Meet Baroness Henig, Stoking Fear Of Terrorism To Benefit Her Private Security Business

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Baroness Henig’s exploitation of the Paris Attacks anniversary to advocate new laws demanding that concert venues invest more in security – while herself employed as chair of a private security firm which just so happens to provide these services – showcases British politics at its most tawdry and corrupt

There are innumerable reasons why the House of Lords in its current state is an utterly intolerable affront to democracy and ethical decision-making, but an example from today really takes the biscuit.

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the heinous coordinated terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall and across Paris, and Baroness Ruth Henig – a Labour peer appointed in 2004 – decided that today would be the perfect day to pop up on the BBC News Channel to declare that private concert venues should do more in terms of anti-terrorism security and training, enforced by law through a potential change to the Licencing Act 2003.

From BBC News:

Licensing laws should be changed to force entertainment venues around the UK to undergo counter-terror training, a private security expert has said.

Baroness Ruth Henig told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that some venues did not take such training “seriously”. The former chair of the Security Industry Authority now plans to table an amendment to the 2003 licensing act, to include counter-terror training. Her comments come nearly a year after 130 people died in attacks in Paris.

[..] Baroness Henig said: “There are clearly a number of venues, often the larger venues, I think, but not always, who have airport-style security, who, for example, do have metal detectors, who do have very well-trained security personnel and they top up this training regularly.

“But I think at the other end there is a tail of venues who aren’t taking it seriously, we know this from the police, who don’t co-operate, who don’t take up the offers that are made to them and where I think there are some concerns.

“And the issue is how do you get to that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security.”

So far, so noble, you might think. After all, Baroness Henig only recently completed two terms as chair of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the government regulator for private security firms run under the auspices of the Home Office. Who better to make a reasoned, fact-based case for more necessary security regulation than somebody who was in charge of holding the industry to account?

Only that is no longer Baroness Henig’s role. Rather than regulating the industry and ensuring that professional standards are upheld, Ruth Henig can now be found on the board of SecuriGroup, a private security consultancy and provider itself regulated by the SIA – and not just as any board member, but as the Chair of that organisation.

Here’s her official company bio:

Baroness Henig joined SecuriGroup after completing two successful terms as Chair of the Home Office Regulator, the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Baroness Henig’s commitment to security and policing is well documented having held the post of Chair of Lancashire Police Authority and the Chair of the Association of Police Authorities in England and Wales which led to the award of a CBE in 2000 for services to policing. The Baroness also served on the National Criminal Justice Board and Street Crime Action Group, chaired by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

She was appointed as Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire in 2002 and made a life peer in 2004 as Baroness Henig of Lancaster. As a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Henig takes her place on the European Security Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a member of the Independent Policing Commission.

And most conveniently, some of the services offered by SecuriGroup include counter-terrorism strategy training, security guarding, door supervision and event security. One might say that SecuriGroup are perfectly poised to provide the very services that their CEO is currently insisting are made mandatory from her unelected seat within the UK Parliament.

To move instantly from a position regulating an industry to the chairmanship of one of those companies being regulated is concerning in and of itself. In fact, the free flow of individuals back and forth between regulator and regulated organisations is one of the primary symptoms of “regulatory capture,” a phenomenon whereby a government body established to regulate an industry “instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating”.

In this context, Ruth Henig’s sudden concern that smaller music venues are not stumping up for expensive anti-terrorism security countermeasures starts to look a lot less like high-minded public interest and a lot more like grubby concern for the bottom line. Is Henig worried about “that tail of venues who are perhaps not doing as much as they should be about security” because the safety of concertgoers has been keeping her up at night, or because a valuable revenue stream for SecuriGroup has been going unexploited? Given that she now derives her pay cheque from a private security firm, one has to assume that it is at least partly the latter.

Henig tries to cast herself in a virtuous light by pointing out the fact that the initial police consultations with event venues offered as part of Project Griffin are free. And so they are. But when the risk-averse police advise small venues operating on shoestring budgets that they need to pay for additional private security (by hiring the services of SecuriGroup or its competitors), that certainly will not be free. The sums of money involved would likely shut down or severely restrict the operations of many of Britain’s smaller music venues.

