David Heath MP

David Heath MP (Liberal Democrat) MP for Somerton & Frome. Former Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor.

Electronic Voting

House of Commons debate Electoral Commission report 16 December 2003

... We still have grave concerns about the efficacy of voting by electronic means and the avoidance of fraud. Those concerns have been strengthened rather than eliminated by the Electoral Commission. ...

House of Commons debates Additional provisions in respect of electronic voting 16 December 2003

Let me say at the outset that I welcome what the Minister says. I do not have a neurotic opposition to e-voting. Indeed, it was trialled in the South Somerset district council area, which includes my constituency. Although it had little apparent benefit for voter turnout, it provided voters with a further option, as the Minister rightly said.
I opposed including electronic voting in the pilots because the technology is not yet available to make it safe and resistant to fraud. Although I shall not repeat all the arguments that have been made, it is absolutely crucial to have not only verifiable systems of identification that are not open to abuse, a proper audit trail that allows people to trace from where a vote was cast and a recapped facility, which is not available under the present system yet is critical to the integrity of the process, but public confidence in the system. Such confidence would have been put at risk by rushing ahead with the proposals.
As the Minister said, some people will be disappointed by the Electoral Commission's conclusions. Disabled voters, whom I mentioned previously, will be disappointed because e-voting would have allowed them to cast their votes in confidence, which they cannot do by other means. They will be disappointed that further proposals have not come forward. Nevertheless, our reasoned conclusion must be that the technology is not yet right and that it would be improper to introduce e-voting on a wide scale until we are assured that that has been addressed....

House of Commons debate New Clause 3 — Additional provisions in respect of electronic voting 16 December 2003

... Electronic voting raises even more pertinent questions about fraud prevention than does the use of postal ballot papers. ...

Identity cards

David Heath is a consistent critic of ID cards.

The Speaker of the House of Commons has criticised the Government over its failure to publish a report on the cost of ID cards, following a complaint by Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House, David Heath MP. 5 May 2007

House of Commons debate Business of the House 26 April 2007

The Home Office is obliged by law to lay before the House at six-monthly intervals a report on the costs of ID cards. That has not been done. The deadline has been breached.

House of Commons debate Business of the House 17 November 2005

...may we have a debate on the likely efficacy of identity cards in the light of the comments of Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, who said yesterday:
"I don't think that anybody in the intelligence services, particularly in my former service, would be pressing for ID cards."
She went on to say that the cards would be "absolutely useless". Knowing how important it is to listen to experts, may we have a debate on that matter?

Freedom of Information

Supports stronger freedom of information laws and has helped to fight off attacks on the law as it stands.

Children's Digital Rights

Signed Early Day Motion 446 Contactpoint 29 November 2007

That this House notes the announcement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families of the deferral of the implementation of ContactPoint to allow for an independent assessment of its security procedures by Deloitte and to address the changes to ContactPoint that potential system users have suggested, but regrets that this review will not extend to the design and content of ContactPoint; expresses concern over the safety implications of such a vast database containing potentially sensitive information in the light of security breaches at HM Revenue and Customs; further expresses concerns about the projected costs of ContactPoint; notes the conclusion of the House of Lords Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments that the Government has not conclusively demonstrated that a universal database is a proportionate response to the problem being addressed; and therefore calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision to proceed.

Signed Early Day Motion 686 biometric data collection in schools 19 January 2007

That this House is alarmed at the growing practice of schools collecting and storing the biometric details of children as young as three; notes that up to 3,500 schools use biometric software to record the data of approximately three quarters of a million children; shares parents' concerns that children's data, often including photographs and fingerprints, is stored on unregulated data collection systems and potentially insecure school computer networks and could therefore potentially be misused; notes that collecting the data from children under 12 without parental consent directly contravenes the Data Protection Act; believes that no child should have biometric information taken without the express written permission of their parents; further believes that no child should be excluded from school activities where this permission is not forthcoming; welcomes the decision by the Department for Education and Skills to update guidance to local authorities and schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full and open consultation with stakeholders, including parents and children, on this issue as part of their redrafting process.

DNA database

House of Commons debate Human Rights 19 February 2007

many of us are enormously concerned that the British DNA database does not consist only of data collected from convicted criminals, or even data collected from people who have been charged with an offence. It contains data from people who have been arrested, but who may not have been charged or who have appeared in court and have been found not guilty. That information is being put into the European system without any sanction by Parliament or, indeed, the European Parliament.

House of Commons debate Government's Crime Record 7 February 2007

The database should either genuinely encompass everybody, or be restricted to those convicted of a criminal offence, and there are entirely logical arguments for either position. However, there is no basis in logic for a DNA database not only of those who have been convicted of a criminal offence, but of those who have been arrested but not charged, and those who have come before the courts and been found not guilty. If the police have followed proper procedures, a few people who work in No. 10 should now be on the DNA database; is the Minister?

