Leaders: Rebels reveal a Tory party in disarray

Yesterday's vote in the Commons showed a substantial revolt against the PM's authority. Picture: PA
Yesterday's vote in the Commons showed a substantial revolt against the PM's authority. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

Foreign-born nationals suspected of terrorist related activity in the UK have long been a public concern. Pressure has mounted on the government to take action to tighten immigration controls to deter their entry.

As this posed legal and practical difficulties, it thus became a familiar refrain of Prime Minister David Cameron that he would seek to make it easier to deport.

A move by Conservative rebel backbenchers to prevent foreign-born criminals using European human rights laws to avoid deportation thus appeared to have fair claim to prime ministerial support. Adding fuel to Conservative concerns has been the growing challenge posed by Ukip, largely as a result of the tough line it has taken on immigration. Scotland’s education secretary made a blistering intervention this week by declaring the government’s immigration policy was being “driven by Ukip and a nasty xenophobia”.

Instead, however, the Commons yesterday witnessed a near-farcical situation. Mr Cameron, concerned that the proposal would be illegal under human rights law, urged ministers and his MPs to abstain – but not to vote against it. By opting to back down rather than confront the rebels head on, relying on Labour and Lib Dem MPs to defeat the proposal, he may have hoped this would lead to a collapse in back-bench support for the rebel motion and that the challenge would disappear. He was rudely disabused. While the rebels’ move was defeated, it attracted 97 votes. That is a very substantial revolt against the Prime Minister’s authority and presents a picture of indiscipline and disarray within the government ranks.

A last-minute amendment tabled by Home Secretary Theresa May to her own Immigration Bill that would have the effect of strengthening powers to strip nationality from people suspected of involvement in terrorism was passed by 297 votes to 34. Whether even this proposal offers practical help to the Home Secretary is moot. The background to all of this is the tension within the Conservative Party over Europe. Deportation of foreign nationals runs into difficulties when the targets can prove that they have a genuine connection to the UK because their children live here, that is, rights to a family life.

The late amendment did not specifically mention the word terrorism but aimed to strengthen Mrs May’s powers to strip nationality from people suspected, although not necessarily convicted, of very serious wrongdoing. But that is immediately open to the objection of action being taken against people who have not been convicted of a criminal offence, thus itself stepping over a critical legal line.

Yesterday’s contorted manoeuvres leave a picture of disarray at the heart of government. It has revealed the strength of disaffection on the Conservative back- bench. And it has shown the Prime Minister unable to find a way of closing the rift in his party.

Sepa must try harder to hit targets

NO FINGER has wagged more earnestly on the need to meet environmental emission targets than that of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa. This publicly-funded quango is a key regulator. It sets emission targets. It hectors Scottish businesses, civic organisations and local government on the importance of meeting these targets. No effort is spared to lecture us on what climate change science is telling us and what should be done about it. So its failure to meet them is an embarrassing own goal. It has overseen a 2.4 per cent increase in its carbon emissions, while attempting to cut the amount of greenhouse gas it created. It also had a target of reducing its travel emissions by 5 per cent. It managed a reduction of just 2 per cent.

A report by Sepa reveals that it did meet four out of six environmental targets for 2012-13 covering waste, procurement and biodiversity. But despite these successes the report shows that it performed less well against its greenhouse gas emission targets.

Sepa’s chief executive, James Curran, is to be commended for his candour in confessing that “we are still openly and honestly struggling with following our own greenhouse gas roadmap and keeping necessary pace with our target of an overall reduction in our emissions of 42 per cent by 2020.” But the agency needs to acknowledge also that it has stumbled over the all-too-familiar “targetitis” that grips much of government. Realism is needed. Proclaiming impressive-looking targets and then failing to meet them risks undermining its authority in this important area of government.

But if anyone should meet environmental targets, it should be Sepa.