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Queen's Speech 2012: 'Snooping' Plans Attacked By Civil RIghts Groups

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Controversial "snooping" proposals and plans for more court hearings in secret will go ahead "allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us", campaigners said today.

Politicians of all parties should remember the values everyone is supposed to share before pushing through the reforms, civil rights group Liberty said.

Plans to enable courts to sit behind closed doors when considering issues of national security and powers to monitor emails and internet communications will all be part of the Government's programme of reforms in the next 12 months.

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty's director, said: "Two years ago, the coalition bound itself together with promises and action to protect our rights and freedoms.

"As the strains of governing in a recession begin to show, politicians of all parties should remember the values that we are all supposed to share.

"Whilst action on free speech is extremely welcome, proposals for secret courts and a snoopers' charter risk allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us."

Under the draft Communications Data Bill, authorities would not be able to view the content of email and text messages, but could identify who someone was contacting, how often and for how long, and could also access internet browsing history.

The Government has said the plans are needed to tackle crime and terrorism and to ensure the police and security services can keep pace with developments in technology.

But they have already exposed tensions within the coalition over its stance on civil liberties.

The communications data will be kept for up to 12 months by service providers and the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner will also be extended to oversee the collection of the data.

The Justice and Security Bill will also reform the way sensitive evidence from the security services is handled in national security cases.

Under the moves, a defendant or claimant and their lawyer would be barred from the closed part of the hearing, removing the adversarial nature of the justice system and leading to fears that evidence may not be tested properly and miscarriages of justice could take place.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said the powers were needed to ensure other countries, particularly the United States, were happy to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts.

It is also designed to ensure courts can fully consider all the evidence in civil claims made against the Government to prevent it being forced to settle cases which it believes has no merit.

It follows secret multi-million pound payouts to 16 terrorism suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, last November after they claimed they had been mistreated by security and intelligence officials.

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Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret.

"Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy?

"If someone is suspected of plotting an attack the powers already exist to tap their phone, read their email and follow them on the street.

"Instead of scaremongering, the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.

"We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.

"Communications data has played a role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation over the past decade and in 95% of all serious organised crime investigations.

"It is vital to law enforcement, especially when dealing with organised crime gangs, paedophile rings and terrorist groups."

The Queen said the plans would be brought forward, "subject to scrutiny of draft clauses".

It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made clear the proposals could only proceed if they took into account and protected civil liberties.

Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, warned the introduction of closed courts "will put the Government above the law".

"The proposals for secret justice would massively skew courts in favour of ministers, and prevent the public from finding out the truth about serious wrongdoing," she said.

"The reality is that these plans are designed to spare the intelligence agencies embarrassment. They are a recipe for unfair and unaccountable Government."

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Conservative MP George Eustice has told the BBC that the problem with Labour was its "hyper-active legislation"

"They spent ages bringing in bills that were badly thought through sand then they needed to use sessions to undo what they’d done and reverse the mistakes they’d made," he said.

“I think this government had a full session, a very long session – two years – some very big pieces of legislation went though, and I actually think it’s right that you don’t just jam the programme with endless legislation for the sake of it.”

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The government has been accused of quietly rowing back on political reform by omitting plans to introduce the power to recall MPs mid-term from the Queen's Speech.

Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith questioned why a Bill was not mentioned in the list of legislation announced on Wednesday morning.

"So where was the promised Recall Bill in the Queen's speech? How can Government expect to 'rebuild trust' if it so casually drops key promises?" he said.

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@ ChrisMasonBBC : David Cameron dismisses lack of bill on lobbying in the Queen's Speech, saying there will be another Queen's Speech next year.

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The Prime Minister has mounted a robust defence of his government in the House Of Commons.

He said:

"This is a government that confronts the long-term challenges that we face, and that is what our country needs. A government that rolls up its sleeves to deal with the deficit, not an Opposition that thinks you can borrow your way out of debt."

"A Coalition government that is determined to unleash the private sector, spread growth around our country, sort out our financial services. Not a Labour one that bloated the public sector, sat back while an unregulated banking sector brought our country to its knees."

"A government that is backing hard-working people, not an Opposition that says it’s on their side but refuses to make work pay, refuses to cap welfare and wants to heave debts onto our children."

"This is a government that is taking the tough decisions to help families who work hard and do the right thing. Acting for the long term, governing in the national interest, this is a Queen’s speech to rebuild Britain, and I commend it to the House."

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@ GrahamJones_MP : Cameron dying on his feet talking about the Queens Speech. Uninspiring. Punch drunk from the omnishambles.

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After seeming to fall asleep during a Budget statement by George Osborne, is Ken Clarke in danger of doing the same as Cameron speaks?

@ EmilyThornberry : Cameron rambles on and his backbenchers look bored and switch off. The Lord Chancellor has dropped off.

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@ GwynneMP : The PM's response to the Queen's speech debate is waffle. Ed M is obviously still buzzing from the elections. He was at his very best today!

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@ ChiOnwurah : @Ed_Miliband really nailed the emptiness of a Queen's Speech which doesn't mention jobs & does nothing to create them

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"It is about a government taking the tough long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing the economy and rewarding people who do the right thing."

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Speaking in Parliament, the Prime Minister has defended proposals that have caused controversy for their apparent invasiveness.

“What we are trying to do here is not look at the content of people’s telephone calls, but just to update the measures for finding out who called who and when

“I say to people, of course let’s look at the detail, but I don’t want to be the Prime Minister standing at this despatch box saying ‘we could have done more on terrorism’.”