Westminster Hall debate Forensic Sciences 18 October 2005

He referred to database issues, including the DNA database. He struck exactly the right chord in recognising the fundamental ethical problem with the current practice of retaining DNA samples from those who are acquitted or, indeed, not even charged with a crime, but merely investigated. A partial database leads to one group of the population who do not have a criminal record and for whom there is no reason for further investigation being available for a DNA match, while the rest of the population is not.
Although we accept that DNA matching is largely reliable, false matches are possible. Therefore, it seems that the only ethical position is for everybody in the population to contribute to the DNA database, or for no one to contribute to it—certainly no one who has not been found guilty of an offence. It would be much more satisfactory if we had that debate openly with the public and decided on the best way to proceed. I do not believe that the present position is sustainable.

Signed the Early Day Motion DNA Database 15 November 2006

That this House recognises the vital role DNA and the DNA database play in the detection of crimes but is concerned about the retention of DNA samples on the National Police Database of those individuals who are neither charged nor cautioned; further recognises the potential detrimental effect the retention of DNA samples has on innocent juveniles; further recognises that there is a disproportionate number of DNA samples retained from members of black and ethnic minorities; and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to remove the DNA samples of non-charged and non-cautioned individuals currently on the database, except when the individuals concerned give their willing and continuing consent to the retention of their DNA.

Communications surveillance oversight

Introduced the Surveillance of Telecommunications (Judicial Oversight) Bill (private members' bill) in 2013.



