Letters: The state must not have power to snoop at will

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Liberal Democrats have a proud history of defending civil liberties, both in opposition and more recently in a Coalition Government. We successfully opposed the Labour government's undermining of data privacy in 2009 and since taking office in 2010 we have turned back the tide of Labour's erosion of these liberties. So far we have destroyed the ID cards database, halted the indefinite retention of innocent peoples' DNA, turned off the ContactPoint database, stopped the mass fingerprinting of children without permission from their parents and ended child detention for immigration purposes.

Just a few months ago at our spring conference in Gateshead, we reaffirmed our commitment to "undo the damage done by Labour's assault on basic freedoms". We called for stronger safeguards on existing surveillance measures to guarantee that the balance of power is firmly in favour of ordinary citizens. We asserted the Liberal Democrats' longstanding tradition of protecting human rights, and agreed that it is "our duty to safeguard basic freedoms against the encroachment of state power". Liberal Democrats all over the country have sought to reverse the substantial erosion of individual freedoms, as the Government committed to do in the Coalition agreement in 2010.

Following worrying reports of possible government proposals to collect real-time information on people's activity online, including from social media sites, we are pleased to hear the Deputy Prime Minister making clear his commitment to civil liberties and protecting privacy, and confirming that the Government will publish draft legislation with sufficient time for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. It is absolutely vital that the public get a chance to see and debate the details of any proposals to extend state surveillance, not just being presented with a Home Office fait accompli. It is also essential that the initial plans include adequate safeguards – which should be stronger than the current weak controls.

Liberal Democrats in Government will not follow the last Labour government by sounding the retreat on the protection of civil liberties in the United Kingdom. It continues to be essential that our civil liberties are safeguarded, and that the state is not given the powers to snoop on its citizens at will.

Julian Huppert MP

Annette Brooke MP

Malcolm Bruce MP

Mike Crockart MP

Andrew George MP

Stephen Gilbert MP

Mike Hancock MP

John Hemming MP

John Leech MP

Greg Mulholland MP

John Pugh MP

Alan Reid MP

Adrian Sanders MP

Ian Swales MP

David Ward MP

Mark Williams MP

Roger Williams MP

House of Commons

I have voted Lib Dem for a number of years primarily because of their strong support for civil liberties, in opposition to the illiberal tendencies of the last government. I wasn't much fussed about tuition fees or proportional representation, but it seems to me that Mr Clegg is intent on alienating every voter who ever had any reason to vote Lib Dem. He needs to think again if the party is to have any chance of winning anything at the next election.

Christopher Anton

Birmingham

In response to the Government's plan to monitor all electronic communications between citizens, Shaun Walton asks what has happened to the Conservatives' election pledge to reverse Labour's erosion of civil liberties (letters, 3 April).

Probably the same as has happened to the party's pledges to avoid further major reorganisations of the NHS, protect front-line jobs by getting rid of middle-management when seeking fiscal savings, stop micro-managing public-sector professionals, reform the banks, tackle poverty and clean up politics!

Pete Dorey

Bath

Imagine a country where every time someone visited your home the secret police recorded who they where and how long they stayed.

Imagine a country where every time you left your home you where followed and where you went was recorded, along with how long you stayed and everyone you met.

Imagine a country where the government who passed the laws enabling this said that there was nothing to worry about as the secret policemen would not record any of the conversations you had with any of the people you met.

Imagine Britain for every internet user after the Government's snooping law is passed.

John Imrie

Sutton, Surrey

I'm surprised that people are suddenly protesting about the idea of governments snooping on emails and internet usage.

The security services have been doing this for decades under Project Echelon. In 2000, a European Parliament committee recommended that EU citizens should routinely encrypt emails to protect their privacy. Information on Echelon can be found on Wikipedia. We have never really had any online privacy.

Colin English

Horley, Surrey

Racism and the police

The Metropolitan Police face a new racism claim after a suspect recorded police allegedly abusing him on his mobile phone (report, 31 March). The officer is said to have called the 21-year-old black man a "scumbag" and told him: "The problem with you is you will always be a nigger." He has been suspended pending the results of an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Would the apparent existence of such attitudes within some sections of the police help to explain the disproportionate stopping and searching of black and minority ethnic people? This particularly applies to London. While the London area served by the Metropolitan Police accounts for 14 per cent of the population of England and Wales, the Met carries out no fewer than 43 per cent of stop-and-searches nationally.

