Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 14 December 2007

Police State Britain - HoC resistance hardens

The government's latest proposals to increase the period terrorist suspects may be held without charge from 28 to 42 days will, it seems (thank goodness!), not succeed except with a struggle. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has reached the conclusion that the government's case for an increased detention limit has not been proved. According to the committee's Chairman, Labour MP Andrew Dismore:

"If the government is genuinely concerned to build a national consensus on counter-terrorism policy, it should drop this ill-conceived proposal and work with us and others to identify better ways of ensuring terrorism suspects are successfully prosecuted.

"We can see no reason why the proposal to extend the limit for pre-charge detention to 42 days should be brought before Parliament at this time."

I'm not naive enough to believe that this rebuke will stop the government in its tracks, but it is a hopeful sign that common-sense may ultimately prevail. The Committee makes the point, as have many others, that a better approach, less damaging to basic civil liberties in the long run, would be to permit 'the use of intercept evidence, such as evidence from phone taps or bugging, in courts and to continue questioning suspects after they have been charged', as happens in many other European countries. Now I don't particularly like that option either, to be quite honest, but I consider it a whole lot better than simply locking people up for increasingly lengthy periods without charge.

If the evolution (i.e. lengthening) of the period of detention under this government is any guide, its current efforts to achieve 42 days (instead of the 56 or 58 days originally mooted, until the howls of opposition became too loud) will not be the last. It's not so long ago that the limit was only 7 days, up from the original 3 days, after which it was increased from 7 to 14 days, then doubled to the present 28 days, after the original proposal to have 90 days was defeated in Parliament. Most of these increases have taken place during the period since 1997 when the present government came into power; it is observed that no earlier government tried to increase pre-charge detention very much even during the height of the threat from the IRA. The government really does need to reassess its priorities, if only for base electoral purposes - there comes a time when even the most docile of voters (including Labour ones) rebels. If Labour does not wish to test this theory to destruction then it needs to think long and hard before the next general election, as people like Labour MP Andrew Dismore have presumably begun to. Labour's increasingly draconian (and misdirected) anti-terrorism laws will not be the only factor of course - think ID cards, the destruction of Britain's formerly excellent pension-provision regime, the sale of the nation's gold reserves at fire-sale prices, the huge increase in public long-term debt (including off balance sheet items), the misguided devolution projects, etc.

If you think I am being melodramatic then read what the ever-excellent Spy Blog has to say about the latest amendment to the Terrorism Act 2000, by Statutory Instrument rather than proper parliamentary scrutiny, which creates new criminal offences. One almost wonders whether the 28 to 42 days detention proposals are the smoke-screen that allowed this measure to slip through with few people noticing.

Need I go on?

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