A Tory speaks out
In no order of awfulness, this government has emasculated the House of Commons by the permanent use of guillotines. On the whim of the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellorship has been neutered, removing a voice of law from the cabinet.
Those instances are on the parliamentary front, but what the government has done to the liberty of the subject is far worse. Note that I say liberty of the subject, not the rights of the citizen. That is because liberties are boundless unless circumscribed by law and rights are, by their nature, circumscribed.
It has repealed the law on double jeopardy. With Asbos, it has sent to prison some of the young on hearsay evidence for things that are not even criminal. It has created a centralised register held by the government on all citizens and proposes to force them to have ID cards. It has formed a police force with unprecedented powers of arrest - the Serious Organised Crime Agency - over which the Home Secretary has authority no predecessor has previously enjoyed.
Through its control orders, it has introduced a system of deprivation of liberty without trial on the say-so of the executive. It has passed the Civil Contingencies Act that allows a minister to override any statute after the calling of a state of emergency and now there is the Regulatory Reform Bill, which has been described as 'the abolition of parliament bill' and against which our party did not even vote at second reading. This gives gauleiter-like powers to ministers which we are blandly told will not be used.
The government has allowed the retention by the police of DNA details of thousands of innocents and it has given us section 81 (6) of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claims) Act 2004 which amends the Nationality, Immigration and Asylums Act 2002, creating a single-tier appeals procedure which Lord Steyn, in a recent lecture, described as, in effect, ousting the jurisdiction of ordinary courts. The government has introduced anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers that are constantly being misused, such as when the elderly Walter Wolfgang was ejected from the Labour conference.
This list is by no means comprehensive. What surprises, worries and depresses me is the apparent relative quietude on the part of the Conservative party on these issues. I repeat - it did not vote against the Regulatory Reform Bill on second reading. It has not remembered the great Edward Gibbon's comment on Augustus Caesar's Rome: 'The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.'
It was dozy on the Civil Contingencies Act until the excellent Peta Buscombe in our house took it up; this from the party which, since the restoration of Charles II, has been so jealous of our constitution. Have we a guilty secret? Remember Burke saying: 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' Why are we not shouting from the hustings that we will return to the people their ancient liberties?
Why, Mr Cameron, is the Conservative party passing by on the other side while our old liberties fall among thieves?
Yours sincerely, Onslow
· The Earl of Onslow is one of the 92 hereditary peers and takes the Conservative whip.