Prevent programme, which has in fact turned into a toxic brand that is alienating a lot of communities. Just at the point when the police, because of savage cuts to their budget, need community support, they are actually losing the good will of the public. Will the Minister explain how that works?
12th October 2015: School journeys by car — Question
My Lords, is the Minister aware of School Streets, a scheme in Edinburgh, where streets around schools are closed to motor vehicles for an hour before and after school, which means that children and their parents automatically walk or cycle? There are fewer cars, so less air pollution. It seems to be a winner
13th July 2015: Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill — Report
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the amendment as one of the very few people in this House—I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Tope—who has had up close experience of the two London mayors we have had over the past 15 years. I can assure noble Lords that the system works sometimes, but not always, so to make it a compulsory element is absolutely nonsensical. Some of the language used here is a bit misleading. Talking about an elected Mayor of London as local government is a complete nonsense because it is not local government, it is regional government. The whole point of the Mayor of London is that he or she is not a local politician; they are a regional politician with responsibility for the strategic oversight of the area to which they are elected. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails. It has failed spectacularly in London on our housing stock. The fact that we are so short of affordable and social housing is, I think, a failure of the mayor. As I say, this is not about local government, but strategic regional government.
I can assure noble Lords that making an elected mayor compulsory is nonsensical. It all depends on the talents and abilities of the person, and I would argue that while it has worked for some issues, for people here to say, “It is the answer because it is modern, innovative and fresh thinking”, is complete nonsense. Please do not be fooled; rather, accept that a mayor should be an optional extra, not compulsory.
Continues later in debate…Does the Minister agree that, when you have this much power vested in one person, you also need a very good system of accountability and scrutiny? Here in London that has not happened enough. As a member of the London body, I know that we have not had enough powers. Is that something the Government are thinking about?
8th July 2015: investigatory Powers — Motion to Take Note
My Lords, there have been a number of reports into the use of investigatory powers by public agencies in the UK. Indeed, I published my own report, which looked at the Metropolitan Police’s use of undercover police, at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and at police databases. I found that the police had overreached and misused their powers, aided by illiberal legislation that is not fit for purpose and, of course, a mayor who was happy to turn a blind eye rather than champion civil liberties. Today I will limit my comments to David Anderson’s report. Like many noble Lords, I welcome several of its recommendations.
I am pleased that David Anderson found that RIPA is not fit for purpose and should be replaced. This is something that the Green Party called for at the last election and we had in our manifesto. RIPA has failed. It fails to regulate the actions of undercover police officers, to support the confidentiality of journalistic sources and to protect legal privilege, and it certainly does not provide a proper and open right of redress via the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
I am also pleased that Mr Anderson recommends that the new legal framework that replaces RIPA should comply with international human rights standards. I find this particularly relevant when the Government are indicating that they would consider withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. I would welcome clarification from the Government of the implications of this new legal framework if we were to leave the ECHR.
I welcome the recommendations for judicial approval for the interception of communications rather than the current arrangement involving the Secretary of State. In practice, Ministers are not held to account for warrants because it is an offence to disclose that a warrant has been granted and because of the Government’s policy of “neither confirm nor deny” on security matters. Were questions to be asked here or in the other place about the specifics of an intelligence operation they would not be answered. When questions of security are asked, the common response is “operational issues” and the stonewalling of NCND. This lack of accountability is partly why I welcome the move to judicial approval.
I also think that the idea of replacing the three existing oversight commissioners with a single independent surveillance and intelligence commissioner is to be welcomed. I believe it would provide greater safeguards around the use of metadata, as well as the increased safeguards needed for lawyers, journalists and others who handle privileged information.
By contrast, some aspects of the report do not go far enough and cause me concern. For example, I am pleased that Mr Anderson recognised that the role and jurisdiction of the IPT should be expanded. However, I do not think his report goes far enough. I do not believe that the IPT should hold proceedings behind closed doors. Instead, cases should be brought in open court, subject to closed material procedure or public interest immunity framework. This would provide greater transparency and allow for secrecy where necessary.
I question the bulk collection of external communications—those sent from and into the UK. While Mr Anderson says they should continue, subject to “additional safeguards”, I would like to see a far more robust case put forward from the police and security services which makes clear why blanket non-targeted surveillance is more effective than targeted operation-led powers. I found the information provided in the six agency case studies in the report to be limited. I remain to be convinced that the results achieved could not have been achieved using targeted surveillance.
I am pleased that Mr Anderson states that no operational case has been made for requiring service providers to retain records of users’ interactions with the internet—so-called web logs—as proposed by the draft communications data Bill, better known as the snoopers’ charter. I am pleased that he has questioned the lawfulness, intrusiveness and cost of the proposals. His report also points out that no other EU or Commonwealth country requires the blanket retention of web logs; in fact, Australia has recently prohibited this in law. I hope the Government and Home Secretary will pause for reflection on why we alone need such a power.