Of course there is nothing surprising about a Labour politician downplaying the cost of regulatory compliance – this is their bread and butter. But to do so because one has a direct financial interest in more stringent regulation is morally grey at best.

And this is one of the main problems with the House of Lords. Henig’s case is far from unique. It is just particularly disgusting, because it involves taking advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist murder of more than a hundred people to help drum up more business for SecuriGroup. But regulatory capture is an inherent feature of an appointed House of Lords, not an awkward and unintended quirk.

When governments appoint people to the upper legislative chamber based often on their industry experience (and that’s a best case scenario, assuming they aren’t simply cronies being rewarded for political services rendered), those people will naturally retain extensive links to the industries in which they built their careers and reputations. Sometimes this can be a good thing and lead to better, more considered lawmaking. But if the legislator in question is still working (or intends to return to work) in that field, then their judgment is inherently compromised.

Unfortunately, rather than realising the glaring conflict of interest and recusing herself from debate on the subject, Baroness Ruth Henig decided instead to roll up her sleeves and abuse her position as an unelected peer to further the interests of the company she runs – and all in the run-up to the anniversary of a terrorist attack which killed 130 innocent people.

Britain is crying out for proper constitutional reform to build up the public’s diminished faith in our democratic process. Part of that means proper reform of the House of Lords – making it a fully elected chamber (with term limits, length of terms and the candidate pool open for discussion, so long as we produce a more deliberative body), ending the “elected dictatorship” of the primacy of the Commons, kicking out the theocratic Lords Spiritual and drastically shrinking the membership.

But it also means cracking down on the kind of morally dubious behaviour exhibited by people like Baroness Ruth Henig. We must end the revolving doors which currently exist between Parliament and industry, Parliament and lobbying and between regulator and regulatee. Somebody who just completed two terms regulating the private security industry should not then immediately be allowed to go and work in that same sector. Just because it is commonplace and seen by the establishment as a “deserved reward” for having previously slummed it on the public purse does not make it right.

Using the anniversary of the November 2015 Paris Attacks to promote a bill making it mandatory for even the smallest of music venues to invest heavily in additional security is politics at its most cynical – particularly when you consider that heavily armed and well trained gunmen such as those who committed the Paris Attacks (and the previous attack on Charlie Hebdo) would hardly be deterred by the presence of additional unarmed security guards.

But promoting an ineffective course of action which also happens to result in significant monetary gain for one’s outside business interests is about as low as it is possible to get. By all account, Baroness Henig’s career thus far has been distinguished and honourable. She should reverse course and either give up her chairmanship of SecuriGroup or otherwise immediately recuse herself from any further part in legislating security issues – or risk tarnishing that good reputation forever.

 

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Top Image: BBC

Bottom Images: Pixabay, Twitter / SecuriGroup

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The Distant Dream of Lords Reform

A walking, talking advertisement for the benefits of separation between church and state
A walking, talking advertisement for the benefits of separation between church and state

 

In their latest editorial on the subject, The Guardian appears to have given up on the one-step, transformative reform of the House of Lords that was set in motion by the last Labour government and the next steps enshrined in the coalition agreement (before the Tories and LibDems blew the plan to bits in a fit of politically childish pique). Instead, they now advocate a slower (if that were possible), multi-step process of gradual and incremental reforms before we arrive at the cherished goal of having a working bicameral legislature where both houses hold democratic legitimacy.

We begin with the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth at the current state of affairs, and lamentation that the yearly spectacle of undeserving people being honoured with the privilege of sitting in the upper house has taken place yet again:

What an embarrassment to the so-called mother of parliaments. Thirty more cronies and party donors, leavened by a handful of the genuinely worthy and the downright eccentric (what’s an active journalist like Danny Finkelstein doing on the list?), appointed to the democratic world’s largest legislative chamber. It’s hard to imagine where they’ll find room to sit, never mind a job to do, in a chamber where in some debates there’s a 90-second limit on speeches. Yet proposals for reform are discarded. Even a modest suggestion of voluntary retirement founders. And prime ministerial patronage continues more or less unchecked.

The whole exercise is, in the widest sense of the word, corrupt: a system where individuals who make huge party political donations and – however sound their judgment and broad their experience – are awarded a place in the legislature as a gift from the leader of the party is just as much a scandal waiting to happen now as it was when Maundy Gregory was operating the system in the interests of Lloyd George.

