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Tories vow to scrap Human Rights Act

THE Conservatives will scrap the Human Rights Act if they win the next general election, the Home Secretary has said.

Theresa May told an event organised by the conservativehome website that the act must not interfere with the UK's ability to fight crime and control immigration. She said it restricted "our ability to act in the national interest".

Mrs May said she was sceptical whether the convention limited human rights abuses in other countries, adding: "When Strasbourg constantly moves the goalposts and prevents the deportation of dangerous men like Abu Qatada, we have to ask ourselves, to what end are we signatories to the convention? By 2015, we'll need a plan for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights."

Her appeal against the decision to allow Qatada to stay in the UK is due to be heard on Monday. Three Court of Appeal judges led by Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, will hear the challenge.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) decided last November that Qatada could not lawfully be deported to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999.

Siac judges ruled there was a danger that evidence from Qatada's former co-defendants Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher, said to have been obtained by torture, could be used against him in a retrial in Jordan.

They said: "The Secretary of State has not satisfied us that, on a retrial, there is no real risk that the impugned statements of Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher would be admitted probatively against the appellant."

Mrs May immediately pledged to appeal and told the Commons that Jordan had given assurances about its legal processes. She described Qatada as "a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, who is accused of serious crime in his home country of Jordan".

The hearing comes just days after Qatada was arrested for allegedly breaching his bail conditions. Mr Justice Irwin ordered that he should remain in custody after hearing "strong prima facie evidence" that mobile telephones or communications equipment had been switched on in his house.

Qatada, now in his early 50s, was born in Bethlehem in the West Bank at a time when it was occupied by Jordan. He was granted bail following the ruling by three Siac judges - chairman Mr Justice Mitting - and released from HMP Long Lartin, returning to his family home in London.

Qatada's wife and five children recently won an injunction preventing protesters from demonstrating outside their house.

He has used human rights laws to fight deportation for more than a decade, running up a legal bill unofficially estimated at over £500,000.

On Monday, Mrs May's lawyers will attempt to convince Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice Elias and Lord Justice Richards, that the latest Siac decision is legally flawed and Qatada can at last be safely removed.

On Saturday, Mrs May, who is being touted as a possible future Tory leader, told the Victory 2015 conference, staged by website conservativehome, that Britain must stop human rights laws interfering with its ability to protect the nation.

The confirmation comes after speculation last week that the Cabinet minister wanted to pull the UK out of the ECHR.

She said: "We need to stop human rights legislation interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration.

"That's why, as our last manifesto promised, the next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and it's why we should also consider very carefully our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and the convention it enforces.

"When Strasbourg constantly moves the goalposts and prevents the deportation of dangerous men like Abu Qatada, we have to ask ourselves to what end are we signatories to the convention?

"Are we really limiting human rights abuses in other countries? I'm sceptical. But are we restricting our ability to act in the national interest? Are we conceding that our own Supreme Court is not supreme?

"I believe we are. So by 2015 we'll need a plan for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights. And yes, I want to be clear that all options - including leaving the convention altogether - should be on the table."

Ms May also told Tory grassroots at the London conference that she expects the Conservative's public sector reform agenda to "become even more radical" and could include allowing companies to make a profit delivering frontline services.

The wide-ranging speech, which also touched on industrial revival and banking, is likely to be viewed as a marker of intent by the Home Secretary about possible future leadership ambitions.

More private companies and charities should be brought in to run public services to improve quality and end the "monopoly" of the state, which is too often a "poor provider", Ms May said.

She added: "In future, I expect our reform agenda to become even more radical. Yes, the state should make sure that public services are available to all and free at the point of use.

"Yes, the state should regulate those services to make sure they're provided everywhere and offer high standards. But too often the state is a poor provider of services, and its monopoly over the delivery of those services must end.

"A future Conservative government should therefore go further in increasing the number of charities, companies and co-operatives that deliver frontline services. And if allowing those organisations to make a profit means we have a more diverse supply side and better outcomes, then that is something we should consider with an open mind."

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said: "Even Theresa May has now lost confidence in George Osborne's economic strategy and in David Cameron's leadership.

"For the Home Secretary to set out a five point plan for economic and industrial policy just ten days before the Budget is a serious rebuke to George Osborne and his failure to deliver any plan for growth.

"And this is also a blatant political pitch to the right of the Tory party who are so cross with David Cameron. This political manoeuvring whilst the Tories offer nothing to the millions struggling with a cost of living crisis."

She added: "She says she wants freedom yet she wants to abolish the Human Rights Act which protects freedom of speech, freedom from torture and freedom of religion. And she wants to pull out of the European Convention which is protecting basic freedoms in emerging democracies across Europe and has nothing to do with her failure in deporting fewer foreign criminals.

"And she says she wants public sector reform to be effective even though her (English) police commissioner elections were an expensive failure and 15,000 fewer police mean 30,000 fewer crimes solved and fewer criminals brought to justice.

"Yet it is clear that she is more concerned about appealing to right-wing Tory backbenchers and setting out an alternative to David Cameron and George Osborne than she is about a coherent policy for Government."

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