Wednesday 11 June 2008

42 Days Detention is Another Line in the Sand

Finding time to blog regularly has been a real problem recently simply because of too many commitments and not enough time. Casework and community campaigns in my constituency are just overwhelming at present particularly as the housing crisis worsens and deportations are mounting. We are dealing with many people in some pretty desperate situations.

At the same time trying to cover all the bases on the legislation the Government is forcing through is stretching all of us.

Tonight, sorry, last night the Government guillotined the debate on the Counter Terrorism Bill so that we could only debate less than a third of the issues contained in the section of the Bill timetabled for discussion. The areas we were allowed to discuss included the continuance and tightening of control orders and the power of the Government to scrap juries in coroners' inquests when dealing with cases where the Government itself decides there is an issue of public security.

This means that where a person has died when in the hands of the state or is killed by the state the Government now has the power to have the inquest held in secret and the verdict decided not by a jury but by a special coroner appointed by the Government. The campaigning organisation INQUEST rightfully argued that this proposal undermines the independence of the coroners' system and will deny families access to a fair hearing to discover how their loved one has died. Can you imagine what the outcome of the Menezes case or any death in custody case would be if this provision was in place?

Tomorrow, sorry, today we move on to the Government's proposal for detention without charge for 42 days. I will vote against this further attack on civil liberties because there has been not a single piece of evidence produced to justify such a fundamental attack on the right of habeas corpus secured eight centuries ago in this country. I hope that we will be able to convince enough Labour MPs to reject this assault on human rights. I have been working with Liberty and Frank Dobson as chair of the Liberty group in Parliament.

Throughout the last few days Gordon Brown has contacted Labour MPs and offered all sorts of blandishments and political bribes in return for their votes for 42 days. I am pleased that so many have stood firm on principle and have rejected this combination of threats, grovelling pleas for support and outright political bribery. However we heard today reported in the media that those MPs representing the Compass group are supporting the Government on 42 days. This will undermine the vote opposing 42 days. Ominously they voted for the Government throughout last night on the proposals to to scrap coroners' juries and on toughening control orders.

If this does happen it destroys in my view any vestige of credibility those associated with Compass may claim to have to be part of the Left or part of any project to reclaim the Labour party as a progressive force. Compass may publish policy statements decrying the Government's policies but these are not worth the paper they are expensively published on when Compass MPs go on to vote through policies like this which fly in the face of all socialists should stand for.

I was scheduled to speak at the Compass conference on Saturday at the LRC/Briefing break out session. I will not do so now. I do not want to be associated with those that are willing to support undermining the basic human rights that socialists have fought and sacrificed themselves to secure and protect over generations. There are some lines in the sand you just do not cross. Undermining basic civil liberties by locking people up for long periods without charge is one of them.