Sunday, 13 February 2011

Parliamentary Graffiti and Early Day Motions

Lots of us, when we were kids, used to scrawl slogans on walls, either because we wanted to show off, or because we felt quite passionately about something or other and we wanted others to know about it. Stuff like “Roz woz ere” or “George Davis is innocent, OK”. Blogging didn’t exist when I was at school.

Parliamentarians do this too, although they call it something different. If an MP does it, it’s not graffiti. Instead, it’s an Early Day Motion. The formal explanation, according to the Parliamentary website, is that: Early day motions (EDMs) are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated. Instead, they are used for reasons such as publicising the views of individual MPs, drawing attention to specific events or campaigns, and demonstrating the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view. An MP can add their signature to an EDM to show their support.

I’ve selected a some recent EDMs to give you an idea of the sort of issues they consider worthy of consideration for a debate in the House of Commons.

How about this one, submitted by David Morris and supported by 4 of his colleagues, Alan Meale, Austin Mitchell, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.


I kid you not. Here it is:

That this House notes that David Hasselhoff visited the precincts of the House on 8 February 2011; further notes that he pledged his support for the reopening of Morecambe Winter Gardens; believes that this demonstrates the international significance of the Winter Gardens; further believes that reopening them would reinstate an important part of the UK's heritage and bring vital regeneration to the town of Morecambe; and wishes Mr Hasselhoff good luck in his participation in Britain's Got Talent and in his other projects in the UK.

I can’t remember ever being a great fan of “The Hoff”, and while I am a regular viewer of "Britain's Got Talent", surely these guys have better things to do than using public resources to create and support motions like this.

You might have thought that another EDM, also proposed last Tuesday, would have attracted much more support – yet EDM 1419 SITUATION IN EGYPT, proposed by Jim Shannon has only attracted the support of 21 other MPs:

That this House, taking into account the level of distress and civil unrest in Egypt and mindful of the relationship between the UK and Egypt, urges the Government to take the diplomatic steps necessary to ensure that there is real democratic freedom and security within that country.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell supported that EDM, too.

Finally, for a laugh, I thought I would draw some attention to EDM to something that isn’t actually supposed to exist any more.

Since 11 January, Tom Watson has managed to get 18 of his chums to get awfully upset about the Interception Modernisation Programme – you remember, the programme that gathered a lot of adverse media attention last year. Here is the EDM, in all its glory, anyway:


That this House expresses its deep concern about the Government's proposal, contained within the Strategic Defence and Security Review, to develop an interception modernisation programme; notes that such a programme would include a proposal to store every email, webpage visit and telephone call made in the UK for an unspecified period; further notes that the Home Office has previously estimated that such a database would cost in the region of 2 billion to develop; believes that the development of an interception modernisation programme raises serious privacy, data storage and access concerns; and calls on the Government to issue a full public consultation on its proposals as soon as possible.

And yes, the signatories include Alan Meale, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They support a lot of motions, these guys. I’m impressed. I wonder, when they were kids, whether they got through more crayons than anyone else at their schools?

For the record, it appears that quite a few MPs never (or hardly ever) bother to sign EDMs. Neither David Cameron, Nick Clegg or have appended their names to any of the 1479 EDMS that have been prepared during the current Parliamentary session. The same with lots of other senior Coalition Government members. They've been busy doing other stuff. But neither have people like Bob Ainsworth, Ben Bradshaw, Andy Burnham or Alistair Darling, who I would have thought would have had much more time on their hands, these days. Others feel the need to support lots. Our friend John McDonell, for example, appears to have appended his name to 1033 of them.

One final thought on Tom Watson's EDM - I was never under the impression that the retention period for storing communications records was to be "unspecified". Perhaps the Home Secretary would care to write to the people who have supported his Motion to point out the inaccuracy, and to invite them to withdraw their names from it.

Let’s watch this space.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Changes on the horizon for the ICO

The grandly titled Protection of Freedoms Bill has just been published by the Deputy Prime Minister.

The masses will focus on the proposals to ensure that the mighty Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act will no longer be used for minor snooping; S44 stop and search powers will be scrapped and control orders abolished; detention without trial will be reduced to 14 days; and the DNA of innocent persons will be removed from police databases.

The data protection aficionados may be more interested in other provisions, such as those in Clause 95 which provide that the Information Commissioner should, in future, be appointed following a selection process based on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, and that the Commissioner may only serve one term of office.

I like it. Actually, I like it so much that I’m thinking of putting my hat in the ring next time to see if I am to be the preferred one for a fixed term.

Just think what fun it would be. Power – and influence. And an opportunity to make a mark before my political masters replace me with someone much more to their liking.

But would I mind being replaced after just one term? Certainly not. After all, there is a career to be had in Commissioning, these days. I haven’t seen a list of Commissioners recently - and I expect that by the time I ever get to be one, they’ll be far fewer than there are now. But even so, I would be honoured to accept, say, a couple of public appointments before I’m finally put out to grass.

If my face doesn’t fit for the post of Information Commissioner, then perhaps I might be ok for the new job of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, as envisaged by Clause 34 of the Bill. All he appears to be required to do is to work with the police and a range of local authorities (and any one else added to the list later on) to:

• encourage compliance with a surveillance camera code,
• review the operation of the code, and
• provide advice about the code (including changes to it or breaches of it).

And I have a great idea to save some public money. Rather than engage too many consultants to create such a code, I’ll just borrow and rebrand the Information Commissioner’s CCTV Code of Practice, and spend my term in office trying to enforce that one instead.

But why create a Commissioner to enforce a code when we’ve already got a perfectly serviceable one – and a team of civil servants in Wilmslow -apparently already charged with regulating it, I hear you ask. I’m not sure of the answer yet – but I’ll have one as soon as I get my gong for being accountable for it.

Somewhat surprisingly, the the Information Commissioner didn't say much about the proposals in Clauses 34 and 95 in his press release on the Bill yesterday. The short statement did comment that: the detail of these important provisions will need careful consideration. The current proposals on improved regulation of CCTV and ANPR are limited to the police and local government only but their use is much more widespread. We will be examining all of the Bill’s provisions closely to be satisfied that they will deliver in practice. I thought he might have asked why his was not considered fit for purpose. After all, if the Commissioner's current CCTV Code of Practice is not good enough for the police and the local authorities, why should it be considered adequate for the rest of us?

Some might see this proposal as a deliderate snub to the ICO. Is Parliament getting its own back for the pain the previous Commissioner caused parliamentarians when he required them to be more transparent with their expense accounts? Obviously not. There must be another reason.

I’m sure I would make a good Commissioner, whatever I was in charge of commissioning. I feel I have a lot to give. Boundless energy. Common sense. Commitment. A sense of humour. A personal style. Discretion. Modesty. I’m probably not that good at man management and all that HR stuff, but then again policy has always been my passion. Not pay and rations.

So, Mr Deputy Prime Minister. If you want a Chief Executive to run things, you may not be after me. But, if you are looking for a potential Commissioner who has a vision (or at least a cunning plan), then do please get in touch.



Friday, 11 February 2011

Surveillance: Celebrating a step in the right direction

While our thoughts today are rightly focussed on the historic changes that are taking place in Egypt, we should not take our eye off the changes that are being planned for our own society, too. So, while what I’m blogging about today can’t possibly be described as a giant leap for mankind, at least it’s an opportunity to celebrate a step in the right direction.

What am I on about?

I’m referring to a proposal that is contained on page 29 of that recently published document containing the findings and recommendations of the Home Secretary’s review of her most sensitive and controversial counter terrorism and security powers.

This is the bit of the review which discusses the thorny issue of access to communications data, and in particular whether all public authorities should use RIPA as the vehicle to compel communication and internet service providers to hand over their customer records.

The review points out that RIPA ensures that the acquisition and handling of communications data is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). RIPA specifically requires the applicant for data to demonstrate that any intrusion into individuals’ privacy is necessary and proportionate. This RIPA regime is used extensively by public authorities in the UK. Although RIPA is the principal legal framework under which communications data is acquired from CSPs, it may also be acquired by various public authorities under many other regimes, including the Social Security Fraud Act 2001 (SSFA) and the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA). These, and other general information-gathering powers, are not specific to communications data. Most were not designed with communications data in mind and they contain fewer safeguards for its acquisition.