But after this strident denunciation of the way things work, The Guardian goes turncoat on us:

Yet despite its Ruritanian appointments process, the Lords is generally acknowledged to be working unexpectedly effectively. Peers do take seriously their duty to scrutinise legislation, they have a good record for improving it, and some have been doughty defenders of individual freedoms. And look closely at who actually sits in the Lords: since the hereditaries were largely ejected in 1999, it’s become a more representative cross-section of the electorate – and the share of the votes cast – than the Commons, and more ethnically diverse. Even the gender balance is at least no worse. The danger is that the more useful it is, the harder it will become to reform.

Well, yes. This is why bicameral legislatures are a good thing. A more ruminative upper house will generally act as a brake (if not a stop) on the more reckless or short-term politically calculating moves of the lower house (and Lord knows that countries like Britain and America need such a check). This fact holds true even when the upper house in question has no real democratic legitimacy. But the fact that the House of Lords is doing okay-ish at the moment (if we choose to ignore the recent lobbying scandal and the fact that 26 lords spiritual continue to exert the not-always-benign influence of the Church of England over our lawmaking) is insufficient reason to reduce the pressure for comprehensive reform.

Most of the hereditary peers are now gone, so Britain is at least spared the indignity of having nascent laws scrutinised by the inbred landed gentry of the realm. We are just left to tackle the political appointees, the favoured party fundraisers and other beneficiaries of prime ministerial patronage who continue to occupy the place. We must also end the ridiculous, anachronistic idea that it is in any way appropriate to reward a person for their deeds (no matter how worthy or altruistic) by giving them a seat in our legislature. The honours system must be divorced from the political system as a matter of great urgency.

The Guardian concludes:

No one supposed, in 1999, that removing the hereditary peers was where reform would end. But since then, the next step has invariably been too much for some and not enough for others. So without abandoning the ambition for an elected upper chamber, perhaps it is time to make progress in smaller steps.

I would rather abandon any expectation of further changes in the next two years in the hope that more comprehensive reform can be achieved following the 2015 general election. This is not an unrealistic goal. True reform was part of the coalition agreement and very much on the cards until the Tories and Liberal Democrats decided to have a mutually destructive bust-up over linking the policy to changing electoral boundaries. Assuming the parties can find it within themselves to grow up slightly, Lords reform can be part of a future coalition agreement (or single party manifesto) too.

Semi Partisan Sam says no to any more slow, incremental reform of the House of Lords. The nation would be better off suffering through another two years with the upper house stuffed full of bewigged, enrobed anachronisms and political patronage beneficiaries before finally kicking the lot of them out after 2015 rather than enduring another decade or more of hand-wringing and glacial progress.

No Lords Reform After All

Not so fast. First we need to preserve democracy by translating the referendum question into Cornish.

 

The Conservative-led coalition government is about to make another costly, unwise and unnecessary policy reversal, though finally a non-budget related one, with The Telegraph reporting that the planned reforms of the House of Lords are going to be shelved, in the face of strong Conservative backbench opposition.

They report:

Earlier this year, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg outlined plans to replace appointed peers in the House of Lords with elected senators. The first elections were to be held in 2015 with the elected members of the house serving for 15-year terms.

However, dozens of Conservative MPs and peers expressed their strong opposition to the proposal amid fears it would undermine the supremacy of the Commons.

Downing Street was forced to delay a key vote on the reforms last month to allow further discussion with the rebels. It is thought that Mr Cameron was prepared to water down the reforms to help win over more than 90 Tory MPs.

However, The Daily Telegraph has learnt that this has now failed and the reforms will be scrapped. Downing Street feared that debate over the reforms could drag on for months and alienate the public at a time when ministers should be focused on pulling Britain out of recession.

This is yet another stinging rebuke of David Cameron’s leadership and ability to stamp his authority on his party, and to articulate and then deliver a vision for government. Indeed, in the same article, The Telegraph notes:

The Coalition has been accused of mounting more than 20 about-turns – moves which the Prime Minister has insisted show strong leadership as he rejected pushing ahead with unpopular policies.

There’s no strength in walking back so many elements of the Budget, and other policy and manifesto positions, in the face of opposition or a newly invigorated Labour Party in opposition. It just makes you look weak, and lacking in conviction or any real plan to turn the country around.

