Alex Massie

They Haven’t Gone Away You Know

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The issue of whether the state can lock-you up indefinitely  for up to 42 days without even the courtesy of telling you why is back. Happily, the House of Lords seems certain to reject the government's plans, sending them back to the Commons where, again hopefully, they will finally die. Here's Labour MP Tom Harris, however, explaining that if you opposed giving the state these powers you're a "civil liberties" (feel the sneer with which he writes these words!) nutcase and if there's another terrorist attack on Britain, it will be your fault...

It’s no secret that, along with the great, wise majority of our nation, I support a radical extension of the length of time the police can detain terrorist suspects without trial. I don’t see it as a civil liberties issue at all - more of a civil protection issue. I won’t rehearse all the issues now because, unfortunately, most people have made up their minds about where they stand, and aren’t going to change their minds now. Not yet, at least.

So the Lords will knock it back to us in the Commons, and we’ll have another vote on it, which I hope we will win. However, given the arithmetic in the Commons, that’s not guaranteed. If it falls in the Commons, then it’s game over. But only for now.

Because events, sometimes terrible events, happen. At some point in the future, the government will receive enough support to extend pre-trial detention to 42, or even 90, days. I hope it is done at a time where the arguments can be aired and analysed in a calm, rational atmosphere.

My greatest fear is that if the current proposal falls, the next time we debate extending pre-trial detention will be in the aftermath of another terrorist outrage. Undoubtedly, that will be called scare-mongering, as were all the warnings that were heard in the run-up to 7 July 2005.

So, yeah, that's something to look forward to, isn't it? It's no secret that the government have failed to make their case for this change in the law, so all that's left to hope for is a massive bomb just so that Labour backbenchers and government ministers can say "I told you so". So, yes, this is scare-mongering and, of course, emotional blackmail of the lowest kind. Equally, oppostion to the government's plans is indeed based upon a calm and rational appraisal. It's the people supporting this measure who want to whip up hysteria and madness and fear and panic.

UPDATE: Of course, Labour MPs don't "want" a terrorist attack. They'll just use one as a cudgel with which to attack anyone who thinks the state should be expected to tell you promptly why you are being locked up. The current 28 days detention is reprehensible as it is; extending to the plucked-out-of-thin-air 42 days, utterly unjustifiable. And remember: these people originally wanted it to be 90 days. Anyway, the Lords said No by 309 votes to 119. Oh, and a reminder: if you think these powers might not be abused or extended from obvious terrorism cases, consider that the UK government seized Icelandic assets last week using anti-terrorism laws.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticslabour partyterrorism