This report also touches on the use of undercover state agents, or covert human intelligence sources. I accept that this was not the focus of David Anderson’s report but it is an area where I have huge concerns. The House is probably aware of the cases of several women who were deceived into long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. Their testimony to the Home Affairs Select Committee laid bare the life-changing consequences these women suffered. I am concerned that, as it stands, RIPA still authorises sexual relationships by state agents. I find this quite alarming. If Parliament thinks that state agents should have this power, which I do not, or that there should be limitations to it, that must be part of the debate we are having. If RIPA is to be replaced then its replacement must clarify the law in this area.
I also draw the House’s attention to a particular aspect of RIPA which I find inconsistent and in need of reform. Different forms of intrusive surveillance are authorised at different levels. For example, interception of communication requires authorisation from the Secretary of State. On the other hand, the authorisation of direct surveillance, including the activities of an undercover police officer, requires only the authorisation of another police officer. It is worth pointing out at this stage that most of the investigatory powers used to obtain communications data are so used by the police and not the security services. I believe that the highly intrusive nature of an intimate relationship with a state agent, presenting as someone else, is capable of being far more intrusive than the interception of communications. I should therefore like to see judicial authorisation for undercover state agents.
In conclusion, I hope that this report leads to a proper debate on these issues, but in order to have a rational and proper debate we must stop describing the threat we face as unprecedented. It is, as Mr Anderson explains, a “surprisingly common” mistake. As someone who has had a file held on a police database of domestic extremists, I am concerned by systems of surveillance which are not clearly defined, targeted and publicly held to account. The past few years have seen revelations that GCHQ spied on Amnesty International, that undercover police have been sent to spy on those campaigning for police accountability, and that RIPA has been used to violate lawyer-client privilege. It really is time that we had a proper debate. There should be clear rules and processes around obtaining data. It should not be easy for the state to obtain communications; that is the cost of privacy in a free society. It is our role to challenge the police and security services to provide a proper case, supported by evidence, for any additional powers that they need or request to do their job. Those who challenge the police and security services do not do so because we are unaware of the threat that we face. We do so to protect the very values that terrorism seeks to undermine
29th June 2015: Vehicle Excise Duty: Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Question
My Lords, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister a way round this. The Supreme Court has suggested that the Government should produce a national plan to fix our air pollution problem. Something on the vehicle excise duty could go very nicely into that plan and make quite a lot of headway
24th June 2015: Renewable Energy — Question
My Lords, has the Minister considered the option, if we are going to take away subsidies from some energy sources, that we should take them away from all energy sources, including nuclear?
17th June 2015: Climate Change — Question
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, should other countries such as Norway divest themselves of fossil fuel investments, the London Stock Exchange would be highly exposed because we carry something like 19% of the global carbon budget? Are the Government thinking about stimulating the green economy, for example, through PFI contracts or similar public service contracts?
9th June 2015: Air Pollution — Question #2
Are the Government aware that the Mayor of London has said that he can bring London into compliance by 2020 if the Government act? Are the Government considering two measures that the Mayor of London has suggested? The first is a national scrappage scheme to get the worst-polluting diesel vehicles off the road, and the second is a proper government review of vehicle excise duty, which has encouraged more diesel vehicles on to the roads
3rd June 2015: Police and Crime Commissioners — Question
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that these police and crime commissioners are accountable. In fact, the reports coming in from the police and crime panels, which are charged with holding the police and crime commissioners to account, suggest that they are under-resourced. Will the Government consider funding those panels rather better than they are at the moment?
24th March 2015: Air Quality: London — Question
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, rather than asking people to stay indoors during high pollution episodes, it would be better to give that advice to drivers of highly polluting vehicles and for them to stay at home?
26th Jan 2015: Terrorism and Security Bill — Committee (2nd Day)
My Lords, I rise to oppose the amendments for many of the reasons outlined here today. First, they are unnecessary. We have heard a lot about gaps, targeted and not blanket surveillance and bringing things up to date. This is, of course, absolute nonsense. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the Met and presumably the other agencies already have the powers they need—powers that, I suggest, go far beyond what they need. We heard a lot today about Paris and Lee Rigby, but in fact all my information says that the shortcomings of the pre-investigation in Paris and in the Lee Rigby tragic murder were due not to a lack of surveillance but to a lack of good police work. That is what was fundamentally missing. It was not about not having enough recordings or surveillance. It was about a lack of information and a lack of talking to marginalised community groups. The cross-party committee which reported in November on the handling of the Lee Rigby killers exposed major internal failings in the way that agencies pursue leads. It found that both men had been known to the agencies for years—one had even been considered a priority—but basic issues such as delays, poor communication and bad record-keeping caused the problems, not the surveillance of the suspects.
Although these amendments are obviously within the letter of the law, they seem to me to be fundamentally undemocratic in the way that they are being brutally pushed into our parliamentary process. This seems to me a way of short-circuiting real scrutiny. It is great that they were looked at before, but they still need looking at again; if they are—I hope the Minister is listening—they absolutely must be looked at by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It should look at these amendments before there is any more discussion in either of these Houses.
