Joseph Bourke

party: Liberal Democrats
constituency: Brentford and Isleworth

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How would you reform surveillance law, oversight and practice to respect the rights of law-abiding people?

organisation: Open Rights Group (ORG)

The Liberal Democrats are, and always have been, fierce supporters of civil liberties. For many years we have worked hard to protect the fundamental freedoms of UK citizens from the State.

In this parliament Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg stopped the Tories from introducing the so-called “Snooper’s Charter”. This would have kept a record of the web browsing history of every man, woman and child in this country. Nick Clegg felt that this was a worrying idea, and I am delighted he blocked these proposals.

We need a mature debate in this country about how to best tackle crime and protect privacy in the internet age. Our security and intelligence services must have the right tools to fight crime and terrorism, but this should never come at the expense of civil liberties. The idea of sacrificing freedom for the sake of security is a false choice.

That’s why Nick Clegg called for a radical revamp of the oversight of the intelligence services last year. Nick argued that there needs to be greater transparency and third party oversight in this area, to make sure that we are striking the right balance between privacy and security. Our intelligence services keep the country safe every day, so it is important that the public has trust in them too.

Liberal Democrats have a great record in government on civil liberties. We have scrapped the previous Labour Government’s disastrous ID card scheme and have legislated for a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to be established too. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Board would be able to review UK terrorism legislation in the future, and it would look at whether we are properly addressing concerns about liberty.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is the body in Parliament that is responsible for looking at how our intelligence and security services are working. In government the Liberal Democrats have made the ISC a Committee of Parliament, given it more powers, and expanded its remit too. These reforms are an important step in the right direction, and we are committed to going further.

The Liberal Democrats want to introduce a “Digital Bill of Rights” after the 2015 election to give people more power over their data too. This will protect us against blanket surveillance without affecting our ability to tackle emerging threats or target criminals. Our online behaviour should be treated with the same respect as our offline behaviour, and that is why I am glad that my party supports a “Digital Bill of Rights”.

The internet has revolutionised the way that we learn things, share new ideas and communicate with people we know. Our intelligence and security services must always keep up with technological change, but we need a reasonable level of oversight to protect the privacy of UK citizens.

The right of parents to remain with their children in hospital has been established for over forty years. How would you ensure carers of people with dementia are equally welcome in hospital?

organisation: John's Campaign

We want to place a legal duty on the NHS to identify carers. Under our proposals, carers would then receive a ‘carers passport’ which would make carers more aware of their rights as expert partners in care and give them clearer and easier access to support for those in their care.

The standards of goods and services that are essential, such as food and water, are generally highly regulated. Do you support enforced minimum standards in housing as a precondition of a renting?

organisation: Generation Rent

I don’t want to see the private rental sector overburdened with regulations. But, while the vast majority of landlords are excellent and law-abiding, there are still a minority who are not. I think it is important that councils have the tools to tackle these bad apples effectively, which is why we support councils being able to operate licensing schemes for rental properties in areas where they believe they are needed.

Would you support the creation of a Royal Commission to review Britain’s drug laws?

organisation: CISTA

I have written and campaigned on the subject of decriminalising drug use in the UK http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-decriminalising-drugs-34871.html. I am pleased to say that the Liberal Democrats have now adopted this as official party policy http://www.libdems.org.uk/the-time-for-action-on-drugs-reform-is-now. The policy includes legislating to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead, as a first step towards reforming the system.
I have long been concerned about the availability of contaminated marijuana on the streets and seen first-hand the devastating effect of highly potent forms of skunk with high ratios of THC to CBD on adolescents and young men and women at the mental health clinic in West Middlesex hospital.
I firmly believe that legalisation would provide for much safer medical monitoring of high concentrates and eliminate much of the dangerous material that circulating on the streets.
It also makes sense economically. According to the Institute for Economic and Research, up to £900m could be raised annually through taxation of regulated cannabis market… Meanwhile £361 million is currently spent every year on policing and treating users of illegally traded and consumed cannabis.
I lived in Colorado for a couple of years in the eighties. The US state legalised marijuana at the beginning of 2014. 10,000 now work in the marijuana industry: growing and harvesting crops, working in dispensaries, and making and selling equipment. Crime has fallen: in the first three months after legalisation in Denver, the city experienced a 14.6 per cent drop in crime and specifically violent crime is down 2.4 per cent. Assaults were down by 3.7 per cent.

Private sector landlords receive over £27bn a year in housing benefit and tax breaks. Would you support a rent tax that recouped up to a third of this to fund new housing supply?

organisation: Generation Rent

There is a good moral argument as to why a percentage of the rental proceeds derived from the grant of a right to occupy land should be collected by the state and employed or distributed for the common good. We should not, however, fall into the trap of the “tragedy of the commons” by repeating the experience of the sixteenth century when certain grazing lands were communally owned by villages and were made available for public use. The land was quickly overgrazed and eventually became worthless as villagers exploited the communally owned resource.
There must be incentives in place to encourage wise stewardship. While private property creates incentives for conservation and the responsible use of property, public property encourages irresponsibility and waste. If everyone owns an asset, people act as if no one owns it. And when no one owns it, no one really takes care of it. Public ownership encourages neglect and mismanagement.

Recent polling show that people support rent control by a margin of nine to one. Do you support a rent control that limits rent rises between tenancies as well as during tenancies?

organisation: Generation Rent

The private rented sector (PRS) plays a significant role in the housing market, and I hope it continues to do so as we look for solutions to the housing crisis.

Liberal Democrats do not support rent controls. Evidence from Britain and around the world shows that rent controls lead to fewer properties on the market, and higher rents as a result, which no one wants to see. Moving away from market rents would hold back investment in the PRS just when we need to encourage it.