It is also a significant setback for those people such as myself who wanted to try to reinvigorate British democracy by bringing to an end the anachronistic setup of the current upper house, and replace it with a more powerful, democratically legitimate body that could act as a check on the “elected dictatorship” of the Commons. If, as expected, the reform plans are now killed, it is unlikely that they will be any appetite to revive them in the near future.

But more importantly, it has potentially very serious consequences for the ongoing survival of the coaltion government, as Isabel Hardman notes in The Spectator’s Coffee House blog:

This triggers that new phase of coalition that Nick Clegg and his colleagues have been warning about: the era of ‘consequences’. Although Conservative ministers have been considering other policies that they could hand to their coalition partners, these will not be enough to appease them: it’s Lords reform or nothing.

How this will play out is fascinating: the main threat is that the Lib Dems will scupper the boundary reforms, but to truly block their passage through parliament would require ministers in Clegg’s party to vote against the legislation. Would those ministers then be sacked? If they were, that’s curtains for the coalition. I’ve asked Number 10 about this before, and to date the response has been ‘that’s a hypothetical question’. Not for much longer: this new phase of coalition is very much uncharted territory, not simply because it heralds a new pattern of relations, but because it’s very difficult to see how the Lib Dems can carry out their ‘consequences’ threat without walking out of the government too.

Our attentions are currently consumed by the fantastic Olympic Games currently taking place in London, but it is certainly starting to look as though we could soon be living in very interesting political times, too.

A House Of Lords For The Modern Age

Not so fast. First we need to preserve democracy by translating the referendum question into Cornish.

 

I have wanted to weigh in on the topic of House of Lords reform for some time now, but have struggled to find a suitable jumping-off point from which to do so. I finally found one a few days ago, in the form of Ajay Kakkar’s op-ed piece in the Daily Telegraph entitled “Why Nick Clegg’s Senate is seriously flawed”, and now that the initial fuss about the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold ObamaCare in the US is starting to die down a little, I finally have the chance to commit my thoughts to the blog.

In short, I am in favour of major reform of Parliament including its structure, composition and working practices, certainly incorporating democratic reform of the House of Lords. Kakkar’s piece, taken from a lecture that he delivered at Oxford some time ago, seems to me to represent a good summary of the many varied arguments against reform, so I am going to put forward my own views as a kind of point-counterpoint with his article.

Lord Kakkar (himself a crossbench Peer, from which knowledge we can perhaps already deduce his stance on this issue) begins thus:

Yesterday, a piece of legislation was laid before Parliament that has far-reaching ramifications for our country and its people – at a time when the political challenges we face are already considerable.

This is the first argument you are likely to hear against reforming the House of Lords, and it is a typical delaying tactic used whenever anyone wants to oppose or slow down any kind of change. It is the “oh, but surely we must focus exclusively on the pressing issues of X and Y, and we can worry about Lords reform in the future” argument, and we see it used against proponents of gay marriage and a multitude of other issues.

The “political challenges” that Lord Kakkar refers to here are, we can safely infer, the need to weather the current economic crisis. Personally, I do not believe that a single-minded focus on any one topic, be it from the executive or from Parliament, is very healthy. We are country of 65 million people and our government should be capable of tackling more than one initiative at a time.

Next comes an argument which is often deployed, but rarely explained – the supposed importance of ensuring the primacy of the House of Commons:

An elected second chamber is a principle that seems appealing. But we must consider two things. First, the House of Commons represents the will of the people, as expressed through democratic elections. As such, it must continue to hold primacy over the second chamber – or any other part of the machinery of government.

Really, it must? A fully or mostly elected House of Lords would also have democratic legitimacy, of a different and quite possibly beneficial kind. Elected peers would, under the government’s proposals, serve single terms of 15 years and thus would be more inclined to take the long view, and be less influenced by day-to-day political manoeuverings or machinations. Why, then, should the Commons hold primacy?

You often hear from opponents of Lords reform that the House of Lords is “complementary” to the Commons, acting in a reviewing and advisory role only, and that it need not therefore be democratic. But some other political systems – including that of the United States – actively try to build in conflict into their institutions, so that none are able to exercise unchecked power. This to me seems very sensible and worthy, and a democratically legitimate and empowered House of Lords, with a constitutional requirement that both must approve legislation before it becomes law, seems right and logical.