For me, this snoopers’ charter reduces our rights, and surely that is exactly what the terrorists are after. Terrorists want to impact on our society and on every single person who does not believe the way that they do. That is what we are letting happen here. It is absolutely mad. The Mayor of London recently referred to “this civil liberties stuff” in the most dismissive way, as if that is negotiable—that civil liberties are not terribly important when we compare them with the threat of terrorism. That is exactly when we need our civil liberties. That is what we in the West should be known for.
There is also the cost. My experience of the Met over the past fifteen years is that it cannot deal with the data that it already has. I have asked many questions about its databases and the information that it gets from them. The Met does not know how many databases it has—it cannot tell me how many to the nearest hundred. Also, it often cannot search its databases. For example, I had the dubious pleasure of being on its domestic extremist database, I think under the regime of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, and I hope that I am not on the database anymore—the Met has changed its definition of what a domestic extremist is—but who knows because I cannot get the information. However, the Met cannot search that database for serious criminal activity. Because the definition was changed to relate to serious criminals, if you ask, “Can you look through the database and find out how many serious criminals you have?”, you will be told, “Oh, we haven’t logged that, so we can’t do that”.
Not only are we expecting the Met staff to deal with more data when they cannot sort and file the data that they already have, but, I would argue, they have enough powers. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, talked about some very tragic incidents where more surveillance might actually solve a crime or find a lost child. In fact, the police already have these powers. They have them under RIPA and, in my view, they are already misusing them. Under RIPA they do not have to go to a judge to ask if they can put surveillance on somebody; they just have to go to a chief inspector in a nearby unit and ask, “Could you sign this for me? It’s surveillance on somebody or other”.
We should not be thinking about giving more powers to our spies and to the police. We should be very careful about this. We should think about taking back some of those powers and making sure that we persist in keeping our civil liberties and human rights and do not let the terrorists take them away from us
14th Jan 2015: Employment: Internships — Question
My Lords, will the Minister consider some recommendations from a recent report from the Economy Committee of the London Assembly, which said that all interns who work for more than four weeks should be paid not just the minimum wage but the living wage? It also said that all internships should be advertised openly to create a much fairer opportunity for those who are less fortunate
18th Nov 2014: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — Question
My Lords, can the noble Lord assure the House that there will be no lowering of current EU standards on things like air quality, water quality, employment standards or animal welfare by virtue of TTIP negotiations?
10th November 2014: Infrastructure Bill
I support Labour’s amendments. They attempt to improve the regulatory framework but they do not go far enough. I hope that other amendments will be pushed through. We need a complete rejection of fracking. The things that have been said so far are not borne out by the facts and it would be very interesting to see future examples of just where fracking has gone very badly wrong.
We need to see a reprioritisation of renewables and energy efficiency. That would reduce our overall energy demand and make us much more able to fulfil our agreement under the Climate Change Act. Energy efficiency and renewables are already delivering jobs. They are very good at supplying employment and will do much more for energy security, lower bills and reduced emissions than an unacceptably risky shale gas industry can ever do.
The Bill contains some very worrying new measures that will, if given the green light by Parliament, threaten the UK’s wildlife. No one seems to take that into account. It will also promote the unfettered extraction of unconventional fossil fuels, which will undermine the Climate Change Act and our ability to avoid, as one nation among many nations, dangerous climate change.
The coalition talks endlessly about its supposed concern for future generations when it comes to reducing the budget but the same level of commitment is, surprisingly, absent when it comes to the environment and handing on a planet fit to live on. The next generation will be given a very degraded natural world if we do not understand the sort of damage that fracking can do.
If we want any more evidence that this is not the “greenest Government ever”, we need look no further than Clauses 32 to 37 and the deeply worrying and hugely unpopular new provisions to give companies the freedom to frack under our homes without letting us know. The Government have pushed ahead with this change despite recent polling showing that 75% of people are against it and the fact that 99% of respondents to the consultation rejected the proposals. I remind noble Lords that those people are voters.
If we look at just how much we have to do if we are not to allow the world to heat by more than 2 degrees—although it is probably already too late to avoid that—it is clear that fracking cannot be part of it. It is not even as though shale gas will bridge the gap that we keep hearing about between now and a future based on renewables. Shale gas will not be online until about 2020, or even well into the 2020s, so if the Government stick to our commitments under the Climate Change Act and coal is offline by the early 2020s, shale gas will not be replacing coal. We will see exactly what we have seen happening in the United States, which is that it is simply able to export more coal when shale gas fills its own energy needs. Shale gas merely displaces fossil fuels; it does not replace them. Professor Dieter Helm of Oxford University has told us that there is enough
gas and coal to fry the planet several times. But of course we cannot use it. It must stay locked up. That is the most efficient form of carbon capture: leave it as coal.
These clauses will also allow fracking companies to undertake activities that have not yet been assessed for their environmental safety, including the keeping of substances within infrastructure on the land with no limits on what can be kept or for how long. Injection wells could be extremely damaging. They have caused problems in the United States, particularly in Ohio, where there have been earthquakes.
