UK Liberty

MPs pay too little attention to legislation

Posted in detention without charge, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on June 3, 2008

Philip Johnston:

The prospect of these alleged concessions has, apparently, now persuaded enough would-be rebels to come round to supporting the government.

But these are not concessions at all. They were in the original proposals when they were published last December; and while Jacqui Smith may have tinkered a bit with the wording and managed the sell the changes to gullible backbenchers as significant, they are nothing of the sort.

As the Home Secretary made clear on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning, it was envisaged from the outset that these were reserve powers to be used only in exceptional circumstances.

It was always intended there should be a “triple lock” protection against arbitrary use of the power. A High Court judge, the Director of Public Prosecutions and, ultimately, Parliament, would have to approve an extension beyond the current 28 day limit.

The essential argument remains the same; and those MPs who previously stated this was an issue of inviolable principle about the liberty of the individual cannot now say that they have managed to water down the legislation, because they haven’t.

This is a point recognised by David Winnick, the Labour MPs who led the successful rebellion to Tony Blair’s 90-day detention proposal. He has not been won around.

Those who have were not really paying much attention from the start. What we are witnessing now is naked, old-fashioned desperation politics that has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with saving Gordon Brown’s neck.

Arm-twisting by the whips, ‘bribes’ to minor parties like the DUP, and phoney concessions are the stuff of parliamentary hard-bargaining, as they have been down the years.

But let us not believe those who say they have been persuaded by the arguments, because many of them never really understood them in the first place.

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