This point was made with some force when the communication and internet service providers commented on the RIPA regime, back in the summer of 2009. Some of the providers focussed on the powers that the Department of Work and Pensions used, pointing out the consequences of of using the SSFA rather than the RIPA route:

• They had not had an opportunity to provide any initial or refresher training to competent DWP investigators on the range of information that is available from providers, or to advise how maximum value can be derived from their records (unlike the training currently given to potential and accredited Single Point of Contact (“SPOC”) Officers).
• They found it hard to check the authenticity of all DWP investigators, (the Home Office has a RIPA website which has an up-to-date list of accredited SPOC Officers).
• They had not provided any statistics to the DWP to enable them to confirm that all of the requests received had actually been sent from DWP investigators.
• They had not been involved in any of the oversight mechanisms that the DWP might have put in place to mirror the oversight functions of the Interception of Communications Commissioner (whose annual visits to providers were greatly appreciated, as providers could brief him on trends which had been detected). Providers were not even sure whether an equivalent oversight function exists within the DWP.
• Providers were not able to recover any costs that were incurred in dealing with these requests.
• Providers were also not sure how many other Authorities would follow the DWP’s example and remove themselves from the RIPA regime should they also elect to exercise any concurrent powers that may be conferred on their investigators to acquire “any information” in the future.

Well, commeth the review, cometh the recommendation. The Home Office has recommended that:

• Government departments, agencies, regulatory authorities and CSPs should be consulted to establish the range of non-RIPA legislative frameworks by which communications data can in principle be acquired from CSPs, and for what purposes.
• These legal frameworks should then be streamlined to ensure that as far as possible RIPA is the only mechanism by which communications data can be acquired.


Time to break open our bottles of Egyptian champagne, and to go and celebrate with the masses.



Thursday, 10 February 2011

In the thick of it

I’m living in the midst of a criminal community. That is, if you believe the statistics that I’ve just seen on my local crime and policing website. This is the website that claims to provide us with helpful information about crime and policing in your area.

Oh no it doesn’t. It’s not helpful at all – it’s just giving me nightmares.

Having entered my postcode into the search engine, I’ve pulled up a horrific report which purports to be reports of local street-level crime and anti social behaviour in December 2010, grouped by crime types. To protect privacy, individual addresses are not pinpointed on the map. Crimes are mapped to an anonymous point on or near the road where they occurred. But, given that the report lists some 1,250 reports in December alone, surely the occupants of almost every property in the area (other than me) must have popped down to our local nick to report something or other. You name it, they've done it. 123 burglaries; 43 robberies, 551 acts of anti-social behaviour; 108 reports of vehicle crime; 159 violent crimes and 260 others.

Can this really be the case? I mean, this is Crouch End – not the Wild West.

Yes, I hear the police helicopter somewhere close occasionally, but I thought the pilot must just have been showing off to his kids, or popping over to tell them to go to bed and to stay in bed.

This is serious. At this rate, I’m going to need to install panic alarms.

Then I punched in the postcode of the Information Commissioner's Office (SK9 5AF), in an attempt to see what sort of stuff goes on in Wilmslow. I didn't feel any better. I don't feel particularly safe leaving the car on the streets up there - yet the equivalent statistic for that area is a mere 66 recorded crimes.

If anyone reading this blog lives in an (allegedly) even more crime infested neighbourhood than me, I would love to know. Not so that I can sympathise with them. Just so that I can feel better about my own predicament.

I then thought I should compare these statistics with that of another area I know well, which is where my parents live. They obviously live in a much safer part of the country – their community boasts the grand total of 4 reports. One was for anti-social behaviour (they still haven’t moved that skip, you know) while none of the other 3 reports related to burglary, robbery, vehicle crime or violent crime.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to work out who these other miscreants might have been and what they might have been up to. I know that a couple of parishioners were a bit late for the Kingsdown Carol Service, and a few days later one old boy appeared in the bar of the local golf club without his tie (apparently a seagull had just scored a direct hit on it), but even so. That’s about as crime ridden as it gets, down there. If those monthly crime statistics were ever to reach double figures, I guess they’ll have to start thinking about locking their front doors.

I do like the disclaimer (in pretty small, light grey, print) at the foot of the crime statistics screen: The information and statistics displayed on this site are for information purposes only and may be subject to change. The location of incidents shown is approximated and indicative only. This is to protect the anonymity of individuals.

