Monday, October 13, 2008

British Victory Against Oppressive War-On-Terror Legislation

House of Lords deals fatal blow to 42-day terror detention plans
The defeat marks an end to a three year battle started in the wake of the 7/7 bombings

by Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent

Plans to give police up to 42 days to question terrorism suspects were crushed by the House of Lords tonight, halting a three-year, high-wire political battle begun in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings.

The Government conceded defeat after peers defeated the measure by 309 votes to 118 - the biggest defeat since hereditary peers lost their seats in 1999 - and in a humiliating climbdown announced that the provision would be removed from the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

This came after opposition to the proposals from all quarters of the Lords, with 24 Labour rebels including two former Lord Chancellors, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, as well as Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, Justice Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice and Lord Condon, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The Government moved swiftly to limit the embarrassment and in an emergency Commons statement tonight, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, announced that the 42 days proposal would be published in a separate, draft Bill that could be voted on in the event of a national emergency.

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, called the proposed legislation “one of the most bizarre things I have ever read”, saying that spin doctors had prevented Ms Smith from “saying in straightforward terms that she is abandoning 42 days”.

The defeat comes five months after Gordon Brown put his authority on the line to get the vote through the Commons, winning by a majority of nine.

Ms Smith insisted that the Government was not conceding defeat on the measure and accused critics of “being prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision”.

The Times revealed last week that the Government had decided against using the Parliament Act to force the Bill through the Lords. Government sources say that such a move would delay the whole Counter-Terrorism Bill by up to a year.

Aside from the provisions over 42 days, the Bill contained powers to enable post-charge questioning of terrorist suspects and allowed courts to draw adverse inferences from silence. It also imposed requirements on people convicted of terrorist offences to let authorities know where they were living.

The rest of the Bill, which has crossparty support, is likely to be passed by the end of this year, having already completed all its stages in the Commons. Labour sources indicated the 42 days provision was likely to appear in the next manifesto, insisting that “we need this power”.

Mr Brown was warned tonight that he would not be able to push the special legislation through Parliament.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: “Liberty has been overwhelmed by public and Parliamentary support for our campaign against this divisive measure. If this or any future government tries again, rest assured that we will be ready.”

Attempts to strike out the 42 days proposal were led by Lord Dear, the former chief constable of West Midlands police, and backed by a cross-party alliance of Lady Neville-Jones, the Conservative peer, Labour’s Lady Mallalieu and Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Lord Dear told peers that there was “no evidence to date” that the existing 28-day limit had been insufficient. Most suspects had been charged within 14 days.

“There is almost universal opposition to what the Government proposes,” Lord Dear argued. “It almost beggars belief that any administration could embark on such a course.”

Lady Neville-Jones, the Conservative home affairs spokeswoman, condemned the Government’s plans as “unnecessary, undesirable and unworkable”.

However, the former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, who was seriously injured and whose wife was disabled in the IRA’s bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the 1984 Conservative Party conference, said he was backing the Government’s plans.

No comments: