Conservative Diary

Civil liberties

30 May 2012 08:28:24

Ken Clarke bids to end unjustified compensation payouts for terrorist suspects

By Matthew Barrett
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Clarke ken_small.ashxYesterday, Ken Clarke announced the watering down of some elements of the proposed Justice and Security Bill, which has caused some controversy due to the parts of the Bill which would allow courts to hear cases in secret. Gone is the ability for the Government to hold sensitive inquests, such as those concerning troops killed overseas, in secret. 

However, certain controversial elements remain. Citizenship cases (for example, a suspected terrorist applying for a British passport) will be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which can conduct cases in secret. Civil courts will also be allowed to go into private sessions when hearing intelligence material, if a request is made by a Minister. Some of these measures have been tightened up. Approval for a closed hearing would have to come from a judge, and can only be granted on the grounds of national security. The Intelligence and Security Committee will also be able to hold MI5 and MI6 to account, with only Ministers being able to refuse to hand over information.

A common sense change many people would think right to introduce is that now Ministers are exempt from demands for secret intelligence material from foreign courts.

Continue reading "Ken Clarke bids to end unjustified compensation payouts for terrorist suspects" »

12 Apr 2012 19:42:48

Should Boris Johnson have banned "ex-gay" bus adverts?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier today we learnt that a Christian group had decided to purchase adverts on the sides of London buses that promoted therapies that help gay people to become "ex-gays". The ads were a direct response to adverts that have featured prominently in previous months from Stonewall - a charity that promotes homosexual equality. See the two ads below (images taken from Archbishop Cranmer's blog):


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5 Apr 2012 11:44:56

The police and security services must have the tools to protect us

By Tim Montgomerie
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CCTV 3 copy
In the last 24 hours a couple of commentators have bravely defended the Government's plan to ensure crime and terrorist-fighting arms of the state have access to digital communications records. Matt d'Ancona wrote that "the objective of this reform is not to deprive us of our privacy, or make real the telescreen of Nineteen Eighty-Four but to ensure that those who protect us are not technologically outpaced by those who would destroy us." Earlier today Dan Hodges argued that "the most prominent modern miscarriages of justice... have resulted not from the state accumulating too much intelligence on its citizens, but too little."

Continue reading "The police and security services must have the tools to protect us" »

3 Apr 2012 08:28:44

Theresa May insists that internet surveillance is vital to defeat "paedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots"

By Tim Montgomerie
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The one policy area that appeared to most unite the Liberal Democrats and modernised Conservative Party was the issue of civil liberties. The weekend's news that the Government plans to announce new legislation in the Queen's Speech that will require internet and phone companies to record who their customers have emailed, texted and called (etc) has raised big doubts as to whether that unity can be maintained.

DAVIS FORMALDavid Davis led the charge against the new law at the weekend. Conservative MP Dominic Raab tells today's Sun newspaper that the law could mean "mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale". "Far from making us safer," he warned, "these plans for Big Brother surveillance would expose us to massive fraud." Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that the powers that the Coalition creates "may in future be used by less benevolent administrations.”

Liberal Democrat MPs are equally anxious. Clegg's party president Tim Farron tweeted: "We didn’t scrap ID cards to back creeping surveillance by other means". On LibDemVoice Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, wrote:

"The Home Office wants to have access to information about not just who we text but who we tweet, who we skype to as well as who we ring. Now, this may seem to be no more objectionable than the current position but, technically, it is a complete mess. Your Internet Service Provider doesn’t have a clue who you facebook, and doesn’t want to either. No expert I’ve ever spoken to can see how this could possibly be done without great expense and without allowing access to the actual message that was sent – which is not legal without a warrant from the Home Secretary."