2009-01-13 - Liberal Democrates - Nick Clegg announces membership of privacy commission
Summary: Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg today announced the membership of his party’s new Commission on Privacy, which will examine the use, abuse and retention of private data, and propose new safeguards to protect the rights of individuals. ... David Heath said: "I am looking forward to working with a team of people who lead the country in these issues, and I hope we will produce a report which is hard-hitting but practical and shows the way forward." "British people have never been subject to so much intrusion and prying, and whatever the merits of collecting information, it must be used responsibly, properly and securely. That is clearly not the case at present."
2007-06-11 - David Heath MP Press Release - Government must demonstrate commitment to freedom of information
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, has announced his support for Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesman Tom Brake MP’s ten minute rule bill in Parliament tomorrow which intends to press for tougher Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No 2) bill will seek to remove the veto which allows ministers to overrule the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal. It will also introduce a time limit for responses to public interest FOI requests. The Bill will also try to bring school academies and large private contractors working for public authorities within the scope of the FOI legislation. Commenting David Heath MP said: "This Bill gives MPs a much needed opportunity to prove that we are committed to the principles of Freedom of Information. David Maclean’s grubby little bill a couple of weeks ago marked a shameful day for the Commons and once again, it has been left to the Liberal Democrats to try and restore some public trust in our elected representatives." "Members must show that they will take a firm stand against any attempts to water down existing legislation." Mr. Brake’s Bill comes hot on the heels of Mr. Heath challenging the Government over their attitude to Freedom of Information during Business Questions in the House last week. Mr. Heath was prompted by reports that civil servants at the Treasury had been ordered by the Office of Government Commerce to destroy the ‘gateway reviews’ detailing the cost of the Government’s controversial ID cards scheme and other IT projects. Commenting further David Heath MP said: "It is appalling that the Government think that they can get away with ordering damning reports to be destroyed and they are attempting to do so in defiance of the Information Commissioner and the information tribunal." "I have to concur with one gateway reviewer who called the orders ‘odd and a little sinister.’ Parliament and the public have every right to know the costs and details of misdirected and mismanaged IT schemes." "This Government claims to be in favour of freedom of information but the evidence is piling up to the contrary. What is required is a clarification of precisely whether the Government support their own legislation on the subject. They can start by supporting Tom Brake’s Bill and ensuring that David Maclean’s Bill is defeated in the Lords."
2007-05-18 - Liberal Democrats - Freedom of Information Bill marks shameful day for Commons
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: Commenting on today’s debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill in the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary, Simon Hughes MP said "This was a black day for Parliament." "Firstly, because a bad bill which will damage both Freedom of Information and the reputation of Parliament was passed." "Secondly, because Parliamentary procedure meant that many MPs could not make their voices heard." "And thirdly, because the Government has been able to claim that it was neutral on the Bill while cynically doing everything it could to mobilise support for the former Conservative Chief Whip."
2007-05-18 - David Heath MP Website - Cameron's freedom pledge too little too late, says Heath
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: Mr. Heath is supporting a national petition launched today by the Liberal Democrats against proposals to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information rules. The petition calls on all political parties (and both Gordon Brown and David Cameron) to back the campaign. Mr Heath said: "There should not be one law for MPs and one for everyone else. Exempting politicians from Freedom of Information requests only adds to the public perception of Parliament being opaque and clouded in secrecy."
2007-05-17 - David Heath MP Website - Speaker backs Heath over delay in ID card report
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath this week received an unusually positive response from the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, to a Point of Order he made about the Government’s failure to publish a report on the cost of ID cards on time. The Identity Cards Act 2006 (which received Royal Assent on 30th March 2006) required the Home Office to lay before parliament every six months a report on how much they would cost. The last report was published on 9th October 2007. The eagle-eyed Mr. Heath noticed that the report, which revealed that the cost of the project has risen by £640m since October, should have been published on 9th April. However, the Government waited until May 10th - the date Tony Blair announced his departure – to actually publish it. On Monday, the Speaker deprecated the delay and recommended that the issue was taken up with the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Liaison Committee. David Heath said: "I am extremely grateful for the forthright response from the Speaker. I hope that after his contribution, ministers will appreciate that when they have a statutory duty to report to Parliament, it is not an optional request, it is a requirement." "On the Speaker’s advice, I have written to both the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Liaison Committee about how parliament monitors compliance of the Government’s statutory duties to the House. I very much hope that they heed my calls for a monitoring and reporting mechanism."
2007-05-15 - Liberal Democrats - Speaker's verdict on ID card report delay is welcome
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: The Speaker of the House of Commons has today criticised the Government over its failure to publish a report on the cost of ID cards, following a complaint by Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House, David Heath MP. The report, which revealed that the cost of the project has risen by £640m since October, should have been published on 9th April. However, the Government waited until May 10th - the date Tony Blair announced his departure - before the report was actually published. Today, Speaker Michael Martin deprecated the delay and recommended that the issue was taken up with the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Liaison Committee. Commenting, David Heath said: "I am extremely grateful for the forthright response from the Speaker. I hope that after his contribution, ministers will appreciate that when they have a statutory duty to report to Parliament, it is not an optional request, it is a requirement."
2007-05-10 - David Heath MP Website - Government buries bad news on ID cards, says Heath
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath has accused the Government of breaking the law in an attempt to bury bad news, after waiting until the day of Tony Blair’s resignation to publish a report on ID cards that reveals the cost of the project has gone up by £640m since October. The Government had previously refused to publish the report despite the fact that it was breaking the law by doing so. Section 37 of The Identity Cards Act says that a report on the costs of ID Cards must be put before Parliament every six months. However, the Government has ignored that deadline, which would have seen the report published on 9th April. David Heath said: "It is disgraceful enough that this dishonest Government have attempted to bury this bad news in the media furore surrounding Tony Blair’s announcement but it breaks new ground, even for them, to break the law doing so." "The truth is that this announcement has been illegally postponed and published a full month beyond the statutory deadline. This demonstrates this Government’s reliance on media manipulation to force through this increasingly unpopular and expensive scheme." "The statement may be a myriad of contradictory claims but one thing is clear – the cost of the project, by the Government’s own admission, has gone up by a staggering £640m since October. As the costs spiral out of control, the Government should do the decent thing and shelve this ridiculous idea."
