MPs ready to fight Brown’s terror laws
By Tom Mellen
Morning Star, 16 November 2007
DETERMINED MPs from across the political spectrum prepared to fight Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plans to extend detention without trial to 58 days on yesterday.
Mr Brown has declared that he believes that a cross-party consensus can be found on the issue. But the Tories, Liberal Democrats and many Labour MPs are opposed to any extension of internment beyond the 28-day compromise that was agreed after former premier Tony Blair was defeated in the Commons in 2005 over proposals for a 90-day limit.
Back then, 49 Labour rebels voted against the government. Mr Brown enjoys a working majority of 69 seats in the Commons. If he can win the backing of some Northern Irish parties, over 40 Labour MPs would have to rebel to save traditional British liberties.
Socialist Campaign Group chairman John McDonnell MP reported that “the opposition within Labour ranks to these ‘fortress Britain’ proposals remains the same as in 2005. It has certainly not decreased.”
Under the government’s latest proposals, detention without charge beyond 28 days could only be triggered in “exceptional circumstances” agreed in advance by Parliament. This would include cases where there are “multiple plots or links with multiple countries or exceptional levels of complexity.” It would also require the Home Secretary’s agreement and the extension of the powers would be time-limited. There have already been assurances about greater judicial approval and parliamentary scrutiny.
But Mr McDonnell described the new plans as, “in effect, no different from the old ones. “Mr Brown’s claim to be concerned about our civil rights has been undermined in practice by his attacks on basic human rights. He now has a significant battle on his hands,” Mr McDonnell warned.
National Campaign Against Anti-Terror Laws activist Saleh Mamon pointed out that judicial intervention was not enough “to stop eight men being held in Belmarsh for over three years without charge. “They were locked up in 2001 and it was not until 2004 that the Law Lords declared that their incarceration was incompatible with the Human Rights Act,” he noted.
Walsall North Labour MP David Winnick said that extra safeguards would not be enough to persuade him to back a new 58-day limit. “The government has simply not provided the evidence,” Mr Winnick told BBC radio.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer said: “The fact remains that, if you do go beyond 28 days, our enemies will brand it as internment. “May I beg the prime minister to look at the lessons of history and not walk into this ambush?”
Shadow home secretary David Davis agreed that there was “no evidence whatsoever” to support an extension. “If you need special measures, you have a declared, temporary state of emergency. What the government is looking for is an undeclared, permanent state of emergency and we’re not having it.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: “So much for a cross-party approach to terrorism. How does Gordon Brown seriously think he can forge a national consensus on such a vital issue without any new evidence and with utter disregard for the strong opinions of those who believe it would be a step too far?”
Civil rights group Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti warned that, “if we slide into going beyond 28 days in the normal law of the land, day in and day out, then we really will have trashed Magna Carta in the land where it was born.”
Mr Mamon urged MPs to “vote the way that your conscience dictates for logic and justice.” He called for a massive turnout at his organisation’s lobby of Parliament from 2-6pm on November 29.