Minister says tracking and tracing should come before the NHSX App

In an answer to my question about tracking, tracing and support, the Minister said:

“… it is probably a mistake to launch an app before you have got the public used to the idea of tracing. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, that is something we have taken on board. When it comes to launching the test and tracing programme, we will begin with the tracing, not with the app.”

The government is already late in launching a localised system of tracking, tracing and support where they use health professionals to do the leg work of following up the contacts within a local community. This has the added advantage over an App of organising support for those who have to isolate at home if they have the virus.  Tracking, tracing and support teams could start by focusing on care homes and schools.

In addition, I’m opposed to the idea of adding facial recognition to the NHSX app, as this takes the invasion of privacy to a new level. We should avoid adding any biometric data to this App as the security of the technology is not guaranteed.  As well as enabling people to track and trace, the App is collecting data for the government to monitor the spread of the disease. The App is trying to serve two purposes and one undermines the privacy goals of the other. 


Greens raise alarm about creation of parallel government machinery

The Green Party has raised serious concerns over Michael Gove’s appointment of four new non-execs to the Cabinet Office. [1]

It has been announced this week that Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, has appointed Lord Hogan-Howe, Baroness Finn, Henry de Zoete and the Rt Hon Gisela Stuart as Non-Executive Board Members to the Cabinet Office, extending the role of non-accountable appointees at the heart of the government.

The news follows the revelation that a senior Home Office counter-terrorism official, who is expected to become the next director general of MI6 next year, has been appoointed to take charge of the government’s new biosecurity centre, which will decide on the UK’s coronavirus threat levels. [2]

Green Peer Jenny Jones has called on the government to clarify how these appointments were made and who they are accountable to.

Baroness Jones said:

“The Government has serious questions to answer over how powerful positions can be given to unelected officials, a process that strikes at the heart of democratic processes.

“Boris Johnson has given the power to decide when people are able to leave their homes to a school-friend with no medical expertise, while Michael Gove has been able to appoint four people, three of whom have previously worked for him, to positions of great influence with very little oversight.

“Our political system relies on clear accountability and power being held with those who are elected, while the advice of civil servants has to be independent and used as the basis for political decisions.

“Without these conditions, we are quite simply not living in a democracy.”

Lords debate Care Home deaths

My speech can be found here. The audio of the debate is here.

“I have three questions for the Government; they are very simple and I am happy to have written answers if necessary.

Like many other noble Lords, I am shocked that the Government were so late in taking action to shield those in care homes, in the same way that they were late in banning mass gatherings. Ministers focused on hospital deaths because that is what their press conference graphs focused on. The result is that at least a thousand people died in care homes prior to the Easter weekend. There was a failure to provide adequate supplies of PPE to care homes. It has been an example of how a Government really should not behave. Continue reading “Lords debate Care Home deaths”

Women in prisons

Natalie and myself have written a letter to the Minister of Justice to ask for the fast-track release of non-dangerous, women prisoners. Corona Virus is putting an already fragile prison system under major stress with staff sickness, restrictions on prisoners and fears that the infection will spread rapidly in confined spaces.

Outside visitors have now been banned and the government has been asked to urgently review measures that will ease the situation. Even small changes like giving women prisoners free phone calls to relatives and friends would help tremendously.


Fishing limits – it’s everything obvious about human survival

The Fishing Bill is going through Parliament and I despair for common sense. The most basic rule of human survival on a finite planet is don’t take more than nature can provide. Yet, there are no binding legal commitments not to fish above scientifically recommended sustainable levels. As it stands the Fisheries Bill breaks the Conservative Manifesto promise to “a legal commitment to fish sustainably”. It also appears that that Ministers have no intention of keeping the legal commitment set out in Article 2 of the Community Fisheries Policy to set catch limits at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020. Continue reading “Fishing limits – it’s everything obvious about human survival”

Why do we need a new Extradition Bill?

There is a huge backlog of action that needs to happen on the climate emergency, so why are we discussing new legislation on extradition? What is the size of the problem that we are seeking to resolve, and how serious is the threat?

The Home Office analysis of this bill, explains that “The policy is expected to result in 6 individuals entering the CJS more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.”

Is the Home Office really saying that only six people a year will be arrested under the powers in this Bill? And that it is “more quickly” rather than “six people who would have otherwise escaped”? If so, then is the size of the problem really so substantial that this Bill is necessary or even a worthwhile use of precious legislative time? 

My next question to the Minister in today’s debate on the bill is how serious is the threat which this Bill purports to deal with. Can the Minister give examples of the types of threats that offenders have posed under the current system which will be fixed by this power to arrest six individuals? 

The threat must be real and significant if we are expected to remove the judicial process of granting an arrest warrant. Yet, at the same time, the government must not perceive the threat to be too great because they have chosen to limit this arrest power to extraditions to only a small handful of countries. If a dangerous criminal is wanted in America or Australia, then they will be arrested without a warrant. But if the same dangerous criminal could, according to the government, escape as long as they are wanted in countries that we don’t consider as trustworthy. If the risk was as big as the government claims, then this power would be applied to a much, much larger list of countries. 

I say that this Bill is posing an ineffective solution to an imagined problem. There is no justification for removing the arrest warrant process, and if there was then it should be applied to a much larger list of countries. 

A Bill to arrest six people slightly faster just seems ridiculous. I’d go as far as suggesting that the government drops the Bill altogether and doesn’t waste any more legislative time by bringing it back for any further stages. 

Brexit – what next?

Politicians in the UK have largely wasted the last four years discussing border arrangements, rather than the icecaps melting, rivers flooding and forests burning. The environment and our rapidly changing climate doesn’t recognise legal boundaries or custom checks. Despite the admirable efforts of Extinction Rebellion, Parliament has made few actual changes to end or even limit the damage we are doing to our planet. That has to change and I can only hope with January 31st out of the way, we can focus on promoting the New Green Deal and other essential changes. Continue reading “Brexit – what next?”

Withdrawal Bill needs to include scrutiny for any backwards steps on the environment

With all the Henry the Eighth powers, secondary legislation making powers, and judicial erasure powers that Parliament will have handed to the Government in the Withdrawal Bill and other Brexit legislation, Ministers are going to find themselves with an unprecedented ability to rewrite enormous aspects of UK law at will. The Commons will be effectively by-passed and the Lords may feel compelled to wave it all through, as happens with almost every piece of secondary legislation. For this reason, it is so important that we put a backstop into law now, to protect environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Continue reading “Withdrawal Bill needs to include scrutiny for any backwards steps on the environment”