2007-03-13 - David Heath MP Website - Passport centres more than a day's travel by public transport
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath has discovered how difficult it would be for people living in the northern part of his constituency to visit a passport interview centre, something that is now required of all first-time adult applicants for a British passport...
2006-10-20 - David Heath MP Website - Freedom of information requests should be free, says Heath
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: Freedom of information requests should be free, says Heath. David Heath has spoken out in Parliament against Government plans to introduce charges for requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr Heath, who served on the Committee that brought in the original act, said that plans by ministers to charge fees for information provided by government departments would limit the ability of MPs, activists and journalists to uncover issues which the Government want to keep secret. Mr Heath said: "The Freedom of Information Act was a very valuable step forward in creating a more open and transparent society and I am dismayed that ministers now want to ration information in order to protect their own interests." "Most other counties which have Freedom of Information legislation provide information far more readily and without the barriers that are put in place in this country and are none the worse for it. I hope the Government will this again about using costs as a way of preventing people having access to facts."
2006-10-11 - David Heath MP Website - David Heath returns from Bosnia election duties
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath returns to Parliament this week having spent the last weekend of the summer recess in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mr Heath was appointed by the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to lead the international election monitoring mission in Bosnia last week. He led a team of almost 100 MPs from across Europe and over 250 other short-term observers to scrutinise the elections and to ensure they were free and fairly conducted.
2005-10-27 - The Guardian - Yesterday in parliament - Criticism of anti-terrorism measures
Summary: Draconian new laws and ID cards costing billions of pounds would not stop terrorists, David Heath, for the Liberal Democrats, warned. He urged the government instead to provide police with extra resources and manpower and create a proper national border force. But Mr Hoon told Liberal Democrats to "live in the real world" and listen to what police actually wanted.
2005-10-19 - The Guardian - Last minute concessions ease passage of identity cards bill
Summary: Labour rebels last night slashed the government's majority to 25 on the identity cards bill's last reading in the Commons, despite a series of last-minute concessions. ... David Heath, for the Liberal Democrats, criticised the costs of the scheme, argued that it would not work, and warned of the potential for "function creep", questioning how the national register might be used by both the public and private sector.
2004-11-17 - David Heath MP Press Release - Heath Slams Blair Over Id Card Scheme
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, today criticised the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, over the Government’s plans to introduce identity cards. During this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, Mr. Heath asked Mr. Blair whether, in light of the ‘clear and present’ threat from terrorism, the £3 billion which the Government is planning to spend on the introduction of ID cards would not be better spent putting more police on our streets, increasing protection of our transport system and improving our emergency response services. Mr. Heath pointed out to Mr. Blair that both New York and Madrid had identity card systems in place and that these had not prevented terrorist attacks. In response, Mr. Blair offered little, restating that he believed ID cards did have ‘a role’ and it was ‘not unreasonable’ to introduce an identity card system. David Heath said: "I was surprised and disappointed by the Prime Minister’s response. He seemed to have no clear idea why he was proceeding with such an expensive scheme and his answer only strengthens my view that the money would be better used in improving our defences both in terms of policing, interdiction and public protection." "I call on the Government to rethink this policy and look at more effective ways to address this country’s security needs."
2004-11-17 - BBC News - Prime Minister's Questions
Summary: David Heath (Somerset & Frome, Liberal Democrat) asked why the Home Secretary wanted to spend money on an ID card scheme rather than improvements to police services, security and public transport systems.
2003-12-18 - BBC News - Clarity urged over data act
Author: Jon Silverman
Summary: The outcome of the Soham trial has led to calls for the government to clarify urgently how the Data Protection Act should be applied and interpreted by all those agencies responsible for public protection. The Liberal Democrats' Home Affairs spokesman, David Heath, said: "The home secretary should ensure that every police force today receives clear guidance on its responsibilities under the act." "This follows what appears to be an idiosyncratic interpretation of the act by Humberside police." "But an examination of the act itself makes Humberside's policy of deleting information about serious allegations after a month very hard to understand or defend."
2003-11-21 - David Heath MP Press Release - David Heath MP welcomes new broadband targets but warns that many are too high
Author: David Heath MP
Summary: David Heath, Lib Dem MP for Somerton & Frome, has been informed by BT that 20 towns and villages in the around Somerton & Frome have now been set broadband registration targets. This means that a town's telephone exchange will be enabled to carry broadband once a certain number of people register an interest in broadband with BT. The news follows Mr. Heath's meeting with the Chief Executive of BT wholesale in which Mr. Heath pressed the Chief Executive to do more to spread broadband access to more rural and remote parts of Somerset. Mr Heath said: "I am delighted that 20 towns and villages in our area have now had their broadband registration targets. I am worried that many of the registration levels are simply too high. These targets provide something to aim for but need to be made realistic so that they can be achieved in the medium term." "For instance, Wincanton has 428 registrations out of the 500 needed so I hope that it will reach its trigger level quite soon. However, I fear that Bruton and Castle Cary are unlikely to reach their respective trigger levels of 400 and 450 in the near future as they have received barely over a hundred registrations." "I would urge anyone who would like broadband to register their interest in broandband with BT so that towns can reach their trigger levels sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I will continue to lobby the Government and BT to do more to extend broadband access to rural Somerset. It will be hard for BT alone to extend broadband in our area as it is commercially unviable. BT, the government and industry have to work together to make sure that rural areas do not miss out on this important new technology."
2003-05-24 - The Guardian - Labour faces ID cards rebellion
Author: Sarah Hall
Summary: David Blunkett's plan for national identity cards will cause a "substantial" rebellion in the Commons, Labour MPs warned last night. ... the Liberal Democrat's Home Office spokesman, David Heath, said the scheme would make "life far tougher" for the nation.
2000-01-11 - The Guardian - Backlash over Straw veto on release of information
Author: David Hencke
Summary: The home secretary, Jack Straw, waded into a fresh bout of controversy over his much-criticised freedom of information bill yesterday when it emerged he had given himself a new veto to ban the release of any public documents. ... The proposals have angered the Liberal Democrats and Robert Maclennan, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, have tabled an amendment deleting the proposal.