Perhaps someone should have read the ICO’s recently published guidance on crime mapping more carefully: The privacy impact of crime-mapping depends on a number of variables. It should not be assumed therefore that restricting the number of properties shown, for example, can always guarantee an appropriate level of privacy.

Some privacy they’re giving to the miscreants living in Kingdsown. Hey ho. But when you live in an area like that, you know everyone’s business anyway.



Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Another "first" with the ICO

I had another memorable experience with someone from the Information Commissioner’s Office today. Is this an especially memorable experience that is likely to be splashed across the centre pages of a Sunday newspaper? I think not. It was my first such experience, but it was all carried out in the best possible taste.

What am I on about?

I’m referring to the Commissioner’s latest plan to manage the volume of assessments his Office is required to deal with. Try as hard as we might, there will always be the odd occasion in which mistakes are made- and the victims of those mistakes may, also on occasion, relay their experience to the ICO. And these complainants, quite justifiably, will expect the ICO to examine the mistakes which have been made and to ensure that those responsible - and perhaps the wider data protection community - learn the relevant lessons.

In the past, it’s been the ICO’s practice to write to the data controllers, seeking written responses to points when it appeared that there may have been a breach of the Data Protection Act. Now, a new trend is emerging. As one of the leading exponents of modern technology, the ICO has taken to phoning data controllers, rather than writing to them (or perhaps as a precursor to writing to them), seeking their views and commitments on issues that are well known to one and all.

I had my first experience of such a telephone call today. And I have to report that it was a very welcome sensation. Quite a thrill, actually. It enabled me to understand the root cause of the complainant’s problem, and it gave me the opportunity to emphasis my commitment to continually reviewing and enhancing the customer service standards that my employer tries so hard to provide. And it also gave me an opportunity to explain to the ICO’s assessor just how much effort it takes to ensure that such regrettable errors are kept to the absolute minimum.

I quite enjoyed the call. It allowed me, rather than asserting my written commitment to high data protection standards, to demonstrate my passion in words. It enabled me to engage in a constructive, friendly and meaningful discussion with someone who, I hope, also formed the opinion that I truly care about trying to get things right.

And, just as importantly, it also enabled us both to deal with the assessment, and the underlying cause of the problem, then and there. In one phone call, rather than a series of letters which might have taken weeks to properly deal with.

I do hope to receive more such calls. They’re just as effective as written correspondence with the ICO. They let me show that I care, and they give me an opportunity to advise the assessor of other facts that they might also need to bear in mind when dealing with similar issues. They also give the assessor the opportunity to clear up any supplementary points that might arise during the conversation, in order that they they can make a better informed decision about the action they should subsequently take.

So, given the chance, I hope you might also enjoy a one-to-one with one of the Commisisoner’s complaints handling staff. We don't always have to do it in writing. Remember - it's good to talk!


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dining with the Privacy Advisors Supper Club

Another day, another (data protection) dinner. Yesterday’s event was organised by Robert Bond for the Privacy Advisor’s Supper Club. He certainly knows how to throw a marvellous party. It was held this time at the newly opened Mint Hotel in the City of London. We congregated in the Sky Lounge on the 12th floor, which hosts the private dining areas. Stunning views of the Tower of London (just look at the image!) and of the Shard. And such wonderful company. Mr Bond, you really are spoiling us!

I like these events. It’s great to meet data protection colleagues socially, in an atmosphere where no-one is selling their services to anyone else. It’s just a bunch of like minded individuals who enjoy each other’s company. And a group of people who can just check their data protection compasses so to speak. We leave, well fed and refreshed, feeling just that everso little bit more confident that we are doing the right thing, and steering our organisations in the right data protection direction.

If you want to come along some time then find the group on Linkedin. It’s not one of those “exclusive” supper clubs. No-one has to be proposed or seconded by current members before they can join. No annual fees are payable. No formalities. The only pre-requisites are a passion for data protection (ok, an interest - and a sense of humour - will do just as well) and being available that evening to join fellow colleagues for an evening of great conversation and great food. No organiser makes a profit, we just share the bill.

The first event was organised by Nicola McKilligan and was held last May at Babylon, above the Kensington Roof Gardens. Last night’s event was the second. The arrangements for the next do will soon be announced by that event’s organiser.

It is a great way to visit a restaurant that you may have heard of, but never actually had an opportunity to visit.

