I have always believed that Cornish distinctiveness extends to politics. Certain political beliefs are particularly prevalent in the Duchy and key amongst them is a commitment to individual liberty. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the Christian nonconformists who defied discrimination to express their faith in their own way, or possibly the lingering legacy of the Cornish men and women who marched to London in 1497 to protest at crippling levels of taxation. Whatever the cause we have in Cornwall a shared consensus that people should be able to live their lives as they want, with minimal intrusion from the state.
In Parliament I have been proud to represent these traditions. One of my first votes on being elected was cast to scrap Labour’s compulsory ID cards scheme and since then I have supported a range of legislation designed to roll back the intrusion of the state into the everyday lives of my constituents. This includes the Protection of Freedoms Act, a law designed to boost the rights of UK citizens. Amongst other reforms the Act forced the police to delete all DNA they had belonging to people found to be innocent, and erased old convictions for consensual gay sex. When voting to introduce income tax reforms that have so far taken 4,500 Truro and Falmouth residents out of income tax altogether and secured a tax cut for a further 38,000 local people, I bore the marchers of 1497 in mind.
Last week in Parliament we considered legislation that some feel represents a new threat to these hard won liberties. The Data Retention Bill concerns the ability of the Government to, in specific circumstances, authorise the Police to intercept retained information about messages and emails sent or received by UK citizens.
I have considered the Bill closely, as I simply will not support any new infringement of the civil liberties of my constituents. I have been assured personally by the Home Secretary that although the legislation is new, the powers contained within the Bill are not. The Bill has been introduced following a European Court of Justice ruling and in response clarifies the current status quo, in which phone and email companies retain communications information which the Police can, when specifically authorised by the Home Secretary, access. The information retained is the ‘who, when, where and how’ of a communication but not its content.
This status quo has applied for decades, and has enabled intercepted information to be used in 95% of serious crime investigations, including those into terrorism and child abuse. These investigations include the recent ‘Operation Notarise’ which saw the arrest of over 650 individuals suspected of child abuse. I was pleased last week to secure praise from the Home Secretary in the House of Commons for the pivotal role Devon and Cornwall Police officers have played in this operation.
I am assured that the new legislation will help this good work continue, without further comprising the civil liberties that we in Cornwall rightly hold so dear.