My letter on DRIP

July 18, 2014 in Parliament

Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have written to me regarding the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.

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I share your concerns about the Government’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP). There was no excuse for the way the Government attempted to rush this piece of flawed legislation through Parliament in the dying days before the summer recess. I’m afraid this is typical of this Government’s incompetence.

The Government has known since April, when the European Court of Justice struck down the much wider EU data retention regulations, that new legislation would be needed to maintain the legal status quo in Britain. This allows communications companies to retain billing data (not content) for up to 12 months. Access to this data can be vital for the work of the police and security services investigating crimes and conspiracies including child abuse, terrorism and organised crime.

Without the ability to access these records it is estimated the police would lose important information used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations, terror investigations and investigations into online child abuse. For example, last year the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency received 18,887 reports of child abuse – an increase of 14% on the year. Without access to this sort of information these abusers would be much more difficult to find and stop.

So Labour accepted the need to respond to the European Court ruling, but we were highly critical of the Government’s process and the Bill in its original form. I’m pleased to say we secured important changes.

Firstly, we forced the Government to accept an amendment that requires a full independent review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Whereas DRIP covers the obligation of communications companies to store information, RIPA covers the situations in which the police and intelligence agencies can access this data.

It also covers the police’s power to use more traditional forms of intelligence – such as opening post, following individuals or even entering and bugging homes. Labour’s view is that RIPA must be at the centre of a wider public debate about how we balance privacy and security in an internet age.

The original intention of RIPA was to provide equivalence between electronic and physical surveillance, so the same rules were in place for reading an email as reading a letter. But RIPA is now 15-years old and out of date. New technology is blurring the distinction between communications data and content and raising questions about data storage.

It is this review of RIPA that should ensure no government or party can ignore the concerns raised in recent months following Snowden. It is vital to our democracy – both to protecting our national security and to protecting our basic freedoms – that there is widespread public consent to the balance the Government and the agencies need to strike. President Obama held such a debate in the US last year after the Snowden leaks. The independent review of RIPA Labour has secured will deliver this debate for the UK too.

Secondly, Labour secured an amendment to the Bill requiring the Interception of Communications Commissioner to report on the workings of the Act within 6 months and every six months subsequently.

Thirdly, we secured a “sunset clause” in the legislation meaning it will expire in 2016 and future law in this area will have to take into account the recommendations of the independent review into RIPA.

I hope this has helped address your concerns, but if you have outstanding ones do send me details of them and I will ensure that the Labour front bench is aware of them.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP

My question on Gaza

July 15, 2014 in Parliament

My question in yesterday’s statement on Gaza.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Given that Secretary Kerry and his own middle east Minister have clearly said that it was the Netanyahu regime’s relentless expansion of illegal settlements that bore prime responsibility for the collapse of the Kerry talks, when, instead of this routine language of condemnation about the settlements, can we instead have some real and meaningful action?

Mr Hague: We have said that a heavy part of the responsibility lies—not only this; there have been failures on both sides to take full advantage of the opportunities of the peace process—with the illegal settlements on occupied land. We make our condemnation of that, but we have also taken certain actions, including supporting the recent EU statement of guidelines on doing business with settlements. The right hon. Gentleman will be conscious that our prime effort here is to revive and succeed in the peace process. We therefore use language and adjust our pressure to try to do that, and that remains our best hope.

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My question on Europe

July 1, 2014 in Parliament

My question to the Prime Minister during yesterday’s statement on the European Council.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): May I gently suggest to the Prime Minister that, as Mrs Gaitskell once said, it is the wrong people cheering? How exactly have Britain’s national interests and the interests of reform in Europe been advanced by his recent posturing?

The Prime Minister: It advances Britain’s interests if people know that a British Prime Minister and a British Government will set out a principle and stick to it. The problem all too often under the Labour Government was that they did not stick to their principle. That is why they gave away part of our rebate, they caved in on the budget year after year, and they signed up to eurozone bail-outs. If they had stuck to their principles, they might have been more respected.

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My question on patient safety

June 25, 2014 in Local, Parliament

My question to the Secretary of State for Health during yesterday’s Urgent Question on patient safety.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): An Exeter psychiatric nurse of more than 20 years’ standing wrote to me in despair this week saying that “mental health services are in collapse”, and that patients are regularly placed in “life threatening” situations or sent as far away as Bradford because there are no beds locally. Vulnerable people are waiting a shocking three months for the co-ordination of their care. How dare the Secretary of State come to the House today and claim that our mental health services are not in crisis?

