Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Questions to which the answer is "no"

DK mascot and all-round good chap Steve Baker MP raised a very pertinent question during the debate for the Protection of Freedoms Bill...
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the end of this process the number of powers will be sufficiently small and simple that home owners will be able to determine for themselves whether someone who knocks on the door has a right to enter?

In 2007, Crossing The Threshold [PDF], a report from the Centre for Policy Studies, identified 266 separate powers under which the minions of the state (who are, supposedly, our minions) could enter a person's homeby force if necessary.
If the bee police don’t get you, the hedge inspectors will. A new study has identified 266 laws that give powers not only to the police but to a wide array of government functionaries and council officers to enter private homes, by force if necessary.

Many measures such as antiterrorism laws are justified, according to the researchers. But they argue others have been passed by parliament with little thought given to how, cumulatively, state authority over private homes is being expanded.

Failure to allow an official into a garden who is mandated to inspect hedge heights can lead to a £1,000 fine; it is also an offence to resist inspectors sniffing out “foreign” bees. It is deemed even more serious — worth a £2,500 fine — if a householder attempts to bar entry to someone authorised by the chief inspector of schools to root out unlicensed child-minders.

Harry Snook, a barrister who carried out the research, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, the centre-right think tank, said: “Originally this kind of law would be used for basic security services or contrac-tual disputes of property. The overwhelming dominant use is now by governmental regulatory agencies and local authorities.”

He warned: “Many powers are drafted so broadly the citizen has little or no protection if officials behave officiously or vindictively.”

Although, of course, we all know that state officials only exist to benefit the people of the UK and that they would never "behave officiously or vindictively", the fact that the state has granted these people dominion over your property so readily is a cause for concern—though hardly a surprise.

By 2009, this shocking figure had been updated by Big Brother Watch: their report—Barging In [PDF]identified over 1,000 excuses that state officials could use to enter your property.
Research conducted by Big Brother Watch - the new campaign fighting intrusions on privacy and protecting liberties - reveals that there are at least 14,793 officers in 73 per cent of local councils in Britain who can enter private property without requiring a warrant or police escort

Top lines from the research (full report including breakdown by local authority available here [PDF]) include:
  • There are at least 14,793 officers in local councils nationwide who can enter private property without requiring a warrant or police officer escort

  • That is equal to 47 officers in every local authority in Britain able to enter homes and workplaces

  • Given that 115 (27 per cent) local councils either refused to answer our FOI requests, or failed to answer in an acceptable manner, this figure could be much higher and indeed be as high as 20,000 council officers in Britain

  • Northamptonshire County Council and Glasgow City Council have the most officers able to enter your home with almost 500 each

These powers were granted under a mixture of primary and secondary legislation—and the Tories promised to cut these powers back.
The powers, which include 753 under primary legislation and 290 under secondary legislation, were identified as part of the review being carried out by Lord West and called for by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Tories said 414 of the powers had been introduced by Labour since 1997 and that a further 16 were included in legislation currently before Parliament. Shadow communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles claimed it was evidence that the "rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens" were being eroded and said a Conservative government would cut back the powers.

Mr Pickles said: "It is clear that Gordon Brown is now backing away from his pledge to tackle the Government's spiralling powers of entry, with a barrage of Labour laws before Parliament entrenching and extending the Orwellian surveillance State.

"We need measures to tackle crime and terrorism, but the abuse of surveillance powers by town halls shows the real danger of function creep by State bureaucrats."

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "Powers of entry are completely out of hand. The Prime Minister promised that they would have to pass a 'liberty' test—well Liberty with a large 'L' says they don't for lack of proportionality and judicial supervision.

"If someone wants to inspect my potted plants, they can jolly well ask a judge first."

Well, quite.

So one would imagine that Home Harridan Secretary Theresa May's response to Steve Baker's question would be an unequivocable "yes", wouldn't one? Alas, it is not.
That would certainly be our aim and we will try to ensure that home owners are well aware of exactly who has a right of entry to their property.

A charitable person might describe Theresa's answer as "aspirational": your humble Devil has long since abandoned the practice of attempting to be charitable to politicians, and I shall thus describe her reply as a piece of mealy-mouthed obfuscation.

You see, we all have aims—some are definite and some are rather more far-fetched: if asked whether, for instance, I intended to climb Mount Everest before I die, I might reply that it "would certainly be [my] aim" were I not allergic to undertaking any kind of unnecessary exercise whatsoever; I might also add that it "would certainly be [my] aim" is I had any inclination to do it, but I don't.

As for the second part of her statement... well, if the Tories advertised a website with a list of the 1,000+ reasons that some 20,000 officials can force their way into your home, they could be said to have tried "to ensure that home owners are well aware of exactly who has a right of entry to their property".

Steve Baker posted about his vague disappointment yesterday...
There’s much in the Bill to be glad about and I shall certainly support it but of course I would have liked it to do more. I discover that many of my colleagues are less concerned about these issues than I might have liked: we have come a long way since Pitt, Gladstone and Disraeli.

For example, from Pitt:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

Like Steve says, this Bill is a step in the right direction and, generally, I welcome it.

However, it does not even undo much of NuLabour's authoritarian and intrusive laws—instead focusing on minor issues such bloody clamping, for god's sake: as such, assuming that this Bill passes, we will still be considerably less free than we were 13 years ago.

One cannot help but think that the very name of the Bill—the Protection of Freedoms Bill—creates an overly high expectation. Such a high-faluting name conjures up visions of a fundamental Bill of Rights, which this piece of legislation most definitely is not.

So, unlike with most movies, I look forward to the sequel—if there is one...

UPDATE: the wife comments over email...
If you ask me, Protection of Freedoms is a really sinister name for a Bill: does it really make sense for the state to claim it is protecting my freedoms from… itself?

The role of the state in protecting freedoms is to protect me from others like me who might infringe them.

Otherwise it is the role of the state not to infringe my freedoms—rather than to pass laughable legislation in which it purports in its role of defender to defend me from itself in its role of criminal.

I knew that something was bugging me about the whole thing...


Anonymous said...

So much for "Englishman's home is his castle".
Whilst living in a foreign country I am still somehow more free than the UK with its supposed commitment to habus corpus and the like...

Sniper said...

Protection of Freedoms Bill, eh?

Reminds me of those countries that have the word People's or Democratic in the country name. You can bet that this bill will simply codify arse-wipery and provide more feed for lawyers and do nothing for freedom.

scott huminski said...

U.S.A. State Sponsored Terror (rock music video) Released

Anti U.S. Police State Musician/activist releases his 5th rock video.

Television interview at:

Steve Perrett said...

What a very astute wife you have DK? I think she's made teh perfect comment! And so succinctly!

Anonymous said...

For an example of how the state has no respect for the existing laws of entry see the following;

Despite being informed the police were acting as trespassers they continued with their violent unlawful actions.

These coppers were sent on 'retraining' on their powers of entry. Quite a joke considering the two of them had 40 yrs experience in the 'FORCE' between them.