Will a weak compromise on control orders trigger rebellion?

David Davis criticises “control orders lite” as coalition prepares to announce new measures.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is set to unveil a series of measures to replace the controversial "control orders" currently placed indefinitely on terror suspects who cannot be prosecuted.

For months, the government has been involved in a tug-of-war over the issue, with MPs from all three parties arguing strongly for their retention or abolition. It has been particularly contentious for the coalition, with David Cameron reportedly describing negotiations as a "fucking car crash" last year.

The measures to be announced today will essentially amount to a face-saving exercise – while Nick Clegg fought the election pledging to abolish control orders, May has faced pressure from the security services and authoritarian voices in her party to retain them.

What is expected is a compromise package of measures, including overnight residence requirements from 10pm to 8am – though Clegg will be able to claim progress, as the 16-hour curfews that critics called "virtual house arrest" will end. Electric tagging will continue, although current restrictions on access to the internet and phones will be eased, as will bans on working and being educated.

In scenes reminiscent of George Orwell's "newspeak", officials are reportedly attempting to come up with a new name that is neither "control order" nor "surveillance order", but conveys the need for pre-emptive action. "Restriction order" is said to be one possibility. As the newly appointed shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, pointed out, they "look a lot like control orders".

While any softening of these restrictive and undemocratic orders is a good thing, the fundamental problem has not been addressed – namely, that people are in effect imprisoned without trial and without being told what their crime is.

Writing in the Times (£) today, the renegade Tory MP David Davis, who first signalled his opposition to control orders last year, summarises this position:

The greatest single problem with control orders is that they have become a substitute for the judicial process, whose primary aim is to prosecute and put terrorists in prison.

Many of these problems would vanish if control orders were brought within the normal judicial process, as a form of police bail. It is not unusual in criminal proceedings, while the police are collecting evidence, for courts to allow various restraints on suspects – for them to be restricted from associating with other criminals, or to have to stay in the country. This is justifiable as part of prosecuting a crime and because it is part of an open, rather than a shadowy process. We should implement such a procedure for terrorism cases as a replacement for control orders. If we did, nobody could accuse us of dropping our commitment to the rule of law.

The thrust of his argument is remarkably concordant with the Lib Dem manifesto, which stated: "The best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms." As a New Statesman leader pointed out last year, there is a clear, liberal alternative: allowing intercept evidence in court so that terrorism suspects can be prosecuted.

Back in November, Davis told the BBC that 25 Lib Dem MPs and possibly as many Tories would vote against retaining control orders under any guise. Could the coalition be about to face its first major rebellion?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.