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@ IanDunt : Miliband wants Nadine Dorries on the government's remuneration committee http://t.co/y9vH2Nro #QueensSpeech

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@ NadineDorriesMP : Office staff turned up volume for tradit aside by Dennis Skinner. He was as loud with his own Gov! We have G8 personalities on both sides

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The Chairman of Parliament's International Development Committee has expressed disappointment at the failure to pass into law a 0.7% GDP commitment on international aid.

Speaking in Parliament, Malcolm Bruce added "However, I recognise that legislation is not required to meet that commitment".

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@ SallyBercow : @claire4devizes what is a disgrace is that tweet. Horrible thing to say about anyone. And why have Tories got it in 4 old people?

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@ adrianmasters84 : Response from Shadow Welsh Sec @PeterHain to Queen's speech: 'no change, no hope - that's the message of this queens speech'

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Business Secretary Vince Cable has told the BBC that reform of the House of Lords should not distract Parliament from the "bread and butter issue" of the economy.

“The underlying narrative is of getting past this enormous economic crisis we’ve had, the collapse of the banking system and getting back to growth and job creation. It’s going to be very, very difficult. But the legislation we’re bringing in will underpin that.

“It should not take time because all the major parties agree in principle…a bit of common sense and it should go through very quickly, without a great deal of fuss.

“I want us to spend time on the bread and butter issues. Supporting business, supporting growth, that’s where the emphasis has got to be…

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@ meaglemp : Queen's Speech shows Govt has run out of ideas - after just two years. Nothing to restore fairness. Nothing to solve economic crisis. #tired

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For those of you who missed it, here is the video of Queen Elizabeth II's speech to MPs and Lords

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Gary Smith, the GMB's National Secretary for Commercial Services, says the Government’s plan to introduce more competition in the water industry is "completely the wrong approach and out of step with what the vast majority of the public want."

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Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has attacked the coalition for failing to do enough on Lords reform in the Queen's Speech.

“There is no mention here of a referendum. The Government must make

clear it is ready to trust the people.

“The 15 words in the Queen’s Speech dedicated to reform of the House

of Lords leaves big questions unanswered.

“It’s not clear if Lords reform remains a priority for the Government. It's not clear how they plan to reform the composition of the House of

Lords.

“After almost two years, this demonstrates the incompetence of this Tory-led Government. Lords reform was heavily trailed as the centre piece of the Queen’s Speech but they still don’t have a clue about

what they intend to do about it.”

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@ ZacGoldsmith : So where was the promised Recall Bill in the Queen's speech? How can Govt expect to 'rebuild trust' if it so casually drops key promises?

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@ claire4devizes : Dennis Skinner is a total disgrace. Charmless, friendless and clueless. We weren't laughing, we were suggesting he, err, move on.

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Talking to Sky News, Baroness Warsi notably avoided mentioning election as a way of reforming the House of Lords.

"Let's see what the Bill looks like," she said

“If you speak to members of the House of Lords and I do so almost every day, the kind of things that will come up is they think that the House of Lords is too big, members will accept that it needs to be smaller. Members accept that maybe there needs to be some discussion around retirement ages.

“I look forward to seeing what the Bill looks like but what I am convinced about is that there are issues which can be looked at in terms of Lords reform like the size of it, like age, like the expulsion of members who serve a prison sentence for example.”

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The shadow Justice Secretary says:

“There is no mention here of a referendum. The Government must make clear it is ready to trust the people.

“The 15 words in the Queen’s Speech dedicated to reform of the House of Lords leaves big questions unanswered.

“It’s not clear if Lords reform remains a priority for the Government. It's not clear how they plan to reform the composition of the House of Lords.

“After almost two years, this demonstrates the incompetence of this Tory-led Government. Lords reform was heavily trailed as the centre piece of the Queen’s Speech but they still don’t have a clue about what they intend to do about it.”

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Speaking to the BBC, Labour MP Stephen Twigg attacked the Government for failing to address the real concerns of the country in the Queen's Speech.

“There’s very little in it. There’s very little that meets the real concerns of the public as expressed last Friday. We don’t know the detail really. We know the headlines, but we haven’t got anything that addresses the jobs crisis.

"We haven’t got anything that seriously addresses living standards. If I was a mum or dad at home watching this, just had my tax credits cut, there’s not a lot in it for me. If I was one of the young people unemployed for over a year, there’s not a lot in there for me.

“The reality is that we’re in a double-dip recession where the economy isn’t growing and we have over one million young people unemployed. I’m not convinced that anything that’s in there is actually going to address that crisis.”

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Petra Wilton, of the Chartered Management Institute, has said that the agenda announced in the Queen's Speech will transform management and bring lasting change, if correctly implemented.

"These welcome measures should provide greater freedom for managers and leaders to create working environments that can fully engage employees and help drive UK economic growth" she added

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Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, has described the coalition's legislative programme as "riddled with attacks on working people."

He said:

“Despite the rhetoric, this is not a good parliamentary programme for children and families.

“The programme is riddled with attacks on working people who have children and families.

“Making it easier to sack people creates further massive insecurity for millions of ordinary working families and does nothing to create jobs or secure economic recovery.

“This parliamentary programme is the vehicle for bringing an end to the right of ordinary working people to a decent occupational pension.

“This programme is a continuation of the Tory ideological reform agenda for which grass roots Liberal Democrats are paying an increasingly high price.”

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Simon Walker, from the Institute for Directors, says the government needs to back up its words in the Queen's Speech.

"“The Government is right to place deficit reduction and economic stability at the forefront of their programme. However, we need to see them pursued enthusiastically in practice, not just in principle. To restore business confidence, which is the real key to growth, there must be drastic measures to cut costly regulation and continue to tackle the deficit. Tweaking the edges of the system will not be enough – it’s not the number of Bills that matters, it’s what is in them that really counts.”"

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