We know that the existing regulatory framework is full of gaps. Rather than continue the obsession with deregulating fracking and allowing the industry—an industry that the Chancellor proudly stated has the most generous tax regime in the world—to regulate itself, the Government should see this as an opportunity to introduce regulation that is fit for purpose in order to safeguard the climate. Balcombe, which has been the scene of a lot of interest in the context of fracking, has now decided to go carbon-neutral. If Balcombe can do it, the rest of us can do it
28th October 2014: Air Pollution — Question
My Lords, I am concerned that the Minister does not understand the concept of an overall plan for the whole of Britain. The problem is Britain-wide. The Mayor of London is planning an ultra-low emission zone, which is fantastic, but it is still too small and too limited, and that will be the problem every time if the Government do not take the lead
28th October 2014: Parliament Square: Occupy Protests — Question
Does the Minister agree that this is a terrible waste of time, energy and resources for the police force? Part of the problem is that you are asking them to police and enforce laws that are extremely repressive. It was a Labour Government who introduced the police reform Act, and you are now enforcing it. Is it time to ask your ministerial colleagues, perhaps, if they would repeal the worst aspects of that Act?
16th July 2014: Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill — Second Reading
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for allowing me to speak. I will be brief, not least in view of the erudite speeches that have gone before. I thank the Government for adding to my general knowledge because until a week ago I did not know what metadata were, and I cared even less; now I know, and I care very much.
We have debated various parts of the Bill extensively today. On the emergency aspect of this Bill, I find it hard to believe that all those big brains at the Home Office did not see this coming. I simply find it impossible to believe. Along with hundreds of thousands of people outside this House, I do not understand why this is an emergency.
Do these regulations come in before the Summer Recess or will they be delayed until after? That, of course, has an impact on whether this truly was an emergency.
On the issue of extraterritoriality, the powers seem to have been implied, but they were implicit rather than explicit. For me, this is an expansion of powers and therefore should have had a proper consultation. Ducking public consultation is really not part of the democratic process. We hear again and again that this is being done to protect us, but the security services and the police will always ask for greater powers and more weapons so that they can do their job properly. However, it is for politicians to decide whether that is appropriate and whether it is for the common good and for the public good; I would argue that it is not.
Some of the clauses from the other place were accepted, and I am very pleased about that. However, the one on bringing the sunset clause forward to 2014 was an opportunity missed because, quite honestly, if we are not having a proper debate now, having it as soon as possible and ignoring the political timetable would have been a good way forward.
As other noble Lords have said, it is very easy to encroach on civil liberties and it is for us to decide where the line is between national security and civil liberties. I feel again and again that it is easy to be pushed into things through fear rather than for sensible reasons of national security. I do not support the Second Reading of this Bill
5th June 2014: Queens Speech – Debate
My Lords, I was not here yesterday but I listened very carefully and I was, quite honestly, very disappointed. The Bills that are coming before us offer nothing to the disadvantaged and nothing to the vulnerable. The poor and the disabled are virtually ignored, which means that these Bills will open up the rich-poor divide even more than it has been opened up already by this Government. It is a shame that this is happening, and the Government really have to deal with it. I will raise a few issues that I would like answers on and will flag them up as I come to them.
The idea of infrastructure is always very interesting. For decades now, new power stations, energy supply projects and so on have been put in infrastructure, which means they are relatively protected from funding cuts. However, energy efficiency programmes do not come under the infrastructure tag. Why not? A good energy efficiency programme means that you do not have to build the new power stations, so why is that not infrastructure as well? I would like an answer to that.
Secondly, I assume that all infrastructure projects are assessed for their economic, social and environmental benefits. Are they prioritised according to what is the most beneficial? Many of the policies in the Queen’s Speech do not have any concept of what is good for people and good for the planet. It is obvious that future spending restrictions on capital investment in infrastructure are going to be much less than in other areas, so we really need to put in as much as we can away from funding cuts. That is absolutely crucial.
Finally, the Infrastructure Bill seems to offer assistance to big oil companies and housebuilders but not to hard-pressed householders. It builds on the tax breaks that fossil fuel companies have already been given in the hope that they will find gas and sell it cheaply to bring down bills. If that money were given to householders to insulate their homes, that would be a much more efficient use of the money and, of course, overall much better for the environment. Hoping that the big companies will do the right thing is madness; it is a forlorn hope and we have to think about better ways to protect ourselves. We really should not be spending public funds on the extraction of fossil fuels that would be better left underground. The Government have not understood the IPCC’s recent report, which says:
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual”.
The Infrastructure Bill also gives new freedoms to the Highways Agency for road construction and introduces planning changes to fast-track developments. With the problems that we have already with our carbon emissions, building new roads is, again, absolute madness. I just do not understand how any Government could think that this is all right.