In 2009-10, the last year for which we have full figures, there were a total of 1,141,839 stop-and-searches in England and Wales. From these figures, it can be calculated that black people were stopped and searched a staggering seven times more often than white people. This figure will climb higher still in the London area.

Thirteen years ago, the Macpherson inquiry concluded that institutional racism affected the Metropolitan Police, and other forces too. Macpherson made 70 recommendations aimed at "the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing." We clearly still have some way to go to achieve that goal.

Michael Teague

School of Social Sciences and Law University of Teesside

Butterflies killed for a picture

Looking at Damien Hirst's I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds my only reaction is of horror at the thousands of butterflies which were killed to create an ephemeral gallery sensation and several million pounds ("Hirst turns on critics", 3 April).

It is a cruelty comparable to the slaughter of rhinos because, in this age of reason, their horns are still a superstitious sex-aid, or of tigers whose bones are believed to have medicinal properties, while their skins make really super carpets.

We campaign to save the tiger and the rhino, but we are expected to admire Mr Hirst's panel as if its creation caused no more harm than the unscrewing of a few tubes of artist's oil colour.

Peter Forster

London N4

Unfair tax on fish and chips

The recent Budget announcement on changes to value-added tax to include all takeaway food sold hot has been dubbed a "pasty tax". But for many years, the owners of fish and chip shops up and down the country have had to pay a "chippy tax" – VAT on ALL the hot food they sell.

We hope that the recent media storm created by the "pasty tax" goes to highlight the anomalies in the law which for many years we have argued are unfair.

How can it possibly be fair that a fish and chip shop selling a hot pie must charge VAT on it, but a baker can sell it with no VAT? And that a supermarket can sell hot chicken portions with no VAT, but a fish and chip shop has to pay VAT? Why is some hot takeaway food being treated differently from others? Is this fair?

The National Federation of Fish Friers has always believed that all hot takeaway food should be zero rated for VAT, be it pasties or fish and chips. This is something we are campaigning for on behalf of our members, many of whom have submitted protective claims to HMRC for over-declared VAT pending the outcome of forthcoming case law.

Denise Dodd

General Secretary, National Federation of Fish Friers, Leeds

Abortion treats a gift as an object

Viv Groskop's column on abortion rights (3 April) paints a picture of pro-life supporters as being of "the dark ages". This is a stance of individualism rather than an attempt to understand the necessary values that underpin the common good. It ignores the fact that life commences from conception and is essentially a gift. Whether one believes in God providing the gift, or it just "happens" is a matter for another debate. The key point with abortion is that the potential baby is treated as an object.

Tom Baxter

Stratford-on-Avon

Battle for Hastings

I would like to express my positively violent reaction to the first item in The Information's 50 Best Spring Days Out (31 March): "The Jerwood Gallery promises to bring a blast of culture to Hastings." That puts neatly the common view that there is no culture outside London. This is not only patronising but inaccurate, especially in the case of Hastings which holds the ghosts of many fine artists – Holman Hunt, Marianne North, Edward Lear, John Bratby and others.

Anna Currey

Corsham, Wiltshire

School dinners

It is better to give schoolchildren smaller portions that they will finish rather than a larger meal of which half gets thrown away ("School meals are made smaller to save money", 3 April). If they have finished what they have been given, then offer a second helping. At the school where I teach the meals are good but I see a huge amount of food ending up in the bin.

Maggie East

Nayland, Suffolk

Speakers' rules

Contrary to popular belief (letter, 2 April), there is no immunity from the law at Speakers' Corner. In practice, the police extend immunity, championing tolerance and intervening only when they receive a complaint or if they hear a profanity.

Chris Head

Tadley, Hampshire

Hague's distress

Does your photograph (2 April) of the Foreign Secretary, at the Istanbul meeting, sitting behind a clearly upside-down Union Flag – a recognised signal of distress – further demonstrate the present Tory disconnect?

Geoff Hinchliffe

Shipdham, Norfolk

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