And, on the strength of the successes of the first two, I will certainly trying to make myself available to attend the next one.

Hope to see you there as well. It’ll be fun.



Friday, 4 February 2011

A quest for privacy theory

Charles Darwin did it with a sketch. And Michael Birnhack did it last night with a public lecture at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. What did they both do? They tried to explain what they meant to an audience of people who were (with a few notable exceptions) not as bright as them.

Charles Darwin’s famous Tree of Life sketch, jotted down in 1837-8 shows his insight of how a genus of related species might originate by divergence from a starting point.

Michael Birnhack’s presentation, delivered to some 40 students, scholars and academics, was based on the premise that something is going on in the privacy realm that bothers us. Something may be going wrong – so something must be done. But what?

The emergence of recent technologies suggested that there was a greater need to forecast the implications of future technologies that will impact on privacy – both for the good and for the bad. Advances in computing suggests that the privacy focus in future may be more on reacting immediately to events that are currently happening, rather than relying on huge databases of stored information to help predict the shape of new events.

Yes, privacy is a vague, elusive and contingent concept, and it remains a fundamental human right. But just what is it that comprises this human right? Is it just privacy as control? Or is it something else?

As Michael quickly took us through the usual legal concepts of privacy, the brilliance of the earliest work shone through – the concept of the right to be let alone, developed by Warren and Brandeis over 120 years ago, still remains pretty valid. But, increasingly, in the modern world, the rights of groups of people trump the rights of individuals who want to be let alone.

So where are we now? Is it just about control?

The tectonic plates are turning against Westin’s contention (1967) that it’s about the claims of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others. Privacy is not the same as a property right. Information control, in the privacy concept, should not just be about a right for an individual to withhold information. The real challenge lies in transparency, since it’s so hard to for an individual to control their personal information which is no longer held by them. The EU's proposed new concept of a right to be forgotten is about as dead as the dodo - which was the point I made in yesterday’s blog about my night with the Sex Pistols.

As Michael suggested, privacy is not only a legal right, but it’s also a social norm. Privacy is technology-dependent, and technology both affects us and also changes our perceptions. Richard Thomas famously said in 2004 that “we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

"But", Michael concluded last night, “theory can wake us up”.



Thursday, 3 February 2011

My night with the Sex Pistols

The European Commission’s idea of a “right to be forgotten” sounds a bit daft. Their cunning plan for a revised Directive containing this concept may sound fine in theory, but how on earth will it actually work in practice?

This thought occurred to me as I sat reading yesterday’s edition of the London Metro. John Lyndon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) had been interviewed by Andrew Williams. He had been asked: "What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?"

John replied: "Brunel University with the Sex Pistols. Sid was so out of his mind it took hours to get him anywhere approaching sobriety, there were no monitors on stage so we couldn’t hear what we were doing and the PA couldn’t cope with the hall. There was a huge lack of communication between ourselves, management and the public perception of us. It resulted in us walking into a huge, big f***-up."

John may well want to forget about that night, and remove all traces from the internet.

I don’t.

Actually, I was there.

Picture it. 16th December 1977. Anticipation about the event was at fever pitch, as many local authorities had banned them from performing following the release of their album “Never Mind the Bollocks”. It was a bit rude. And the audiences were known to spit at each other, as well as at the band on the stage. To avoid Uxbridge council from also banning them, details of the gig were only released to us Brunel students the day before it actually happened. This was probably to make sure that as many students as possible attended, rather than lots of local punks. As member of the Student Union, we were well aware that something “big” was in the offing, and that some band or other was going to be playing in that barn of a sports hall, We just didn’t know who it was going to be. I remember joining the hour-long queue for gig tickets even though no-one in that queue actually knew who we were going to be seeing. All we had been told was that tickets would go on sale at 10am (that was really really early for us students) on the Thursday, and that we could buy a maximum of 4 tickets – at £1.75 each – and that the band’s name would be on the tickets. So until the ticket desk actually opened, no-one had a clue about what was really going on. I queued, bought my 4 tickets (for the grand total of £7 - which was a lot of money back then), and got extremely excited when I saw the band's name printed on those precious tickets. I phoned some friends and they joined me the following day to witness the first night of the ‘Never Mind the Bans’ tour, the band’s last ever UK tour. It also turned out to be their final London show.