Global agreements on climate change are wonderful —we really need them—but they come to absolutely nothing if the Governments who are actually setting the policies and spending the money do not understand what climate change means. Specifically, this fracking trespass Bill introduces a new right of corporate trespass for oil and gas companies and threatens home owners across Britain because it will allow companies to run shale gas pipelines under private land without seeking the consent of home owners. I understand that the Prime Minister said today in the other place, in response to a question from Caroline Lucas MP, that it will not be legal to frack against a property owner’s will. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that point and tell me whether the Prime Minister is speaking for the whole party.
The fracking trespass Bill would also decimate our environment and climate infrastructure. It will not only make local conditions very bad because of the pollution that it will cause and the lorry movements and so on, it will mean the development of a whole new fossil fuel industry that will make it impossible for us to keep to our climate change targets.
Thirdly, this Bill suggests that the Government have already chosen National Grid’s slow progression energy scenario but have kept quiet about it. Perhaps the Minister could let me know if that is true. In 2012 National Grid released a report, UK Future Energy Scenarios, which gave three options. The first was “Slow Progression”, which assumed that climate change targets would be abandoned. The second was “Gone Green”, which was to meet climate targets. The third was “Accelerated Growth”, which was about meeting climate targets early. This Bill suggests that the
Government have chosen the slow progression and have in effect abandoned the whole concept of climate change targets.
I will now say what I really would have liked to have seen in the Government’s plans for next year. There are four things. The Government could still introduce them. Perhaps we could discuss them afterwards if the Minister would like to take them up. The first is a fossil fuels divestment Bill, which would require the withdrawal of all public funds that are indirectly or directly supporting companies or activities involving the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, domestically and internationally, and to reinvest all such funds in zero-carbon energy generation and energy conservation measures—a much better use of the money.
The second Bill would be a fair pay Bill, which would set a company-wide pay ratio of 10:1: that is, the lowest paid worker in a company should get 1/10th of what the CEO is paid. You pay the CEO whatever you think he or she is worth but you make sure that your cleaner or your security guard is paid at least 1/10th of that. That would start to rebalance the rich-poor divide that is widening under this Government.
The third Bill would be a public ownership Bill, which would promote public ownership of public services, introduce a presumption in favour of service provision by public sector and not-for-profit entities, and put in place mechanisms to increase the accountability, transparency and public control of public services, including those operated by public companies.
The fourth Bill would be a housing Bill to prevent rent increases above inflation for existing tenants and to increase security of tenure with five-year tenancy agreements. A little of this is being done in London and it looks as though it could be extremely successful. With the problems that we already have with housing in London, it would seem logical to produce something like this.
I do not want to sound alarmist. When I talk about destroying the planet, I am not talking about really destroying the planet; I am talking about destroying the little bit of the planet that we rely on for our existence. The fact is that if we do not take climate change into account, if we continue with business as usual, we are damaging not only our future but that of our children and grandchildren
13th May 2014: Local Government Pensions Scheme (Transitional Provisions, Savings and Amendment) Regulations 2014 — Motion of Regret
My Lords, I rise to speak on this matter because, although other Members of this House have been Assembly members—and, obviously, councillors—before, I am the only remaining Assembly member in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for tabling the Motion of Regret. I have also been a councillor, and I can tell your Lordships that I certainly did not feel like a volunteer. I felt like someone who worked extremely hard; it was way beyond anything that a volunteer has to put up with.
I think that it is deeply illogical, in particular, for Assembly members and the Mayor of London to be excluded from the scheme. It is true that we are full-time and we are salaried. We are, in effect, like MPs: we have the same sort of elected demands on our time. Of course, the Mayor of London is also a police and crime commissioner. It seems deeply illogical that other police and crime commissioners will stay in the pension scheme when the Mayor of London will be excluded, although he is a police and crime commissioner by law. I would like a bit of clarification on that: is he excluded as Mayor of London but included as police and crime commissioner? In its report of 2000, the Senior Salaries Review Body recognised the full-time roles of the mayor and the Assembly members, and it decided that they should be members of the Local Government Pension Scheme. The SSRB saw no reason to change these arrangements.
It is also deeply unfair for councillors to be excluded. It is a time when it is harder and harder to find people to stand for these posts: they are less and less rewarding, and to exclude councillors from a pension scheme is not just unfair but also rather cruel.
In addition, Assembly members and the mayor of London will have to find alternative arrangements for their pensions. This will probably be much more expensive than the local government scheme but it will be funded by the taxpayer. We have heard about savings, but actually it will cost the taxpayer more if we go outside the scheme. Therefore, I deeply regret that this has happened.
Could the Minister clear up the point about whether the Mayor will stay in as a police and crime commissioner?
31st March 2014: Water Bill
My Lords, I noticed that the Minister spoke of adaptation but he has not spoken about mitigation. Quite honestly, if you concern yourself only with adaptation, you simply will not be able to keep up with the changes. Are the Government thinking about mitigation in these circumstances as well?