Continue reading "Theresa May insists that internet surveillance is vital to defeat "paedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots"" »

25 Jan 2012 18:38:50

David Cameron tells the European Court of Human Rights to return to its founding principles

By Matthew Barrett
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CAMERON-PENSIVEDavid Cameron's speech to the Council of Europe today sought to make the case for reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR, Mr Cameron said, has become too active in meddling with the affairs of national governments - behaviour which is now undermining not just the ECHR, but the cause of "human rights" in general. 

Mr Cameron first put "human rights" in the context of British (and English) liberty:

"Human rights is a cause that runs deep in the British heart and long in British history. In the thirteenth century, the Magna Carta set down specific rights for citizens, including the right to freedom from unlawful detention. In the seventeenth century, the Petition of Right gave new authority to Parliament; and the Bill of Rights set limits on the power of the monarchy. ... It was that same spirit... that drove the battle against tyranny in two World Wars and that inspired Winston Churchill to promise that the end of the "world struggle" would see the "enthronement of human rights"."

Mr Cameron also noted that modern British foreign policy (Libya, Iran sanctions, engagement in the UN, empowering women in Afghanistan, etc) has shown "if called to defend [a belief in human rights] with action, we act."

Continue reading "David Cameron tells the European Court of Human Rights to return to its founding principles" »

5 Aug 2011 14:00:40

Tory members divided on death penalty, challenging hang 'em and flog 'em caricature

By Matthew Barrett
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NooseIn our monthly survey of grassroots opinion, we asked the question:

"In what circumstances would you support capital punishment? Please tick as many as apply."

The results were, in order of popularity:

  • For a serial killer - 46.4%
  • For a terrorist killer - 45.4%
  • In no circumstances - 39.5%
  • For the murder of a policeman - 35.6%
  • For the murder of a child - 35.5%
  • For any murder - 21.4%

Continue reading "Tory members divided on death penalty, challenging hang 'em and flog 'em caricature" »

2 Jul 2011 08:58:40

Tory members vote for the most impressive and most disappointing Coalition policies

By Tim Montgomerie
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More than 1,500 Tory members were asked to rate Coalition policies as impressive or disappointing. the numbers below capture the result of those voting impressive minus those voting disappointed:

  1. Making work pay for the unemployed: 81.8% - 5.8% = 76.0%
  2. Abolition of ID cards: 81.9% - 9.0% = 72.9%
  3. Elimination of the deficit by the end of the parliament: 77.4% - 9.1% = 68.3%
  4. Freeze in council tax: 74.8% - 7.4% = 67.4%
  5. More school academies and free schools: 73.0% - 9.1% = 63.9%
  6. Lower corporation tax: 71.0% - 9.2% = 61.8%
  7. Higher income tax thresholds: 68.2% - 12.8% = 55.4%
  8. Higher basic state pension for all: 64.7% - 11% = 53.7%
  9. All overseas aid to be transparent: 61.3% - 16% = 45.3%
  10. More freedoms for local councils: 58.5% - 13.8% = 44.7%
  11. Reducing immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands: 62.2% - 23.4% = 38.8%
  12. Cancer drugs fund: 50.1% - 13.9% = 36.2%
  13. Encouragement of charitable giving: 44.0% - 22.2% = 21.8%
  14. Reform of tuition fees: 41.3% - 26.6% = 14.7%
  15. Four million extra third world children to be vaccinated: 40.8% - 30.7% = 10.1%
  16. NHS reforms: 38.5% - 31.2% = 7.3%
  17. Elected police chiefs: 38.9% - 34.5% = 4.4%
  18. Protecting NHS funding: 36.3% - 34.3% = 2.3%
  19. High speed rail: 29.8% - 45.6% = -15.8%
  20. Operations in Libya: 27.5% - 46.6% = -19.1%
  21. The Green Deal to encourage energy conservation: 15.4% - 57.3% = -41.9%
  22. Green investment Bank: 12.5% - 61.2% = -48.7%
  23. Increasing the overseas aid budget: 15.0% - 70.7% = -55.7%

Continue reading "Tory members vote for the most impressive and most disappointing Coalition policies" »