Mr Hunt: There are real pressures in our mental health services, but the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the progress that the Government have made. That includes doubling the money going into talking therapies, having global summits on dementia and putting a massive amount of money towards raising the profile of dementia in this country and across the globe, and legislating for parity of esteem between mental and physical health—something that never happened under the previous Government. There is a lot of work to do, but I think he should give credit where it is due.

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Latest edition of monthly newsletter

June 19, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.

Progress article on Cameron and Juncker

June 18, 2014 in Parliament

Isolated and facing humiliation over Juncker, Cameron has badly hurt the national interest and the reformist cause in Europe – my piece for Progress Online, available to read here.

Letter on shale gas extraction

June 18, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have recently contacted me regarding shale gas extraction:

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding shale gas extraction and the Government’s announcement in the Queen’s Speech.

Labour believes shale gas extraction should only go ahead if there is robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.

Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Projections from the National Grid expect gas continuing to play an important role in our energy system for many years to come.

While demand for gas continues to be high, our ability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration, especially given the recent behaviour of President Putin and the reliance of much of the rest of Europe on Russian gas.

The Government’s Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on extracting shale gas. Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot at the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance – this could be as much as 2 miles, or even more. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, the existing legislation allows coal mining, water, sewage and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but not shale gas or deep geothermal. In reality it would provide an effective block on extracting shale gas and deep geothermal in the UK.

At the end of May the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. Labour does not oppose these reforms. However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about extracting shale gas with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.

I will therefore continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. It is clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitor activity against. Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. Labour will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, which must be addressed.

Finally, it goes without saying that UK energy policy needs a massive shift towards low and zero carbon generation. So I have been dismayed by the decline in the growth of the renewables sector under this Government. Labour is committed to revitalising the renewables sector and to a binding carbon reduction target by 2030.

I hope that this is helpful.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP

My question on illegal settlements in the West Bank

June 18, 2014 in Parliament

At yesterday’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, I asked the Secretary of State about his policy on the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What his policy is on trade with illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.

Mr Bradshaw: In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?

Mr Hague: As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.

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My question on care homes

May 2, 2014 in Parliament

Yesterday, I asked the Minister about the the regulation of care assistants, as recommended by the Francis Report.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Do not terrible events such as those revealed by the brilliant “Panorama” team show that the Government were wrong to reject one of the central recommendations of the Francis Report, namely that care assistants should be regulated?

Norman Lamb: First, I share the right hon. Gentleman’s recognition of the work that “Panorama” has done. It is interesting that two examples of appalling abuse—namely this case and that at Winterbourne View—have been exposed as a result of hidden cameras. We must acknowledge that and recognise that there might be a role for the use of hidden cameras in the CQC’s work where there is potential evidence of abuse and where we need to establish that evidence in order to take effective action.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about registration, my concern is that the registration of nurses did not stop awful things happening at Mid Staffordshire. It is not in itself a panacea that ensures good-quality care. For me, the most important element is proper training to ensure that everyone is trained to an acceptable standard before undertaking unsupervised care work. If we can establish that standard across the country, we can drive up standards.

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My question on press conduct

May 2, 2014 in Committee, Parliament

At yesterday’s Culture, Media and Sport questions I asked the Secretary of State whether he will meet alleged victims of unethical press conduct.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): If he will meet alleged victims of unethical and unlawful conduct by the press to discuss how to prevent such conduct in the future.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Sajid Javid): I support freedom of the press while wanting to ensure that redress is available when mistakes are made, and I will welcome representations from a range of stakeholders who have an interest in the matter. My meetings will, of course, be a matter of public record through the Cabinet Office in the usual way.

Mr Bradshaw: I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new job. I think it is probably the best job in government, and I hope he enjoys it.

I was not quite sure from the right hon. Gentleman’s answer whether he will meet victims. I hope he will, because as he will be aware, they are not happy with what has happened since the Leveson report and they are certainly not happy with attempts by some newspapers to set up a replacement for the discredited Press Complaints Commission. Does he agree with the Prime Minister, who said on oath to the Leveson inquiry that the test is

“not: do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get? It’s: are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process”?

Sajid Javid: I know that the right hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the issue, and I am sure he recognises that since Lord Leveson’s report was published, we have made significant progress on the issue on a cross-party basis. As he knows, the royal charter has now been granted, and it is now for the press to decide what they wish to do next.

On the issue of meeting alleged victims, if they were to make a formal request, I would give it serious consideration.

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