Polls suggest that people support 42 days detention by two to one. Some of the comments on my blog and many on other websites clearly show that the Government have failed to put across exactly what this insidious piece of legislation actually means for ordinary people in the UK. If you asked me if I would put terrorists in prison without charge for 42 days, I would say yes without hesitation. However, this is not what we are talking about. If it is passed, people suspected of terrorism-related crime will be allowed to be held at the whim of the Home Secretary. Let's look at how other crime and anti-terrorist measures have been used in the UK by this Labour Government.
- Three men were extradited to the USA without any evidence being produced having been accused of a fraud against NatWest (not a USA company)
- CCTV cameras which were introduced to fight crime are now being used to issue parking tickets long after the car has moved.
- A lady was arrested for reading aloud a list of names in Trafalgar Square.
- An 82 year-old man was arrested for heckling Tony Blair.
- Compulsory ID cards may be introduced at a cost of £18bn; more than the Home Office spends in total on policing, immigration control and security each year.
In addition to this, Gordon Brown has the ability to ban public meetings, set up special courts and postpone elections thanks to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This legislation is already robust enough to give the police and judiciary the powers that they need to deal with complex terrorism inquiries. I am perplexed that at a time that trust in politicians is at an all-time low, people should allow the very same people to determine the future of a British citizen in this way.
You will see from the chart at the top of this post that no other western democracy feels the need to have such controls. Vladmir Putin must be green with envy that he can only hold people in the Lubyanka for a maximum of five days. At 28 days we are already double the limit of anyone bar dictatorships. Why does this Government feel that our police are not as capable as those in Spain who suffered in the Madrid bombings or the USA who face a more severe terrorist threat than we do?
There is no need for Al-Qaeda to commit another atrocity in the UK. They have acheived an important objective in changing the behaviour and attitude of the population in this country in a way that the IRA never could. I remember the stoic attitude of my work colleagues as we were evacuated onto Leicester Square only to hear the Surrey Tavern pub bomb explode 300 yards away. Now, in a blinkered attempt to play tough politics the government has given fuel to a small number of nutters ready to prey on susceptible kids ripe for radicalisation. I end where I started. Terrorists deserve the severest punishment and then some. Locking people up without charge rips up the Magna Carta, the premise of 'innocent until proven guilty', Habeas Corpus, however you want to describe it, no longer exists in this country. It may take a decade or two but this legislation will go the way of other anti-terrorism legislation and be extended quietly to cover other circumstances.
David Davis stated his case in a superb statement that I have reproduced in full below. If he is right in his view that the Parliament Act will be used to force this legislation through it will be the ultimate irony; using legislation meant for a completely different set of circumstances to push through controversial legislation for political expediency:-
"The name of my constituency is Haltemprice and Howden. Haltemprice is derived from the medieval proverb meaning 'noble endeavour'. Up until yesterday I took the view that what we did in the House of Commons representing our constituents was a noble endeavour because for centuries our forebears defended the freedoms of the British people – or we did, up until yesterday.
"This Sunday is the anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document that guarantees that most fundamental of British freedoms, habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason. Yesterday this House decided to allow the state to lock up potentially innocent citizens for up to six weeks without charge.
"The counterterrorism bill will in all probability be rejected by the House of Lords very firmly. What should they be there for if not to defend the Magna Carta. But because the impetus behind this is essentially political not security the government will be tempted to use the Parliament Act to overrule the Lords. It has no democratic mandate to do this since 42 days was not in the manifesto. Its legal basis is uncertain to say the least. But purely for political reasons this government's going to do that.
"In truth 42 days is just one, perhaps the most salient example, of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms.
"We will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and a million innocent citizens on it. We've witnessed an assault on jury trials, that bulwark against bad law and its arbitrary abuse by the state, shortcuts for our justice system that make our justice system neither firm nor fair, and the creation of a database state, opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.
"The state has security powers to clamp down on peaceful protests and so-called hate laws which stifle debate, while those who serve violence get off scot-free. This cannot go on, it must be stopped and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand.
"I will be resigning my membership of this House and I intend to force a by-election in Haltemprice and Howden. I will not fight it on the government's general record; there is no point repeating Crewe and Nantwich. I will fight it on my personal record. I am just a piece in this great chess game. I will fight it. I will argue this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government. That may mean I have made my last speech to the House, possible. And of course that would be a cause of deep regret to me. But at least my electorate and the nation as a whole would have had the opportunity to debate and consider one of the most fundamental issues of our day. The ever-intrusive power of the state into our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss of freedom If they do send me back here, it will be with a single, simple message. That the monstrosity of a law that we passed yesterday will not stand."