Tag Archives: outcry

It seems the Grieve Amendment is what the government was planning. Why attack it, then?

Dominic Grieve: Why the upset about his Amendment?

How odd.

After astonishing scenes in the House of Commons, in which Speaker John Bercow was subjected to a torrent of abuse for allowing a vote on the so-called Grieve Amendment, it seems Theresa May wants us to think she was planning to do as it demands in any case.

The Amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Act proposed a change to what must happen if MPs vote down Mrs May’s Brexit deal, as seems likely next Tuesday (January 15).

Originally, MPs settled on a complicated condition requiring the government to make a statement on what will happen next within 21 calendar days of the deal failing to win support, with a vote in the Commons within seven sitting days (days in which Parliament is conducting its business) after that.

Now, after MPs supported Mr Grieve’s Amendment by 308 votes to 297 – a majority of 11- Parliament will expect Mrs May to hold a ‘plan B’ vote on what happens next within three days of losing the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal.

Downing Street released a statement just after 2pm yesterday – after the Grieve Amendment won MPs’ approval in spite of appalling displays from Conservative backbenchers (see my article on this) saying that if the vote is lost, the prime minister would come back to the House of Commons and set out her plans well before the 21-day time-limit set out in the withdrawal act.

“We would seek to provide certainty, quickly,” a government spokesman said.

So why did so many Conservatives object so strongly to Speaker John Bercow’s decision to allow this amendment and the vote on it?

It seems that, while Mrs May was probably planning not to wait 21 days before making a statement to the Commons, there is no evidence that she was planning a swift vote. It is more likely that she would have delayed that vote – some say in order to gain more concessions from Brussels, although that seems to be a pipe dream now.

We are still in uncharted territory. We don’t know what kind of statement Mrs May will make after she loses the vote next week (as everybody expects). And it seems doubtful that she will offer any choice that the public will find acceptable.

… Unless she bows to calls for a general election. We could all get behind that.

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Now the Tories want to sell your tax details to private firms

[Image: The Guardian.]

[Image: The Guardian.]

Not happy with its attempt to sell your health details to private companies, the moneygrubbing Conservative-led Coalition wants to sell off your personal tax data to companies, researchers and public bodies.

The government is considering how much to charge for the information, and claims that all data accessed by third parties will be “confidential”.

But the public has already been stung once by the Coalition’s incompetent attempts to go commercial. The proposed initiative to share NHS medical records with the private sector had to be suspended after a public outcry over “pseudonymised” data – a process by which medical records were said to be anonymous but it was in fact possible to trace exactly whose they were.

The plans for HM Revenue and Customs to share its data are, apparently, being overseen by Treasury minister David Gauke, whose relaxed attitude towards private firms led him to sign off on the infamous “sweetheart deals” that allowed multinational companies to keep billions of pounds of tax that they owed to the Treasury but didn’t want to pay.

Worse still, it turns out the government has already allowed private firms access to our data.

The government has strict rules about what can be released outside HMRC, with a near total ban on data sharing unless it is beneficial for the organisation’s internal work. But according to The Guardian, despite the restrictions, HMRC has quietly launched a pilot programme that has released data about VAT registration for research purposes to three private credit ratings agencies: Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet.

To comply with the law, the private ratings agencies, which determine credit scores for millions of people and businesses, have been contracted to act on behalf of HMRC and are “therefore treated as part of the department” – giving them access to tax data about businesses that would otherwise be confidential.

The government’s plans to change the law to allow the sale of anonymised individual tax data and release of the VAT register were buried in documents as part of the autumn statement and recent budget.

An HMRC spokesman told the BBC: “HMRC would only share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.

“Last year’s consultation made it very clear that there would be a rigorous accreditation process for anyone wanting access to the data and that any access would take place in a secure environment.

“Those accessing data would be subject to the same confidentiality provisions as HMRC staff, including a criminal sanction for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information.”

So there. Do you feel better now?

Emma Carr, deputy director of civil rights campaign group, Big Brother Watch, doesn’t. She said: “The ongoing claims about anonymous data overlook the serious risks to privacy of individual level data being vulnerable to re-identification.

“Given the huge uproar about similar plans for medical records, you would have hoped HMRC would have learned that trying to sneak plans like this under the radar is not the way to build trust or develop good policy.”

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, told The Guardian the information could be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination.

“This is going to be a big battleground,” he said. “If they were to make HMRC information more available, there’s an awful lot of people who would like to get their hands on it. Anonymisation is something about which they lied to us over medical data … If the same thing is about to be done by HMRC, there should be a much greater public debate about this.”

It seems the Conservatives in the Coalition are determined to sell information that doesn’t belong to them, and intend to grind us down with a relentless bombardment of initiatives and plans until they succeed.

They seem to by relying on the possibility that we will get ‘complaint fatigue’ and give up any protests. This is how they have beaten disabled people into submission to the draconian system for withdrawing state benefits from them; the system for appealing is drawn-out and convoluted, and many people with illnesses are too tired or weak to go through the process.

