Lord Strathclyde: There is no prospect of 42 days passing the House of Lords today
We are told that spinning is dead, yet these last few days we’ve seen the doctors hard at work on the question of 42-day detention in what was once the freest county in the world.
The public deserve far better than that such a vital question be played with in this way. Are the government serious about forcing through this further restriction of liberty – or aren’t they? This is no issue for political posturing.
Let me at least be clear. There is no prospect of this draconian idea passing the House of Lords today. There is no prospect of the Conservative Party softening its opposition to a proposal for which not a shred of credible evidence has been advanced – and which is opposed by a former Labour Lord Chancellor, a former Labour Attorney-General, the former Head of MI5, a former Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Director of Public Prosecutions. These are not liberal activists. They are people who know the realities of the terrorist threat. We should heed their views.
A six-week lock-up without charge would go far beyond almost every other free country. Parliament has already quadrupled the time suspects can be held, something never done even at the height of the IRA campaigns. There is no evidence any terrorist has succeeded as a result of the present limit.
The Conservative Party supports firm action, wherever justified. But shouting “terror” does not justify every infringement of ancient liberties. Certainly not Mr Brown’s ludicrous ID card project, to compile secret computer records on pensioners and young mothers. And certainly not powers to arrest ‘suspects’ and hold them for 6 weeks away from their families, without saying why.
Instead, we must target resources into stopping those who really threaten us. We must isolate the evil minority and reinforce our cross-community culture of decent values. This cannot be done by crying the politics of fear.
The Lords stood firm to safeguard our right to jury trial. The Lords blocked it being made compulsory to buy an ID card before being allowed to leave our own country. I predict that the Lords will not bend on this issue either.
However hard Mr Brown tries to make this a party issue, opposition to this curtailment of ancient liberties runs across all parties. If he really has decided to drop 6-week internment, then he should say so now, not whip admirably loyal, but unwilling, Labour peers to take part in a charade that helps no-one.
If we have learned anything these last few days, as the disastrous legacy of ten years of crazed spending, lending, borrowing and boom begins to unwind disastrously, it is that we need national unity. This is no time for party spin. Let Mr Brown drop this divisive and counter-productive proposal – and heed the verdict of the Lords on Monday.