Instead, we need to build more, which will be much more effective at ensuring that we have enough homes, and that they are available at affordable prices. Liberal Democrats want to increase the housebuilding rate to 300,000 homes a year and we believe the PRS will play a big role in that.

We are keen to look at innovative ways of securing investment in building more housing. Liberal Democrats in Government invested £1bn in a Build to Rent Fund to provide equity finance for purpose-built rented housing, backed by a £10bn debt guarantee scheme. We also amended stamp duty rules on bulk purchase of homes to remove the distortion favouring individual purchases over large-scale investment.

Governments implement policies that directly and indirectly impact on house prices. Do you think house prices are too high?

organisation: Generation Rent

Liberal Democrats will help working people buy their first home for the same cost as renting, with a new model of Rent to Own homes, where each monthly payment steadily buys you a share in the home, which you’ll own outright after 30 years, just like with a normal mortgage.

This proposal is part of our plans to deliver 300,000 homes a year with government commissioning homes to fill the gap between private sector building and demand.

Home ownership has plummeted for the under 35s: just 36% of 25-34 year olds now own their own home, down from 59% ten years ago. Prices have simply got too far out of reach for too many young families.

Liberal Democrats are committed to boosting housebuilding to 300,000 a year to bring prices and rents back under control, so more people can afford to live in the home they want. Government is going to need to intervene to boost housebuilding to these levels: in the past only government action has got housebuilding to increase swiftly and substantially.

Some of these homes should be new Rent to Own homes because:

- Prices are now so high there are lots of people who can’t afford a deposit to buy, even though they could afford to meet the monthly payments
- It is much more affordable for government to fund Housing Associations to deliver Rent to Own homes than traditional social rented properties. Delivering - Rent to Own alongside affordable rented properties means we can afford to get to the scale of housebuilding we need, while still balancing the budget.
- It’s right to support people’s aspirations to own their own home: 82% of people want to own their own home, and if home ownership rates overall fall as low as they are among the under-35s, the government will face a fiscal time-bomb, paying many more pensioners’ rent through housing benefit.

Should people in Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same free speech protections from libel bullies as their neighbours in England and Wales?

organisation: English PEN

Freedom and equality of opportunity are fundamental to the Liberal Democrats’ identity. We need to control excessive state power and free people to fulfil their potential no matter their background. In an era when surveillance is easier than ever before, we must maintain the right to privacy and freedom of speech. That’s why in government, we have restored the hard-won civil liberties that successive Labour and Conservative governments have taken away. We have scrapped ID cards, blocked the so-called Snoopers’ Charter, restored jury trials, removed innocent people from the DNA database, and ended fingerprinting children in schools without parental consent. We will build on this record with a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard privacy online.

Liberal Democrats believe nobody should be treated differently because of their ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or beliefs. That’s why in government we have made same sex marriage legal, reduced the gender pay gap and encouraged business to put more women on boards, strengthened up rules on police stop and search and ended Labour’s shameful policy of locking up the children of asylum seekers.

In the Scottish Parliament, we have held the SNP to account over Police Scotland’s stop and search regime. We have also called for full parliamentary scrutiny of the SNP’s ID database proposals and said that any changes must be introduced only through primary legislation.

Britain spends £24 billion on housing benefit and less than £1.5 billion on building homes. Do you support an increase in the social housebuilding grant to £5 billion a year to build homes?

organisation: Generation Rent

Everyone should have somewhere affordable to live and I strongly support the building of more social and affordable homes in the UK.

Over the past four decades, successive Conservative and Labour Governments have left us with a housing crisis and eroded our stock of social housing. Since 1979, 1.5 million social homes have been lost from the stock, 1.1 million under the Tories and a further 420,000 under Labour.

In contrast, Liberal Democrats in Government have worked hard to turn this around. We have built over 170,000 new social and affordable homes in this Parliament and brought a record number of empty homes back into use – over 100,000 since 2010 – reducing them to their lowest level for over a decade. As a result of our work, we will be the first Government for more than thirty years to leave office with more social and affordable homes than we started with. This is a small, but important, step in the right direction, turning around a downward trend that had lasted thirty years.

We have set out plans to boost affordable housing in the next Parliament by building 275,000 more affordable homes by 2020 – the fastest rate of affordable house building for more than 20 years. Going forward, we have set an important long-term target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year, built to the Zero Carbon standard.

Within the first year of the next Parliament, we will publish a long term plan to set out how we will achieve our goal and appoint a ministerial taskforce on housing to oversee this task. Our plan will include proposals for at least ten new “Garden Cities” in England, in areas where there is local support, providing tens of thousands of high quality new homes with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport.

We also want to bring forward more development on unwanted public sector sites through the Homes and Communities Agency, building on the progress we have already made in Government by releasing enough land to build over 103,000 new homes.

Our plans include proposals to help social housing providers, including councils, build more affordable homes to rent, with central government investment and local flexibility within the Housing Revenue Account. We also want to work with housing providers to design new models of affordable housing, to sit alongside the traditional social rented sector. This would include models that offer a path to ownership for low income working families.

Councils in England would also be required to allocate land to meet 15 years’ housing need in their local plans and work with councils to pilot techniques for capturing the increase in land value from the granting of planning permission.

The housing crisis can be tackled, but we need clear political leadership to be able to achieve this. I am confident that Liberal Democrat plans for the future can build on our encouraging start in Government and deliver the homes Britain needs.

To what degree should access to information on the internet be restricted by the state or private companies?

organisation: Open Rights Group (ORG)

Liberal Democrats will legislate for a Digital Bill of Rights, to define and enshrine our rights online. The Bill will include the right to free expression, privacy from inappropriate use of our data by government and the private sector, the protection of consumers from unfair terms and conditions, and the ability to control data that is held about us.