It’s been a very busy couple of weeks, despite Parliament once again packing up early for a seasonal break. I think Parliament should have met this week, given the wide range of problems people are raising. As I feared, the Coalition’s budget left many people feeling a bit bruised. The bills are coming in to pay for the large increases in public spending and borrowing in recent years. Understandably people are reluctant to have to pay higher taxes and public sector charges themselves to sort the problem out. There is general agreement the rich should pay more, but disagreement about which is the best way to get them to do so. The Coalition say their latest tax proposals will get more out of the richest 1%. The collapse of top Income Tax receipts this year with the 50% higher rate on income indicate they did need to find new ways to do so.
Different people also have different ideas over how much income or wealth makes you rich. On most definitions there is not enough money that can be taken from the rich to pay all the bills. That’s why all sections are being charged more, with the richest taking the biggest hit in cash terms and as a proportion of their incomes. I have to explain to some MPs that an income of £40,000 in Wokingham is far from making someone rich, when you look at the high house prices people have to manage.
I have received a number of emails about a possible further assault on our civil liberties. That is the last thing I want. I am keen that this government should restore and improve our freedoms, as they started to do by cancelling the ID card scheme and reconsidering detention without trial. Mr Clarke’s latest proposal to allow certain evidence from the Intelligence services to be heard in private by a judge to protect the individuals and sources involved has alarmed some. This, believe it or not, is intended to be a small improvement in our freedoms. At the moment some of this secret evidence cannot be heard at all, as it is banned from court use. The idea is to replace some of the present bans on intelligence material and allow a Judge to hear it in private so it can be used in a case. I think I welcome that as a small advance in the right direction.
The government also claims that its wish to make internet service providers keep more records about who we email and which sites we visit for a period of a year does not amount to a win for Big Brother. They say that the authorities will not be able to read our emails without a warrant. The Coalition has scrapped the outgoing government’s idea of a big government database recording all our communications. I will need to study the small print of this proposal. Most of us have no problem with the investigating authorities seeking to track down terrorism or drug crime being able to eavesdrop and monitor the communications of those under suspicion. This should require a independent Judge to issue a warrant to authorise such surveillance. We do have problems with the authorities wanting to keep tabs on millions of law abiding people, and spending public money on large registers and data stores to do just that.
There is a growing suspicion of the state, thanks to the intrusions it makes and the large demands it has on our incomes. All in public sector management have to work hard to ensure the state serves the public well for a realistic cost. There is more to do to bring this about.