20th March 2014: Pensions: Low-carbon Investments
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on getting this debate on to the agenda because it is crucial to our future and our security as a nation. It is also a real pleasure to be in a debate where I did not say the words “climate change” first. It is great that more and more people are understanding how challenging this will be. Earlier this week, I was in a debate on fracking in which proponents of fracking said that we have to frack to deliver our carbon-reduction targets. Even proponents of fracking, which I think is the most disastrous anti-climate change measure, are using climate change as a big stick and something that we have to take into account in the future.
It has already been said that the local authority pension funds have a current market value of around £200 billion. That is a sizeable amount and if it can be manipulated and used in the right way, it can have a huge impact. There have been several reviews of pension fund rules, including the 2001 Myners report, but pension funds are still investing billions in tobacco, arms and fossil fuel companies. My work on this has been trying to encourage various pension funds to invest more ethically but also in a greener way. It is not easy. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned that pension funds are risk-averse but the fact is that there is a huge risk if they do not take climate change into account. In fact, the green economy is growing at a steady 4%, with lots of promise, so actually it is not a bad investment.
The big problem is that pension funds could be exposed to what is termed the “carbon bubble”, in that they have invested very heavily in fossil fuel companies and similar, but those assets cannot be used if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. That is a real concern because those pension funds could plunge if that sort of carbon bubble becomes imminent.
The government Budget was depressing yesterday—business as usual, and less green than the previous Budget, if that is possible. I abhor that the Government seem unable to see this problem, which is happening in front of their eyes.
Last year I met with Edi Truell, who is the chairman of the London Pensions Fund Authority, and pressed him to make the authority more ethical, in the sense that it could be more transparent about policies and implementation. My concern was that the LPFA was acting like an absentee landlord, not looking closely at what the companies it invests in are doing: whether they pay the living wage, for example—which should be an automatic component of whether it invests—and, of course, whether those companies are ethically and even soundly run.
I also talked to the London Pensions Fund Authority about positive investments in areas such as energy infrastructure. The fund is currently looking into the possibility of raising £4 billion, with other pension funds, to fund a 620-mile-long cable to Iceland, which would enable us to share enough energy to power 2 million homes. Iceland could be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy supplies.
For many years people have campaigned to get quite a lot of pension funds to invest more ethically. For example, East Sussex County Council has been lobbied many times. The fund is valued at around £1.9 billion and is one of the largest pension funds in England and Wales. It has been considering one of the three things that should now happen, which I will now propose to the Government.
First, pension funds should sign up to the UN principles for responsible investment. That is an elementary step. Secondly, the Government should require pension funds to disclose much more information; for example, their socially responsible investment policy implementation and performance monitoring. The people who get the pensions want money for their pensions—of course they do—but at the same time they want to feel that they are not raping and pillaging the rest of the world.
Pension funds should also try to make more positive investments. For example, Lancashire County Council’s pension fund has just invested £12 million in the UK’s first community-owned solar development in south Oxfordshire. That sounds like such a win-win situation. It is good for Lancashire and absolutely brilliant for south Oxfordshire.
As I have a little time left, I will give noble Lords the three tests of sustainability. I wrote these for Boris Johnson when he became Mayor of London; I stood over him and made him read them, which was absolutely pointless. However, I will read them to noble Lords. The first test is: does it ask everyone, at every level of society, to do something? It is not enough to expect the Government, or the local council, to fix our problems. We all, as individuals, have to do something, but the Government cannot expect us to do it on our own—everybody must do something.
The second test is: could it cause potential problems downstream? This is one where Greens are absolutely brilliant, because we are very good at spotting potential messes. A classic example is biofuels. People such as Richard Branson were saying, “Fine, I’ll fly all my aeroplanes on biofuels”. In fact, if you grow biofuels, you are cutting down virgin territory and forest, and taking land that could be used for food—and food supply will be an area where we will have huge problems in the future. You have to make sure that you do not create more problems downstream.
Finally, does anything claim to be “the” answer? There is no one answer. The problem of climate change is so complex and diverse that we need 1 million, or 2 million, solutions. As Al Gore says, there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. The problem is so complex, so we need complex solutions.
Doing the right thing now will save us money. It might feel expensive, but it will be a lot more expensive—exponentially so—in the future. Therefore anticipating, adapting to and mitigating climate change is absolutely urgent. Pension fund authorities have so much power through their investments that they should be exemplars of how to deal with it
17th March 2014: Energy: Fracking
My Lords, I speak as a politician but also as a scientist, albeit in a slightly more esoteric area of science. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on securing this debate. It has not done anything for my blood pressure. I am so constrained by time that I cannot answer all the points that have been made but I will cover a few, I hope.
First, on pollution, the European Commission and US research have identified significant pollution risks from leaking wells, including the contamination of drinking water by methane, heavy metals, radioactive elements and carcinogenic chemicals. There is also air pollution and noise pollution. Wildlife loss is a threat, although if we want to save more birds we should ban cats rather than wind farms. PM2.5 is a very nasty component of our air here in London and major cities in Britain. If we want to cut it significantly, we should cut traffic. I would be glad to hear noble Lords’ ideas on that. It is also hard to regulate away human error. It is incredibly difficult to make anything completely safe.
