Not Saussure

December 12, 2006

Dr Reid’s domain

Filed under: civil liberties, hubris, Suicide — notsaussure @ 11:23 pm

On the face of it, this looks like good news:

John Reid, the Home Secretary, has said he has so far seen no evidence which supports increasing the time police can detain terror suspects beyond 28 days.

He confirmed that his long-awaited review of counter-terrorism has now been completed and handed to the Prime Minister and said that proposals on new terrorism measures could be expected in the New Year.

However, I don’t trust the man and I rather suspect some new horror lies behind this apparently encouraging statement. For one thing, the report goes on to say that

he would consider extending beyond 28 days if he was provided with a “factually-based case” and measures which would reassure Parliament that it would not be used “arbitrarily”.

This I — perhaps unfairly, but I fear not, given this government’s track record — gloss as

We don’t to risk another Commons defeat on the matter, but as soon as I think I can get it through Parliament…

It’s interesting, incidentally, that this seems to suggest either Tony knows something Reid doesn’t or that Reid thinks Tony’s deluding himself; only a month ago, the BBC reported:

Tony Blair has said he still backs plans to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

He said he believed the evidence backed longer detention and that he had not changed his mind since losing a Commons vote on the issue last year.

Meanwhile in another development at the Home Office, The Times reports,

Poor record-keeping at the Home Office means no one knows how many people are employed by the department, according to a government watchdog report published yesterday.

The department has also run up an “overdraft” of £246 million with the Office of the Paymaster General and is still struggling to get a grip on its finances.

It is unable to reconcile the amounts of money owing to suppliers with the records of suppliers themselves and there are weaknesses in matching purchasing orders with invoices. For the second year running Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, is critical of financial management at the Home Office.

He has given only qualified approval to the annual accounts of the department after last year failing to approve them at all because of the flawed financial records

Full NAO report here.

This is getting as bad as the EU; only last month Ed Balls, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, was telling the Institute of Chartered Accountants that

“Europe must do better to end this annual embarrassment [of the European Court of Auditors’ refusing to sign off the EU accounts].

“By giving national parliaments greater opportunity to scrutinise how EU funds are managed, I believe we can help give taxpayers the reassurances they rightly expect.

In taking a lead on this issue and providing a model of effective budgetary supervision, the UK can help Europe make great strides to improve the quality and accuracy of the EU accounts.

“All member states must accept their responsibilities to work together to achieve the clean bill of health for the EU’s accounts that taxpayers deserve.”

The Times does add that

Sir John said yesterday that the department had worked hard to address many of the problems.

This I take to be a reference to the fact they’ve tidied up the accounts considerably since the debacle the previous year, of which the Public Accounts Committee produced a scathing account that was rather overshadowed by their criticisms, in the same report, of the lost foreign prisoners; of that, the website of Richard Bacon MP, a member of the Committee, says

When Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, looked at data produced by the Home Office’s new finance system, Adelphi, it found the gross value of debits and credits amounted to some £26,527,108,436,994 (i.e. £26.5 trillion), almost 2,000 times higher than the Home Office’s spending for 2004-05 and approximately one and a half times higher than the estimated GDP of the entire planet.

We’d heard back in June that the Home Office had illegal immigrants working for them, and more recently that they discovered they’d got a senior member of Hizb ut-Tahir, a group they proposed to ban but haven’t yet so done, working in a sensitive deparment of the Immigration Service. And now it transpires they don’t know how many people they’ve got working for them at all.

In these, in the God, are the people who want to give us charge us for directly and spend vast amounts of our taxes on setting up and administering sodding ID cards! For pity’s sake, if they can’t even manage efficiently to issue ID cards to their own staff — clearly they can’t have done, or they could just have counted the number of staff ID cards they’ve issued and not cancelled when people leave — then how on earth do they expect to make the damn things work for the whole country?

For more on ID cards and the Home Office’s problems with sums, see NO2ID

Meanwhile,

Farhat Khan will get the red carpet treatment today from Tony and Cherie Blair in recognition of her tireless community work – just 48 hours before she makes a last plea against deportation.

The 54-year-old Pakistani grandmother, who has already been honoured at a Buckingham Palace reception, has become a respected and popular figure in Manchester. She claimed asylum in Britain six years ago after fleeing a violent husband whose relatives had already made plans to marry off two of their youngest daughters to older men as soon as they reached puberty.

Well, at least they’ll know where she is. Nice to see people integrating, is it not?


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September 10, 2006

There ought to be a law…

Filed under: civil liberties, Internet, Mental Health, Panic, Suicide — notsaussure @ 2:59 am

BBC NEWS | Health | Call to ban pro-suicide websites
Call to ban pro-suicide websites

The government should make it illegal for internet sites to incite or advise people on how to commit suicide, a charity says.

Papyrus, set up to tackle young suicide, said the risk posed by pro-suicide websites was not being taken seriously enough.

The charity said the 1961 Suicide Act should be amended to make it illegal to publish such material on the web.

The government said it was looking at how rules could be tightened.

At the moment, the law says it is illegal to aid, abet, counsel, procure or incite someone to commit suicide, but to be successfully prosecuted the individual has to have knowledge and participated in the suicide.

The charity said it was aware of nearly 20 internet-related suicides cases in the UK in the last five years.

Papyrus said typing “I want to kill myself” into an internet search engine offers access to 5m sites, many of which give information on how to commit suicide or were chat-rooms where techniques are discussed.

A spokeswoman added: “The sites take no responsibility for the advice they give, do not identify themselves and generally create an atmosphere where suicide is normal, acceptable and to be encouraged.

“The fact is that it is illegal to groom a child to have sex, but not to kill themselves.”

An unfortunate quote, there; I rather doubt that Papyrus want to make suicide a crime again — I hope they don’t, for it certainly wouldn’t help the young people about whom they’re concerned — and the article’s just explained that it is, in fact, illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to ‘groom’ someone to kill himself.

The problem is that this doesn’t cover putting up a website to encourage unidentified people to kill themselves, and, even if it did, it’s difficult to see how you’d enforce such a law against a US-based website.

Fortunately, the government seem, for once, to be aware that “It is a very complex issue, as many of these sites are hosted abroad and UK law won’t apply there” (a polite way of saying it’s a non-starter), so it looks as if we’ll be spared a new offence of ‘glorification of suicide’ or whatever Papyrus might have in mind.

Papyrus are quoted as saying that ‘it was aware of nearly 20 internet-related suicides cases in the UK in the last five years’, which I suppose sounds more than ‘between three or four a year’, which — assuming they’re talking about young people committing suicide — means about 1% of suicides are ‘internet-related’, whatever that means; according to Mind, each year around 400 people aged between 15 and 24 kill themselves (girls are much more likely attempt suicide, seriously or not, but boys are considerably more likely actually to kill themselves).

Mind’s discussion of the causes of suicide among young people suggests that, perhaps not surprisingly, the groups most at risk include the homeless,  young lesbians and gay men (presumably because they’re worried and confused about their sexuality, or subject to bullying because of it), people with mental illness and drug and alcohol abusers.

Seems to me that Papyrus’s campaigning efforts would be much better directed towards helping these groups rather than getting up moral panics about the threats of the evil interwebs and asking government — who normally don’t need much encouragement — to pass unenforceable and unnecessary laws.

Miss Prism and Doghorse have a very apposite movie on a related topic at ecletech.

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