Also, this is another way of contracting-out government work to private firms, as evidenced by the VAT “research” that has been handed over to credit ratings agencies.

You can be sure of two things: Your data is not safe in their hands, and they won’t stop trying to sell it until they have been pushed out of government.

What are you going to do?

UPDATE: Campaigner Patrick Olszowski has responded to my challenge by launching a petition on the Change.org website. Please visit and sign!

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Lucas, Miller and a law that worked so hard not to treat them equally

140417lucasmiller

Congratulations are due to Green MP Caroline Lucas, who walked free from court today after criminal charges against her were overturned.

She had been charged with obstructing a public highway and a public order offence, during high-profile anti-fracking protests last summer. Neither offence carries a prison sentence – the maximum penalty for either charge would have been a fine of up to £1,000.

District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.

On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any actual obstruction of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.

It is good for British justice that Ms Lucas was acquitted – but bad for British justice that she was taken to court in the first place, most particularly because the case contrasts so strongly with that of disgraced former cabinet minister Maria Miller.

Miller claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money under false pretences. You can call that fraud, if you like (maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment).

Did she go to court? No.

Because she is a member of Parliament, the financial irregularity was investigated by a Parliamentary body, the Commons Committee on Standards. Rather than take the advice of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who recommended that Miller pay back the full amount, the committee ruled that she should return just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for obstructive behaviour during the investigation.

Surely everybody can see the double-standard here?

The least we can learn from these two stories is that the law absolutely does not treat everybody equally.

Ms Lucas was arrested, detained at Her Majesty’s convenience and now she has faced trial for the offences alleged against her. This MP, who opposes the government in Parliament, was then acquitted after a fair trial and has the support of the general public in this matter.

Miller was accused of a far more serious crime than Ms Lucas but has not been arrested, has not been detained, and has not been tried for the offences alleged against her. The then-government minister was whitewashed by her colleagues and only resigned because of a public outcry against the decision.

What conclusion can the public draw, other than that government MPs are effectively above the law?

David Cameron’s government can only redeem itself with two actions: It must remove Parliament’s right to investigate claims of financial irregularity by MPs and placing this duty firmly where it belongs – with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The other action?

Obvious, really…

Maria Miller must face a criminal trial, charged with fraud.

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Stalled – the plan to share NHS patients’ confidential information with big business

Freudian slip: The BBC's article on the care.data delay was accompanied by this picture of a hand drawing on a diagram of a pair of breasts. Is this a tacit implication that the Department of Health has boobed? (Sorry, ladies) [Image: BBC]

Freudian slip: The BBC’s article on the care.data delay was accompanied by this picture of a hand drawing on a diagram of a pair of breasts. Is this a tacit implication that the Department of Health has boobed? (Sorry, ladies) [Image: BBC]

A plan to sell the confidential medical information of every NHS patient in England has been put on hold after it caused a public outcry.

The care.data system, also called variously the General Patient Extraction Service (GPES) or the Health and Social Care Information Centre, was dreamed up as a money-spinning device by Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Health.

The aim is that, if you are an NHS patient in England, your GP will be forced to provide your confidential records, showing every medical condition you have ever had and providing intimate details of your current state of health, to a huge national database.

From there, your information may be sold on to private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies for “research”. A new proposal backed by NHS England (a body set up largely to support the increasing privatisation of the NHS, if my information is correct) would give non-NHS bodies including private companies the right to ask for access to the data.

The government has said the information would be “pseudonymised”, in an attempt to reassure you that you cannot be identified from the information to be provided to outside organisations. This is not true, and in fact it will be entirely possible to trace your medical information back to you.

The government claims the information will help experts assess diseases, examine the effects of new drugs and identify infection outbreaks, while also monitoring the performance of the NHS.

In fact, it seems far more likely that this is a widespread invasion of privacy, with the information likely to be used (for example) to sell you health insurance that you should not need.

We are told that NHS England organised a mass mailing to every household in England, explaining its version of what the planned system will do – but a BBC poll of 860 people last week found that fewer than one-third of them could recall receiving it.

Concern that people are likely to end up allowing their information to go into commercial hands without ever knowing about it has led to the scheme being halted – for the time being.

NHS England has accepted that its communications campaign must be “improved”, although we do not yet know how. A propaganda campaign on TV and radio seems likely.

Every NHS patient in England has the right to opt out of the data sharing scheme, and many have already chosen to do so. You can do it right now, using a form designed by the medConfidential website.

While NHS England and the Department of Health will continue trying to justify this scheme, there is no justification for selling your private information to commercial organisations.

It is to be hoped that this six-month pause will end with the abandonment of the scheme.

If the organisations that want the information genuinely intend to use it for humanitarian concerns, it would be fully anonymised and they would not be buying it.

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