Orders of the Day — Prevention of Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 23rd February 2005.

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Photo of Mr Brian Sedgemore Mr Brian Sedgemore Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch 3:32 pm, 23rd February 2005

As this will almost certainly be my last speech in Parliament, I shall try hard not to upset anyone. However, our debate here tonight is a grim reminder of how the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are betraying some of Labour's most cherished beliefs. Not content with tossing aside the ideas and ideals that inspire and inform ideology, they seem to be giving up on values too. Liberty, without which democracy has no meaning, and the rule of law, without which state power cannot be contained, look to Parliament for their protection, but this Parliament, sad to say, is failing the nation badly. It is not just the Government but Back-Bench Members who are to blame. It seems that in situations such as this, politics become incompatible with conscience, principle, decency and self-respect. Regrettably, in such situations, the desire for power and position predominates.

As we move towards a system of justice that found favour with the South African Government at the time of apartheid and which parallels Burmese justice today, if hon. Members will pardon the oxymoron, I am reminded that our fathers fought and died for liberty—my own father literally—believing that these things should not happen here, and we would never allow them to happen here. But now we know better. The unthinkable, the unimaginable, is happening here.

In their defence, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary say that they are behaving tyrannically and trying to make nonsense of the House of Lords decision in A and Others as appellants v. the Home Secretary as respondent because they are frightened, and that the rest of us would be frightened too if only we knew what they will not tell us. They preach the politics of fear and ask us to support political incarceration on demand and punishment without trial.

Sad to say, I do not trust the judgment of either our thespian Prime Minister or our Home Secretary, especially given the latter's performance at the Dispatch Box yesterday. It did not take Home Office civil servants or the secret police long to put poison in his water, did it? Paper No. 1, entitled "International Terrorism: the Threat", which the Home Secretary produced yesterday and I have read, is a putrid document if it is intended to justify the measure. Indeed, the Home Secretary dripped out bits of it and it sounded no better as he spoke than it read. Why does he insult the House? Why cannot he produce a better argument than that?

How on earth did a Labour Government get to the point of creating what was described in the House of Lords hearing as a "gulag" at Belmarsh? I remind my hon. Friends that a gulag is a black hole into which people are forcibly directed without hope of ever getting out. Despite savage criticisms by nine Law Lords in 250 paragraphs, all of which I have read and understood, about the creation of the gulag, I have heard not one word of apology from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. Worse, I have heard no word of apology from those Back Benchers who voted to establish the gulag.

Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time. Thus even Members of Parliament who claim to believe in human rights vote to destroy them.

Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as new Labour's descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.

I hope that—but doubt whether—ethical principles and liberal thought will triumph tonight over the lazy minds and disengaged consciences that make Labour's Whips Office look so ridiculous and our Parliament so unprincipled.

It is a foul calumny that we do today. Not since the Act of Settlement 1701 has Parliament usurped the powers of the judiciary and allowed the Executive to lock up people without trial in times of peace. May the Government be damned for it.


Stefan Magdalinski
Posted on 2 Mar 2005 1:15 am (Report this annotation)

The document he describes as the putrid 'Paper 1: International Terrorism: The Threat' is here

and he's not wrong.

Stefan Magdalinski
Posted on 2 Mar 2005 1:34 am (Report this annotation)

Here's a nice quote from the document.

"From 11 September 2001 to 31 December 2004, 701 people were arrested
under the Terrorism Act 2000. Of these 119 were charged under the Act, with
45 of them also being charged with other offences. 135 were charged under
other legislation – including charges for terrorist offences covered in other
criminal law such as the use of explosives. And 17 have been convicted of
offences under the Act. For example, a man arrested in November 2000 was
subsequently convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for plotting to
commit an explosion. And two men arrested under the Terrorism Act in 2000
were both subsequently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for a range of
offences including terrorist fundraising, fraud and possession of false

Read that carefully, and you'll figure out that of the 17 out of 701 arrestees actually convicted, they don't actually say how many are post 9-11, and therefore actually a justification for the new powers being asked for now. The examples quoted in the second half both predate 9-11.

Did anyone say 'sophistry'?

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