Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Dear Helen,

Re the Damian Green affair.

I have on previous occasions reminded you that after the primary duty of representing your constituents, your secondary duty is to hold the government to account. I have so far not detected this in your dealings with Ministers. I trust that even you can see the seriousness of this affair and will change your apparent habit of never questioning the government about a controversial matter.

The Damian Green affair is extremely worrying for our democracy and the constitutional position of the House of Commons. I sincerely hope that you will now ask some questions of Ministers and the Speaker George Martin.

1. No one has yet, as far as I can tell, specifically asked Jacqui Smith if she knew of the arrest of Damian Green before it took place. We have had vague comments from government officials that no minister knew in advance but that’s doesn’t preclude the fact that they may have been consulted whilst the police took a decision whether to arrest or not. These are weasel words and need to be examined in detail. Please do not confuse this with the independency of the Police. It is right that they are independent of government ministers since they are essentially a citizens police force and must make decisions independent of Ministers. But that does not mean that in an obviously serious case like the arrest of an MP that the Home Secretary should not be consulted for advice. Even Boris Johnson for heavens sake knew about the police involvement, and I cannot believe that Jacqui Smith was unaware. Will you therefore specifically put down a question in the House, to Jacqui Smith, asking this specific question. Was she or any civil servant in her department consulted about, told in advance, or in any way made aware of the possibility of the arrest?

2. I understand that George Martin authorised the police to search the office in Parliament of Damian Green? This is intolerable. The House of Commons is in our constitutional arrangement a court of law, and carries the special privileges that attach to any court. Amongst which is the security of information contained within the court. Will you also put down a question asking the Speaker why he has failed to uphold the status of Parliament and why he permitted the police to raid the office of an MP?

These events cause me great concern. There is something wrong with our democracy when the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used for a case like this, when clearly Damian Green is no threat to the security of the realm. I’m not altogether surprised at this slide in our freedom.

We’ve seen how this same Act has been used to suppress a poor woman who wanted to read out in Downing Street the names of the Iraqi dead. We had the disgraceful case of the 82 year old Walter Wolfgang being arrested under the Terrorism Act at your Labour conference for having the temerity to heckle Jack Straw, and of course we’ve had the government wanting to lift the detention period of suspects arrested under the Terrorism Act from 28 days to 90 days.

I look forward to your response and confirmation that you will deal with points 1 & 2 above and ask those questions in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,


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I’ve just returned from an extended visit to India, (hence the absence of recent blog postings here).    

Based on my experiences with security at airports in both Europe and India, it is clear to me that the terrorists have already won, such is the misery encountered by travellers in the warehouses of misery that pass for airports these days. 

Flying from New Delhi to Chennai, (formerly Madras), was a case in point. This was an internal domestic flight early one morning, and even as we approached the check in desk it was clear that we were in for some serious delay. Fortunately we’d allowed ourselves more than the recommended minimum check in time, but even so, after checking in, the queue to progress through all the various security hoops still took close on an hour of shuffling in a multi queue system to reach the boarding gates. As the scheduled gate closure times for various flights came and went, airline staff were frantically trying to extract their passengers from the queues and fast track them through the system. I’m not entirely sure this served much of a purpose, since it seemed to me that people just used this as an excuse to jump the queues anyway, whether their flight was boarding or not.   

Returning via Munich to the UK was another experience I could have done without. Even though we were only transiting air-side from one arrival gate to another departure gate, we still had to pass through the over regulated German version of security misery. Despite the fact that our hand luggage, and in particular my wife’s toiletries had been cleared through Indian security, the German security officials still required us to have hand baggage screened again teutonic style, and found reason to find fault with a couple of deodorant sticks, a tube of toothpaste and  a container of face cream. When I asked what the problem was I was told that these had to go in a resealable plastic bag. I mentioned that we were in transit and these had already been cleared through Indian security, but our German official was unrepentant. He said we could either leave them behind or go to the airline help desk where they would provide me with the requisite bag. Since we had an hour or so to spare, I trudged the 300 yards to the other end of the terminal and confirmed with the Lufthansa service desk personnel that indeed the items would be allowed through in a clear plastic bag. Had they got one they could let me have, I asked, but despite this being a virtually empty terminal – it being December 27th and few flights apparently in the schedule, they had run out and I was told I could buy one from the shop opposite, which I duly did. Arriving back at our officious security official with the toiletries now in the plastic bag, he then tells me that I still can’t take the face cream through since it is in a 200 ml container. I point out that this is ridiculous since I could presumably have the same quantity of cream in two containers of 100 ml, but clearly this logic and common sense was lost on our friend. Asked why he had suggested I get the bag in the first place if he was still going to reject it, he just repeated the mantra about the container being larger than 100 ml.   

There is no doubt that we are all now suffering serious delays and sheer bloody nuisance, not to say infringement of liberties in the name of the great god ‘Security’.  Nothing demonstrates this more than the quite ridiculous rule that a pair of nail scissors, or a small bladed penknife can’t be taken on an aircraft in case we run amok and injure people. The fact that glass bottles of beer and spirits are available on request on board aircraft, and can be broken to become exceedingly dangerous weapons doesn’t seem to concern our security officials – why is quite beyond me.  

It seems to me that it’s the old old story of the state, system and officials taking pleasure in controlling people because keeping people in fear is what officialdom does best. It is what they take pleasure in doing and of course justifies their employment.  

The war on terror is over. Al Qaeda has already won as we all suffer the indignities of  what passes for freedom of movement in the Alice in Wonderland world of airport security.

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I recently had need to apply for a visa to to visit India and was suprised to find that the Indian High Commission in London have dispensed with their postal application system, and require applicants to contact their appointed agents around the UK. These agents seem to be mainly travel agents, mostly Indian it appears, and other Indian community groups.

To obtain a visa it is therefore necessary to post your passport to these agencies, who then act as couriers, taking them to Indian High Commission offices in either London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, and returning with them two or three weeks later when they have been processed.

Passports are extremely valuable documents, and I am extremely concerned that organisations and people, over which the UK has no control or systematic knowledge, are handling UK passports. I believe there are significant attendant security risks. I’m sure that many of the agencies are no doubt perfectly genuine and risk-free, however there could be others who aren’t, and the bottom line is that UK passports should not be handled and treated in this rather lax way. It is not inconceivable that passports could be copied, or data lifted from them.

I therefore wrote to my MP expressing my concern, and asked her to take the matter up with the minister concerned. I was surprised therefore to receive a response from Lord Malloch-Brown, the minister for Asia suggesting that if I was concerned I should take the matter up with the Indian High Commission, and he indicated that officials would contact the Indian High Commission about this matter.

I was also surprised that my MP felt that the minister for Asia was the appropriate minister. It seems to me that since this matter is primarily concerned with potential identity fraud and hence security matters it should have been taken up with Jacqui Smith’s Home Office department. I have written to my MP again asking her to put this matter to the Home Office.

The Labour government talks tough on national security and the need to defeat terrorism, and is even and disgracefully wanting to double detention without trial for these matters from the current 28 days, but in this particular aspect seems remarkably laissez faire.

I’ll keep the blog updated with future responses.

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