24 May 2011 06:13:22

John Hemming did Britain a service yesterday

By Paul Goodman
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Can John Hemming put his hand on his heart, and swear truthfully that his main motive in naming Ryan Giggs yesterday wasn't publicity-hunting?  Whether so or not, it's highly debatable whether or not Giggs's private life is a matter of legitimate public interest.  Nor is it clear that those who've broke the law in tweeting his name are beyond its reach.  But far more is at stake in this affair than Hemmings's motives - for, whatever they were, he did the public a service yesterday.  By naming Giggs, in much the same way as Lord Stoneham last week named Fred Goodwin, he raised, however unwittingly, a fundamental constitutional question: who should make the law - MPs, who we elect, or judges, who we don't?

Dominic Grieve confirmed yesterday that a joint committee of both houses of Parliament is to examine how the balance between free expression and personal privacy "can be improved".  With all due respect to the committee, it is hard to see what point there is in it sitting while the Human Rights Act remains on the statute book.  For the Goodwin and Giggs superinjunctions are a product of a new view in the courts, and one which ultimately derives from that act - namely, that there should be a bias towards privacy: some would argue that we now have in effect a de facto privacy act which Parliament has never debated.

Continue reading "John Hemming did Britain a service yesterday" »

29 Mar 2011 13:25:34

Is Theresa May in danger of following the Labour edict that you react to problematic events by creating a new law?

By Jonathan Isaby

Theresa May Home Secretary There is much coverage in the media this morning (here for example) on the back of Theresa May's statement in the Commons yesterday afternoon about Saturday's protests, suggesting that the Home Secretary is considering giving the police more powers to stop protesters wearing masks or balaclavas.

This has left me slightly unnerved: I watched the Labour Government in operation for more than a decade and observed how the statists' reaction to virtually any event or problem was to pass a new law, create a new regulation or give the state more power in some way shape or form as a way of saying "We, the Government, are doing something about X".

On the issue of face masks, I need only direct readers to the words of Lord Wallace of Saltaire, speaking in the Lords on behalf of this Government barely three months ago, in December, when he said in response to a demand for more public order legislation prohibiting the wearing of masks or disguises at such protests:

"The police already have powers under Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to require the removal of face coverings worn for the purpose of concealing identity. The police also have powers to seize such items."

Given what he wrote last night, I suspect Tim will disagree with me, but on behalf of civil libertarians in the party, I would make a plea to Theresa May not to go down the road of reacting to events like this by introducing new legislation on the hoof.

After all the laws passed in recent years, I'm pretty sure the police have ample powers - it's a question of ensuring that they use them effectively.

8 Mar 2011 16:41:39

Christian freedom and gay rights

Tim Montgomerie

Last week two Christian foster parents, Owen and Eunice Johns (beautifully profiled here), who had successfully fostered 15 children previously, were told that they could no longer care for children because they held orthodox views on homosexuality - ie they believed what hundreds of millions of Christians have believed, throughout the ages, that gay relationships are wrong. It was a massive verdict and I'm grateful to historian David Starkey for objecting, as a gay man and atheist, on last Thursday's Question Time:

It was with regret that, yesterday, when visiting Derby, the Prime Minister appeared to endorse the court's verdict. My own views about homosexuality have changed over the years. I was brought up in a church that taught it was wrong. I no longer believe that. But I know that the many Christians who oppose homosexuality are rarely hateful. Their beliefs are sincere. I don't know Mr and Mrs Johns but I should imagine that they provided a temporary, loving home for the vulnerable children that needed foster parenting and passed through their care.

Britain now has new rulers in the form of Equality and Diversity Laws. Those laws, as interpreted in the Johns case, are not in children's best interests. We need a settlement that will allow gay rights and orthodox Christianity to co-exist. We haven't got it yet. Instead, in the words of David Starkey, we have a new moral tryanny, as oppressive as the old.

Thursday morning: Read the full judgment.