PM defends secret hearing proposals

Secret court hearings and increased monitoring of emails and internet use are needed to help plug "significant gaps" in the UK's national security, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister defended a series of proposals which have angered civil-rights campaigners by saying they were necessary for the UK's defences.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said while he shared some of the concerns, hearings involving national security cannot be allowed take place in public if that means lives would be lost. They spoke out after Deputy PM Nick Clegg said he could not support the proposals in their current form.

MPs and peers on Parliament's cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights published a damning report on the controversial proposals, saying they were based on "vague predictions" and "spurious assertions" about catastrophic consequences.

In reality, the plans are a "radical departure from long-standing traditions of open justice" which should only ever be used when publicly disclosing material would carry "a real risk of harm to national security", the committee said.

But Mr Cameron said: "As I see it, there are some significant gaps in our defences, gaps because of the moving-on of technology - people making telephone calls through the internet, rather than through fixed line - but also gaps in our defences because it isn't currently possible to use intelligence information in a court of law without sometimes endangering national security.

"I want us - and the Government wants us - to plug those gaps but let's be clear, we will do it in a way that properly respects civil liberties."

Draft legislation, expected in next month's Queen's Speech, would propose allowing the Government's listening centre GCHQ to access information from emails and internet use "on demand" without a warrant. But Downing Street said only data - times, dates, numbers and addresses - would be accessible, and not content.

Mr Clarke said proposals in his justice and security green paper were needed to ensure other countries, particularly the US, were happy to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts. "I'd love open justice but let's have some common sense here. Open justice cannot be at the expense of lives being lost," he said.

Earlier, Mr Clegg set out his concerns over the Government's proposals in a letter to the National Security Council in which he warned that his Liberal Democrat colleagues would not be able to back the proposals without major changes.