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FactCheck: the most spied-on country in the world?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 06 February 2008

Surveillance, policy reviews and employment were batted across the Commons floor at today's PMQs.

Quotes from Prime Minister's Questions, 6 February 2007.

The claim
"The PM has established 52 reviews - that is one every four days."
David Cameron

The analysis

The Tory leader kicks off his questions with an attack on Brown's indecision - he accuses the great clunking fist of organising policy reviews rather than making indecision. The Labour leader, Cameron claims, has launched 52 reviews since taking office - but people want decision.

So what are these 52 reviews? Cameron reels off a few topics: behaviour partnerships, physics and sunbeds. - an incongruous trio that makes the Government sound micro-managing. Brown hits back by saying the public want reviews of eco-towns, super casinos, cannabis laws - the implication is that the Government is both flexible, and listening.

So how do the Tories compare? They're hardly review-shy: one of Cameron's first acts after being elected leader in December 2005, was to announce six major policy reviews on areas including business and the environment. This meant the first year and a bit of Cameron's Conservatives were characterised by reviews, rather than policy statements.

The habit's not broken: Other Tory review bodies include the Arculus Review, which is looking at regulation; a Home-Buying Review, a Tourism Task Force, the Richard Review of Small Business, a Cities Taskforce and a Democracy Taskforce. These panels involve grandees ranging from Tory big beasts Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine to, er, the TV presenter Kirtsy Allsopp.

And what's this on the Conservatives news page? Yesterday, the shadow chancellor George Osborne launched a report, "Making Britain the enterprise capital of the world". The day before, Cameron launched "More Ball Games", the second report from David Willetts' Childhood Review, which was set up after UNICEF found the UK the worst place to be a child out of 21 developed countries and - do try to keep up - the shadow health secretary announced "plans to look at ways of improving post-natal care". That's three out of just ten recent news stories, focusing on reviews and reports.

This doesn't mean that reviews are good or bad per se, but although the Conservatives play a different role in opposition, the party of government is not alone in trying to get to grips with the issues of the day.

The sources

Conservatives news

The claim
"We are the party that has created three million jobs."
Gordon Brown

The analysis

The PM trots this stat out a couple of times today - it neatly reverse-echoes the "three million unemployed" ghosts of the early Thatcher years.

And there are now more jobs than ever before - although figures out last month showed the employment rate, arguably the more useful measure of how employment affects the population as a whole - has risen by a less-dramatic 0.1 per cent over the year.

The sources
ONS, employment statistics nugget, 16 January 2008

The claim
"It is this Government that has turned the British public into the most spied-upon on the planet."
Nick Clegg

The analysis

With the weekend's news that a Labour MP was bugged while visiting a constituent still ringing round the Commons, Clegg bowls his questions from classic Lib Dem civil liberties turf - but is he on solid ground?

London-based human rights watchdog Privacy International compiles an annual ranking of privacy and surveillance around the world. The most recent report - out last year - looked at factors such as data-sharing, ID cards and CCTV in 47 countries including EU member states and control countries from across the world. Not a comprehensive study of the entire planet, but a pretty good indicator.

According to this ranking, the UK's surveillance wasn't quite the heaviest in the world - China, Malaysia and Russia scraped a fraction lower. Hardly the kind of hardy defence you'd want to shout about. The UK was ranked worst in the EU, and fell below other comparable industrialised countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada. In Scotland, things were judged to better, partly because, unlike in England and Wales, innocent people's records are not stored on the DNA database.

The sources

Leading surveillance societies in the EU and the World 2007 - Privacy International

The claim
"As a result of the victory we had in 1997 and subsequently, there are more women in the house of Commons than ever before."
Gordon Brown

On the 90th anniversary of the suffragette movement, the gender balance of parliament is raised. As the PM says, we do have the highest number of women MPs ever - or at least, we did right after the 2005 election, when 128 women took their seats on the benches. Following two by-elections, it's now dropped slightly to 126.

This mean 20 per cent of MPs are now women (the proportion's lower in the Lords), which puts the UK 15th out of 27 EU countries. As Brown acknowledges, there is more to be done: more representative of the population as a whole are the Welsh Assembly (47 per cent female) and the Scottish parliament (33 per cent female).

The sources

Women in Parliament and Government, House of Commons library

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