In his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs John Lydon remembered the shambles: The PA wasn’t good enough for a small nightclub let alone an aircraft hanger with four thousand screaming people. You couldn’t hear anything except fuzzy noise. No monitors and no lights. No music playing in the hall beforehand so the audience grew very angry and impatient. Everything ran late. This was apparently the fault of the band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, for wanting to create a sense of chaos rather than putting money into what should have been a pivotal night in the band’s career.

My memory of the show itself is still pretty clear. I also remember shivering outside in the queue as the doors opened late, and I remember my disappointment that the stage set was just a sheet, spray painted with the slogan ‘Sex Pistols Will Play’. And then they did play. What a noisy, tuneless racket. Talk about mayhem. Their set might even have been cut short. You couldn’t really tell. But I still remember it.

And as I still remember that gig, I really wonder how an EU Directive might be able to require me or anyone else to forget about that event, simply because someone else wants to forget about it.

Like someone who played a much more prominent role in the events of that night.

Even someone like Johnny Rotten.

The image, taken that night, (copyright unknown) was found on the Sex Pistol’s website.¤t_page=5
Images of the tickets – and of T shirts bought at the event (by a fellow gig goer) are at


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Winning the (legislative) war of attrition

I spotted a pair of the brightest stars in the legal firmament at last night’s lecture at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. In terms of “A listers”, they don’t get much better than Michael Zander and Gavin Drewry. Google their names if you’ve never heard of them. I first came across Professor Michael Zander as a first year law student – his book was “the” legal text book to buy. Expensive (then) but oh so comprehensive. While Professor Gavin Drewery is one of the leading authorities on public administration, and one of our greatest experts on the workings of Parliament.

What had persuaded then to pop out for the night then? It was to hear Paul Regan, a Home Office civil servant, giving his perspective on enacting legislation. The audience – members of the pubic, and members of the Statute Law Society. And boy, was he qualified to give this presentation. To give you an idea of his background, he worked on Lord Justice Scott’s hugely sensitive enquiry into the sale of defence equipment to Iraq. Paul led the Home Office’s Bill team on the War Crimes Act 1991, the Terrorism Act 2006, fox hunting legislation in 2000, as well as the Extradition Act 2003 – the first major piece of legislative reform in that area since 1870. He knows more than a thing or two about how Parliament works, and he knows just what needs to be done to get legislation onto the Statute Book. And, with his work in the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, he knows how to get stuff done discretely. (His image does not appear to be on the internet, either).

One phrase Paul used last night (several times) sticks in my mind. He constantly referred to “winning a war of attrition” between the various players in the legislative process. You can’t take your eye off the main purpose of the bill, and it’s so important to save the important bits from being sacrificed during the horse trading that often accompanies the dying days of a Parliament, as a series of bills are savaged during the game of “Parliamentary ping pong”. It can only be hours to go before Parliament is prorogued, but both Houses of Parliament still have to agree on an identical text. Grubby politics and political expediency becomes the order of the day, and this is an art in which a few people – like Paul, excel.

What’s that got to do with data protection?

Well, it got me thinking about the tactics that will need to be adopted when the European Commission gets to propose its cunning plan for a revised Data Protection Directive. Will the British team have officials who excel in that art of grubby politics and political expediency? Or will a delegation from another Member State have the upper hand and force a political deal that’s more suited to their cultural needs, rather than then cultural needs of British interests?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Fellow students of the art of European legislation gestation appreciate how frequently what appears to be a sensible measure is shafted by a last minute amendment which introduces a set of words that skews the delicate balance between the competing interests that had previously been negotiated. And we all know how little interest politicians seem to take in legislation once it has been passed. Passing laws and implementing laws are entirely different things. Their focus will have shifted by that time, to a new and knotty problem, one which requires urgent action and ... yep, you’ve guessed it, new legislation. Politicians appear to relish in the sense of immediacy, and in the need to have something to show for the time they’ve been in office. If I had my way I would encourage our political masters to pass less legislation, and instead take more care in trying to make it actually work.

The image is of a large arms cache discovered by US Marines during a sweep through Iraq some 6 years ago. I’m not suggesting that these were the arms which were the subject of Lord Justice Scott’s enquiry, nor that Paul Regan had anything to do with them.