The House of Lords debated the retention of personal data yesterday. Shadow Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones spoke for the Conservatives:
"As the contributions to the debate have already shown, all sides of your Lordships’ House are well versed in and understand the argument that the collection and retention of personal data are necessary for the efficient running of public services, and to aid our security services and the police in the fight against terrorism and serious organised crime. However, as has also been said, unchecked this justification is leading to an exponential increase in the amount of personal information that is collected, retained and accessed by all manner of different bodies. The Information Commissioner has said that personal information has become the “lifeblood” of government and business, and that is certainly the case, but it is also true that this can be tolerable only if the information is used properly and intelligently.
My noble friend mentioned the report produced by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust called Database State. It assessed 46 of the UK’s national databases and found that fewer than 15 per cent of them were effective, proportionate and necessary with a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions. That in itself seems to be quite a statement of the rocky basis on which a lot of present practice now sits. Tellingly, it also found a quarter to be,
because of problems with privacy and effectiveness. These included the National DNA Database and the national identity register. The report recommended that many centralised databases be scrapped or substantially redesigned—again, another point about the basis on which we are operating being rocky.
Baroness Neville-Jones spoke in yesterday's Lords debate on the Government's plans to introduce a period of 42 days' pre-charge detention. Here are three key paragraphs from the Conservatives' Shadow Homeland Security spokesperson.
"Many in this House will have watched with grave concern the passage of this proposal through another place. It brings to the fore the challenge of balancing the rights of the individual and the needs of efficient justice with the duty of the state to protect its citizens. We will be judged on how we strike this balance.
At the heart of the debate is one central question: what type of society are we trying to create, protect and secure? After all, it is on the effects of our actions, not our intentions—however virtuous these may be—that we will be judged. Extending pre-charge detention seeks to guard against the terrorist threat by giving more power to the state. We take a different view from that of the Government. Security measures should not have as their sole focus a reduction in the threat, essential as this is. If security is to be sustainable over the long term, security measures must also facilitate and protect a united society based on shared liberal values and the mutual trust of a free, responsible citizenry. Citizens must be able to repose their trust in each other, not in the state for fear of each other. The impact of this legislation on different communities is, therefore, not a minor, subordinate matter. It goes to the heart of our chances of reconciling freedom with security.
Will the proposed extension achieve and protect an open and unified society? The answer is emphatically no. It represents yet another attempt on the part of the Government to abridge, without sufficient justification, fundamental democratic rights and freedom that have underpinned our society for centuries and which we have defended against tyranny on so many occasions. The Government are putting those rights and freedoms at risk in a reactionary fashion. Terrorists want to undermine our freedoms and way of life by provoking the state into putting in place repressive measures. We therefore risk, in effect, doing their job for them. No doubt many noble Lords will make comparisons with other common-law jurisdictions to illustrate the point that our allies are addressing the terrorist threat without draconian extensions of detention."
Baroness Neville-Jones of Hutton Roof made her maiden speech in the Lords yesterday. Like Baroness Warsi, she focused on the situation in Afghanistan:
"Public discussion of the British commitment has tended to focus on three issues: whether we should be in Afghanistan at all; whether our forces have been properly equipped to carry out the mission entrusted to them; and whether they are succeeding. In this short intervention, I am not going to deal in detail with the second of these issues. Suffice it to say just two things. The recent decision announced by the Government to supply, off the shelf, a more rugged vehicle to our troops is sensible, though not before time, and we must hope that those vehicles will be delivered soon. The better armour of a Mastiff, compared with a Land Rover, will help to save lives. No Government are entitled to expose our serving men and women to unnecessary risk. Furthermore, when our service men and women are injured, they should be able to expect the best medical treatment that we, a technologically advanced and wealthy country, are able to provide.
During our visit, we were shown the medical facilities at Camp Bastion, which are also available to the local population. They are impressive, as is the commitment of the medical staff. Injured personnel, of course, need to reach those facilities quickly from the field and shortage of helicopters can be a problem. Moreover, when servicepeople return to the UK for further medical treatment, we need to ensure that not just the medicine but also their hospital environment are conducive to speedy recovery.
As to whether the UK should be in Afghanistan, although our presence there has not been attended by anything like the controversy surrounding our presence in Iraq, it has not been free from it.
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