On costs, instead of investing in energy efficiency to reduce our bills, our Government are giving 50% tax giveaways to an industry forecast to have rising prices for decades. The Secretary of State for Energy, Ed Davey, warns that it would be really expensive if we were over reliant on gas. Furthermore, UK fracking is likely to be much more expensive than the US variety. Despite what Ministers claim, the experts at Deutsche Bank, Chatham House and Ofgem all predict that shale gas extraction will not bring down fuel bills, so fracking will not help the 1.5 million children growing up in cold homes in the UK.
There would also be lost opportunities. By undermining investment in offshore wind power, tax giveaways for shale gas will suppress development of clean renewable energy. That is exactly what we do not need. A reckless dash for shale gas could prevent clean electricity being supplied to 7.8 million homes and cost more than 40,000 clean energy jobs. That is really too much to bear.
Finally, on climate incompatibility, shale gas is likely to be burnt in addition to coal. Shale gas drilling and combustion are completely incompatible with UK climate change commitments. Replacing conventional fossil gas with shale gas to generate electricity would increase greenhouse gas emissions by up to 11%. A mixture of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2, will further contribute to the dangerous climate change impacts of fracking and, finally, recent research suggests that replacing coal with gas may be worse for climate change in the medium term. So this environmentalist is not convinced
20th January 2014: Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Report (3rd Day)
My Lords, although I have not been involved in these cases, I have been involved in the examination of these kinds of cases when I was a member of a police authority in London for 12 years and I still sit on the police committee at City Hall.
Something like the amendment is absolutely necessary because, putting aside the civil rights, human rights and civil liberties of the women and the people involved in the environmental movement whose lives have been trespassed upon for no information and without subsequent charges against them—these were innocent women who were trespassed against—you have to think about the civil liberties and human rights of the police officers involved. Again and again, officers were embedded within environmental groups for long periods of time. It was not like getting into a drug cartel or organised crime of some kind; this was a quite different kind of policing. The police officers have suffered quite deeply afterwards. It is very easy when you are embedded for three months or six months to get to like the people you are working with and to understand what their motivation is, and many officers have come out of this quite damaged and unable to work any further.
There is also an argument about the cost of the court cases in which some of these police officers were involved—they went to court and were charged as protestors and were either convicted or not convicted—because those cases are now being overturned. Two cases will be coming up in the next two weeks in London on this issue. It is costing us a fortune and justice is not being done. We need an independent way of judging and assessing whether or not this kind of action is necessary. It is time that the Metropolitan Police understood how important this is and I hope that the Government will approve the amendment
5th December 2013 – Police: Independent Police Commission Report — Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for introducing the debate. The report is incredibly useful. Although it is in a sense an academic exercise, it is also a valuable contribution to our discussion of policing today. It also contains some solutions. I pick out, for example, the concept of chartered police officers. That is a very good idea. I fear that the Government’s idea of a code of conduct does not go far enough. A code of ethics will not do as much as a system to charter officers to ensure that if they commit misconduct of any sort, they can be struck off.
The issue of databases is also interesting. There is a technological view of it, but there are much bigger problems with databases. For example, the Met itself has no idea how many databases it has and does not know what is in them. I recently paid £10 and got my police file. It was the most appalling mishmash of trivia that you have ever seen. I have a copy here, if anybody would like to read it. For example, it cites the Metro newspaper, which states:
“London Deputy Mayor Jenny Jones is also encouraging. ‘If you’ve never been’”—to Critical Mass— “‘then come along’”.
I will not bore you with the others, which are moderately amusing at times. Here is one which is from a tweet of mine:
“Open-source research indicates that Green Party Member Jenny Jones has tweeted that she a Green Party Mayor candidate is attending the Critical Mass vigil”.
If that is the sort of thing that the police are keeping on their database, we are wasting a lot of police resources. We ought to find out a little more about those databases and what is in them.
There is also the question: why are they keeping a database on an elected person? That is inappropriate, irrespective of the inappropriateness of the information that they are keeping.
I thought before it was introduced that the system of PCCs was badly flawed; I argued against it in many places, but it has happened. Unfortunately, it is too soon to call it a failed experiment. It is failing in many places, partly because of the model of a very strong executive and very weak scrutiny. That just does not work. The PCC is often failing to hold the police to account, and then we have panels that cannot hold the PCC to account. From a democratic and accountability point of view, this has been the most appalling mishmash. Honestly, it is too soon to say that it has failed completely, and it would be appropriate to find a better system before we scrap it altogether.
There is also the suggestion of melding the HMIC and the IPCC into an independent police standards commission. That is an interesting idea, but the fact is, of course, that the IPCC has done some valuable work. What it might be appropriate to do is perhaps to fund it properly for a couple of years and see what it can achieve. It has recently been given more funding, which means that it can employ more inspectors. It also perhaps ought to employ fewer ex-police officers. If it were funded properly, it could probably do its job properly. That is one recommendation that perhaps lacks a little sharpness.