And then:

Second, there is the admirable clarity of our current constitutional settlement. The people elect their representatives to sit in the House of Commons, whose confidence any government must command. Those representatives can, in turn, be held to account and dismissed via the ballot box.

Within our constitution, the principle of democratic legitimacy is paramount – but there is no failing in the House of Lords, in itself, that would be resolved by a largely elected second chamber, as currently proposed. It is argued that democratically elected senators would be more accountable than appointed ones. But how would the election of 80 per cent of the chamber for a single, non-renewable term of 15 years, never facing re-election, make senators accountable to the voters who elected them?

Only a sitting parliamentarian, die-hard traditionalist or deluded person could look at Britain’s constitutional settlement and praise its “admirable clarity”. The thing isn’t even written down. There is nothing transparent, simple or clear about the division and exercise of power in Britain today, and I really wish I had been at that lecture at Oxford University to see if Lord Kakkar was able to deliver that line with a straight face.

Moreover, is Kakkar seriously trying to make the case that today’s breed of greasy pole-climbing career politicians is preferable to those who cannot run for re-election because they serve a single term? I would argue quite the opposite, that being able to take the long view, being less beholden to opinion polls or the 24-hour news cycle, could be a very good thing – at least for one of the two chambers of Parliament.

Another question that desperately needs to be answered is how this new second chamber will function in the context of its relationship to a democratically elected and constitutionally dominant Commons. The preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act states, with absolute clarity, that Parliament will have to take measures to limit and define the powers of any Upper House enjoying a popular mandate. It seems very unwise – at best – to create an elected Lords (or Senate) without setting out the precise powers of the two chambers and how disputes between them are to be resolved. If the Supreme Court is to play a role in that process, will Parliament still be secure as sovereign? Will our country need a written constitution to ensure the primacy of the Commons and protect the role of the monarchy?

This is from the Norman Tebbit “but if we allow gay marriage what courtesy title should we bestow upon the gay spouse of a Lord?” school of argument. The fact that reforming the Lords to add democratic legitimacy would entail extra work and the answering of some additional questions is hardly a reason not to proceed. Of course we need to properly define the relationship between the two chambers of Parliament as part of the reform process, that goes without saying.

Will the new UK Supreme Court be involved? I don’t know, but sure, let’s discuss that. Will we need a written consitution? Absolutely! Lord Kakkar says this as though it would be a bad thing and another legitimate reason to avoid reforming the Lords, but I have been clamouring for a consitutional convention and a written British Constitution for years, I think it would spur much-needed discussions about the role and size of government, and its relationship with the people. And again, this worry about the primacy of the Commons. Why is this essential to maintain? I do wish an opponent of Lords reform would take the next step and explain why the Commons should remain dominant in our system, rather than just stating it as though it is commonly-held and irrefutable fact.

But perhaps the proponents of an elected second chamber believe their reforms will make a qualitative difference to the kind of people who sit there. If they did, they would surely be worth considering. But what sort of senatorial candidates are likely to come forward? Will we see many social workers, historians, scientists, charity administrators, campaigners or academics? Or is it more likely that the Senate will be seen as an attractive option for those party politicians unable to secure election elsewhere?

I would rather have a democratically elected House of Lords full of conniving fools and morons than an undemocratically composed House of Lords full of people who did favours for former Prime Ministers, and a bunch of bishops from the Church of England. Just my two cents.

The role of the Lords, whatever its membership, should be to share the increasing burden of scrutinising and improving the torrent of British and European legislation that comes forward; to bring to bear experience, expertise and independence of spirit in advising and counselling the Commons; and ultimately and always to bow to its primacy.

Why?

So in short, that’s it. I’m still casting around the internet looking for an opponent of House of Lords reform who can actually take the next step and answer some of these questions. Why must the Commons retain primacy? Why would a written Consitution, even a limited one that just defines the relationship between the chambers of Parliament, the devolved assemblies and the Supreme Court be such a bad idea? Why are single terms of a long timespan worse than neverending terms of five year intervals?

As yet I have seen no compelling answers to these questions from those who want to preserve the status quo, and so on this issue I am squarely behind Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.