Thursday, January 30, 2014

Update on Theresa's Law and how Liberal Democrat MPs voted

The Commons today voted to accept Theresa May's new clause 18 for the Immigration Bill.  It gives her the power to deprive a British citizen of their citizenship if she:

" satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having
that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory. "

Now you see my problem is that George Osborne fits that bill but I'm not Secretary of State so it doesn't matter what I think.   Should it matter what any one individual, even a minister of the crown, thinks this vague wording means ?  You don't have to be convicted of a crime, just to satisfy the opinion of whoever happens to be Home Secretary at the time.  Removing citizenship is a pretty serious matter, which is why there are a number of international conventions on the subject.  The UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 is where this curious phrase comes from in  Article 8.3 (a) (ii):

"  ...has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State"

The convention allows contracting states to remove citizenship, as long as the state concerned reserved the right to do so when signing the convention.  The UK did.   However, in Article 8.4 the convention goes on to say: 

" A Contracting State shall not exercise a power of deprivation permitted by paragraphs 2 or 3 of this article except in accordance with law, which shall provide for the person concerned the right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body." [My emphasis]

In the Commons debate Theresa May twice said that this right was protected:

"The persons subject to provisions in the new clause will continue to be afforded an independent right of appeal, retaining an avenue of judicial redress. “ Hansard Col 347, 30th January 2014

and further down:

"It is right for the Secretary of State, as someone who is democratically accountable, to take the initial decision, but I confirm that there will be a full right of appeal, so a judicial process will apply"

This was ministerial sleight of hand for Theresa May was only referring to judicial review, which applies to all decisions by ministers.  There are a number of restrictions on judicial review but the main limitation is that courts can only look at how the Secretary of State took the decision, e.g. did she consider all the relevant arguments, did she consider irrelevant ones ?  This is NOT an appeal. The court cannot substitute its decision for hers.  Surely judicial review does NOT satisfy the requirement of Article 8.4 of the convention for "a fair hearing by a court or other independent body."

It was perhaps these misleading assurances by Theresa May which led so many Liberal Democrat MPs to vote for her new clause or was it perhaps the three-line whip.  After three years of voting for things you don't believe in, perhaps it's getting easier for them.

I take Liberty's view that terrorists should be prosecuted in court not dealt with by the arbitrary power of a ministerial ukase.   At the very least such executive power should be subject to appeal to a court.  I therefore honour those seven Liberal Democrat MPs who voted against the clause:

Mike Crockart
Duncan Hames
Julian Huppert
John Leech
Sarah Teather
Mike Thornton
David Ward

OK, your lordships, it's your turn now !   Show us what you're made of.

Teresa May can take away your citizenship !

When I read this morning about the last minute government amendment to remove UK citizenship from terrorists, I immediately thought of the UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness 1961 under which the UK can remove citizenship on grounds that a person "conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State;".  The UK took advantage of a provision in the convention which allows this as long as the state concerned specified it at the time of signing the convention.   However, Article 8.4 of the convention requires a right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body.  The government amendment does not provide for this.  There is a further Labour amendment which does.
People may think, "What the hell ? They're terrorists. Kick 'em out" but we do have a tradition of fair trials in this country.  Teresa May is giving herself the power to remove someone's citizenship and their right to a fair trial because she is satisfied "... that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory."

Can any Liberal agree that a government minister acting alone can decide that an individual is no longer a citizen, without any judicial proceeding whatever ?

School - let's have a little diversity

Just been reading about the problems of yet another national political initiative for schools - this time free school meals for some.  Nick Harvey warned that it would be unfair in the allocation of resources.  Now the Independent reports it wasn't thought through before being announced.

What is it about hands crudely grasping the levers of power before they are wrenched away by the next lot ? Every national government seeks to micro-manage education.  With Blair it was targets that have warped all schools into exam factories and even lesson plans for teachers to download.  Gove like many predecessors seeks to write the detail of history teaching.   I remain an advocate of local education authorities with powers as well as duties and I would have no national curriculum for each generation of politicians to fiddle with.  Let's have a little diversity and evolution in education instead of uniformity and revolution every new government.