Although this was, in a sense, an academic exercise, policing is not academic; it is a reality. As we debate today, there are real policing problems around SOAS and the University of London, where students are protesting, and where a lot of messages, tweets and e-mails are going out saying that the police are being brutal. This is happening here on our streets in London now, and we, I think, are failing the Met by not giving it very clear instructions about how to behave in circumstances like these. It is extremely worrying that this is happening at the moment. I would probably normally be up there and not here. I would be up there trying to talk to the Met and to students to find out what is going on, and if anything can be done to make the situation better.
The report is interesting to read. It has lots of valuable stuff in it, and one or two of the things, I think, could be done immediately. It might be a gesture of real solidarity across the Chamber if some of these suggestions were taken up
28th November 2014: Inaugural Speech
My Lords, 100 years ago last month, my father’s father, Thomas Jones, was killed in the Senghenydd mining disaster in south Wales, along with 438 other men and boys. It is still the worst industrial accident ever to happen in these islands. It left hundreds of widows and orphans, including my grandmother, Polly, who had seven children, including my father, Percy, who was eight. The mine owners paid out something like £26 in total for all those men and boys. My dad therefore grew up in abject poverty. He and one of his brothers had to share a pair of shoes; one of them would wear them one day to school and the next day the other would wear them. After the First World War, when my father left school, rather than work down the pit that had killed his father, he and a brother walked all the way from Abertridwr in south Wales to London to find work. They slept in Hyde Park on benches until the Salvation Army found them and fed and sheltered them.
My dad found work in London and then moved to Brighton, where he met and married my mother, Christine. She came from a staunch Labour Party family. Her granddad, Will Evans, was the first Socialist—no Labour Party back in the 1890s—councillor on Brighton Council. He was a strong supporter of trade unions. During the Second World War, my dad was a cook with the RAF while my mother painted railway engines. When the war was over, they moved to a new suburb of Brighton, Moulsecoomb, which was part of the Homes Fit for Heroes project. I grew up very happy and secure, with my brother Allan, not realising that we were quite poor and the last in our road to get a fridge, a phone or a TV.
Having known hard times, my parents were big fans of the welfare state. They both knew a Britain where it did not exist. So my upbringing was full of gratitude and awe about free education, free medical help and an understanding that you have to help the most vulnerable in society because how you help the poorest is the mark of civilisation. I will skip over the next 40 years, which involved marriage, two wonderful daughters, some travelling, archaeology and lots of very deep-Green politics, and say that I am astonished to be here, but perhaps not as astonished as others. Considering that I have done nothing but talk abolition since my appointment, I have received a very warm welcome, for which I am very thankful.
On the issue of this debate, I would like to say trust in the police has always ebbed and flowed, but “plebgate” has caused a flurry even among the usual supporters of the police. Even the middle classes are saying, “If the police might do something like this to a government Minister, what chance does a working class youth have on a council estate?”. I have been working on the issue of trust in policing for more than a decade. I published a short report this year that looked at the levels of trust among young Londoners and the Met. I went and talked to young people and listened to them, and I found out what they thought. It was very marked that they did not trust the police. It was also marked that they differentiated between different parts of the police. Local police they accepted and saw as doing a generally good job, but the TSG—the Territorial Support Group—for example, was heartily disliked. Young people talked about “bully vans”, and about how the TSG would come into their streets, cause problems, make messes and then leave the sorting out to the local police.
The worst reaction seemed to be a result of stop and search. Although most young people could actually see a use for it, and felt that it might make them safer sometimes if the police found weapons on others, they disliked the way it was done. Again and again, Met officers managed to mess things up because they did not show professional politeness and did not communicate properly.
My years of Met scrutiny, first on the Metropolitan Police Authority and now on City Hall’s Police and Crime Committee, have led me to the conclusion that the police’s biggest problem is communication. If forces could communicate better, they would hear more useful intelligence from communities, and get more support on the streets and fewer attacks in the press, which would raise morale internally and improve the public’s confidence. For example, recently I complained that the Met was reducing its training of armed officers. Now this really is an area where you would think that you need the maximum amount of training, the highest level; there are already enough incidents and we do not want any more. It was explained to me by the Met that the training had reduced slightly but appeared to be generally better for officers and their skills. But the Met had not bothered explaining the changes to anybody. They had not communicated properly, which wasted my time, their time and actually gave them some unfavourable publicity.
Then there are the undercover police, spying on and sleeping with their targets, particularly in environmental organisations. Remember, these targets are people—women—who are innocent and who have not committed a crime. The officers have intruded in their lives to the most astonishing degree. One of them even fathered a child—and then vanished, of course. The Met seems strangely mixed up about this. In public the Met Commissioner has told me that such activity, sleeping with targets, is never authorised. In court, the Met lawyers claimed that the police who were charged had been authorised. At some level, there is a deep amount of confusion about this. It really does need cleaning up.
Of course, I have taken this seat courtesy of the Green Party, whose members voted for me and whose policies I shall do my best to promo