Feature: How the government got into your living room
They did it very quietly. There was no press release, no announcement, no television interview with the relevant minister. But last week, without many people noticing, the Home Office revealed how many laws allow the state to enter your home.
How many you ask? Well, quite a few actually. One thousand and forty three, to be precise.
Do you like pot plants? Watch yourself. Under the plant health order of 2005, government inspectors can forcibly enter your home to see if your pot plants have a ‘plant passport’, whatever that is.
And that’s one of the more reasonable ones. The government can also inspect your property to ensure illegal or unregulated hypnotism is not taking place. Try explaining that one to your kids.
Other choice highlights include: inspecting for the presence of rabbits, checking for performing animals – such as dancing bears – being trained or exhibited without a permit, the seizure of fridges which don’t have the correct energy rating and, rather more seriously, controversial new powers for state-sponsored bailiffs to enter your home and seize goods, including using reasonable force.
It’s all a far cry from the assurances Gordon Brown gave us last October when he pledged to introduce a ‘liberty test’ to curtail these laws. There would be new guidance on the use of the powers and on the rights of members of the public who end up on the receiving end of a knock at the door.
That’s the thing about politician’s promises – they don’t always come true. Legislation, however, has a different success rate. As it stands there are 16 new laws before parliament bringing in new or extended powers. Labour is responsible for 430 of the 1,043 laws.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and the threat of a government inspector banging your door down because your hedge is too high (of course they can – Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003) brings people together like nothing else. Conservatives and pressure groups like No2ID – who the Tories refuse to team up with to fight proposals for ID cards – make similar noises when it comes to this particular issue.
“Day by day under Labour, the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens are being eroded, through plans for ID cards, microchip spies in bins and 42 days detention,” says shadow communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles.
“It is clear that Gordon Brown is now backing away from his pledge to tackle the government’s spiralling powers of entry, with a barrage of Labour laws before parliament entrenching and extending the Orwellian surveillance state.”
Shadow secretaries of state have a particular way of speaking. Phil Booth, national coordinator of No2ID, puts it a little more angrily.
“What is going on here?” he asked politics.co.uk.
“What place does the government think it has to come into my home, to disturb my family, to distress my children – and for what reason?
“Powers which were presented to parliament as necessary for serious crime and terrorism are being deployed by councils and officials. The government is saying ‘We’ll poke into any bit of your life that we see fit’.
“This shows the government does not respect private life.”
What does one do about these intrusions? You could quit your job and trigger a by-election, of course, but most of us don’t have that avenue open to us. For now, many people will chose to get stuck into pressure groups like No2ID or hope the Tories will change some of these laws if (when) they get into power.
Mr Pickles has made statements to that effect. Try this one: “Conservatives will cut back these unnecessary powers of the state to enter homes, starting off with abolishing council tax inspectors’ rights of entry and reigning back in over-zealous town hall bin police.”
Sounds like a promise doesn’t it? Write it down somewhere and keep it safe, because there’s a thing about politicians’ promises – they don’t always come true.