While I'm about it, here's Donald Trefussis again on education and parent power !  OK, it's fiction but so is the idea of a politician who can leave well alone.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Much ado about something: getting the Levels right

Much in the news lately the small community of Muchelney in the Somerset Levels.   I heard Chris Smith, chair of the Environment Agency, on the Today Programme this morning (at 2h11m) defending their work to help flooded Somerset.   I thought he made a good case.   The Levels flood every winter, as did the lane where I lived not far away in Ilford, Ilminster, but these floods are the worse for 90 years.  There has also been much news of villagers helping each other and some help from outside.

Two features of modern life underlie this story.  The first is about the lie at the heart of democratic politics.  For decades politicians have pretended that voters can have a high level of public services AND low taxes.  No you can't. Choose.  Tory MP Ian Liddell Grainger, who has demanded more spending by the Environment Agency, is hardly a well-known advocate of greater public spending usually.  Perhaps he'll now support calls for higher taxes !  The second is about the global threat of climate change, which only Christopher Monckton and Nigel Lawson still seem to doubt.  Again few politicians are willing to commit the funds necessary to face the challenge, to mitigate it and to adapt to it.  Few voters are prepared to pay the price. The Danish economist Lomburg says it isn't worth paying.  I follow Nicholas Stern who explains that the price of not acting will be higher.

History also tells us something in the very names at the heart of the story. Muchelney is Saxon for big island and dates back to the times when this part of the world was flooded annually to the coast. Romans exported from Langport down the road.  The very name Somerset means the summer meadow where you could graze your animals when the winter floods dried up but in the winter you retreated to the hills.

It's not only the level of water we need to get right but how much we want to spend to protect our world.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Climate Change: Avaaz, you're not helping !

A friend has asked me to sign an Avaaz petition supposed to influence decisions of the European Commission about action to fight climate change. Here was my response:

I have signed Avaaz petitions before but will not sign this one because of the misleading information they supply.  They seem to assume that all politicians are corrupt and in the pockets of lobbyists and the industries they represent.   As you know, I was a lobbyist in Brussels for an environmental NGO and can assure you that this caricature is wrong.   There are many hard-working and honest people in the European institutions.   In addition, Avaaz either does not understand EU decision-making or chooses to misrepresent it.   The decisions they describe are in the hands of the European Parliament elected by you and me and the Council of Ministers representing national governments.   The European Commission can only make proposals.  By so describing what happens in Brussels, Avaaz are feeding the widespread deception about the EU which is responsible for public attitudes in Britain today.   They completely fail to point out the role the EU has played in pushing member-states to act on climate change and its crucial role in global negotiations in the UNFCCC.   They are thus playing UKIP's and the Tory Eurosceptics' game, which may well lead to the UK leaving the EU.   How the hell do they expect to get international co-operation to fight climate change if they undermine the one supranational, democratic body trying to tackle it ?

Misinformation from the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail I am used to but I expect better from environmental campaigners.   

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Due process and sexual allegations

Horace Rumpole, Mortimer's fictional Old Bailey hack got in trouble with his son's girlfriend for suggesting that allegations of rape had to be tested rather than simply accepted as true.  It seems to me that many Liberal Democrats, from Nick Clegg downwards,  have been guilty of the same lack of scrupulous attention to due process in the case of allegations against Chris Rennard.   I suppose it's the fact that the allegations came from more than one woman that made them credible, but what our personal prejudices lead us to believe is irrelevant.  Like most of us, I have no way of knowing whether the allegations are true or false.  I heard Linda Jack on Radio 4 arguing that the party's internal enquiry by Alistair Webster QC had not given the complainants a fair opportunity to make their case.  Loathe as I am to quote from the Daily Mail , Alec Carlisle's account shows that Chris Rennard was not given a fair opportunity to answer the allegations.   Just because an allegation concerns sexual behaviour there is no justification for abandoning our usual standards of justice.

Nick Clegg's office has been remarkably inept too in handling the issue.  Back in the midst of the Eastleigh bye-election Nick responded quickly setting up two inquiries, but then his office kept the story going by issuing new statements almost daily.  Now he has stepped in again after Webster's report.   Someone needs to remind him of the old adage "When you're in a hole, stop digging !".