My job has become the pursuit of incompetence. Each day brings more evidence of how Ministers fail to control and direct their great departments in the interests of the taxpayers. Each day some new Minister comes before Parliament to make a confession, offer an apology, or show brass neck in claiming all is well when their administration is in tatters.
Last week the Opposition hauled the Chancellor back to the House to explain how the personal records of 25 million people in the UK were lost by sending them on CDs through the post. The original apology in the statement of November 20th implied it was a one off mistake by a junior official. On further inspection it turned out to be one of many occasions when data was lost. The policy of putting the data onto discs had been approved by senior officials, and senior people at the Treasury knew of the loss 12 days before the public and Parliament were first told.
I tried with other MPs to find out how much money taxpayers now have at risk in Northern Rock, what security the authorities have taken for the loan, and when and how it is going to be repaid. Mr Darling either does not know these simple facts, or wishes to prevent Parliament and taxpayers finding out these basics about this whopping loan. Every time an Opposition MP asks anything about the security, size and repayment of the loan he is treated to a rant about how the Conservatives no longer support this measure. It really is a disgrace that a senior Minister treats the House and taxpayers with such contempt. We are left in doubt as to whether he is simply incompetent and has failed to take proper security for the loans and to demand a sensible repayment timetable, or believes he has some divine right to spend ??30 billion of our money without a by your leave or any rudiments of Parliamentary accountability.
My colleague David Davis asked the Home Secretary to explain how she was progressing with Project Stork, a pan European project to develop identity data storage and ID cards. She showed she had no knowledge of such an important project within her own responsibility. This is the lady who cannot see that the loss of 25 million personal records by HMRC has driven a coach and horses through the idea that a national data base for Identity Cards. Why on earth should we trust the government with our most personal details, when they lose our National Insurance records, details of our children and our bank account numbers? Far from making us safer, a national database would be a nightmare for us all, leading us to worry about when it will all be put on CD and find its way into the underworld.
Our borders remain porous. I recently asked a Minister to get a grip on our frontiers, and to use passport and visa controls to make sure criminals, other undesirables and illegals are not allowed to enter Britain. I was told that view was very twentieth century?. The government apparently intends to spend more of our money on more checks at our frontiers, but does not think any of it will work, and tells us that only an ID card scheme could do the job. What arrant nonsense. Of course it is much easier to stop illegal migrants and suspected criminals at the frontiers, where all have to show their identity passes, rather than using random searches of any of us on the streets once the dangerous minority of undesirable migrants has blended into our society.
The worst feature of it all, is there is never any sign that Ministers are about to get a grip. In statement after statement, they just look helpless and out of their depth. They keep on spinning, but they are still not governing.