Government defeated over detention without trial for 90 days

It was weird! Having been at the meeting with Charles Clarke on Monday – to then see how the changes from what he said to me at our meeting in the morning (willingness to compromise), rolled through the day and evening into 90 days or be damned!

I guess Tony B must have been up to his old ‘trust me I’m Tony’ – and I know what’s best and I am going to over-rule my Home Secretary. Brinkmanship and bravura – but Tony doesn’t have the majority he had before the election.

Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday were excruciating I thought. Clarke hung out to dry by the Prime Minister’s determination to ‘do what’s right’. As if we who stood up against the sabre rattling do not believe we are right. And how much harder is it to stand up in the face of fears of terrorist attack to protect, within reason, our civil liberties and rights. I took huge exception to Blair calling any who opposed his view ‘woefully complacent.’ We are not. In fact, I have no doubt that terrorists will try and are trying to strike again. But it is not the 90 days that will stop them or disrupt them. And how dare Blair use such bullying and sleazy tactics to try and do his usual steamroller. He even descended into trying to say that if there was another terrorist attack and he didn’t have his 90 days – all who stood against him would be to blame. Shameful!

And he also said that the Muslim community – the community most vulnerable to the sharp end of these new laws – were perfectly happy with his proposals. Well I asked the Secretary of the Wightman Road Mosque (which is just across the border in Tottenham but which serves both Hornsey & Wood Green and Tottenham) as to their views on the legislation. Charles Clarke had challenged us to do on the floor of the Commons in the Committee Stage of the debate last week. I put a few sample views here:

From the Secretary of the Wightman Mosque and London Islamic Cultural Society:

Dear Lynne
Eid greetings to you and all your colleagues from London Islamic Cultural Society.

I hope that you are keeping well and I apologise for the delay in getting back to you in relation to the Anti Terror Bill currently being debated.

Having discussed with quite a few members the general feeling/concern is:

we do not agree with increasing the detention period from 14 to 90 days

there is concern about methods used to interrogate suspects – many have been released without charge and are suffering mental health problems following their detention – these are innocent individuals. Even serial murders have rights!

we [UK] have been subjected to terrorism before where areas of the UK were bombed including MPs but at no time did the government find it necessary to bring in such radical laws – why?

The Muslim community feel very vulnerable the general feeling is that these attempts by Tony Blair is to undermine our civil rights and that this type of law is condemned by UK & US as being ‘undemocratic’, ‘illegal’, ‘inhumane’ when adopted by other countries – but strangely when used by themselves it is ‘protecting the country’ It reeks of double standards.

Lynne – please understand that we in no way agree with misguided individuals compromising our safety. No! This is totally unislamic, but you have to understand that our Muslim community are scared and concerned for the safety of their children and families.

These laws prohibit even the law abiding families knowing what is happening to their loved ones. Our worry is that the unfairness of the actions will give rise to more and more people feeling trapped, alienated, seeing the bias, feeling discriminated against and we in community groups being less able to ‘include’ or ‘reach’ these individuals.

I also asked a local Imam to consult with the congregation:

I spoke to the Mosque congregation today and a few times before and this is the conclusion of their views:

I couldn’t find a single person in the congregation who supported the proposed legislation. They felt this legislation fundamentally violated their human rights and cut through the civil liberties.

They felt directly under threat and feared that they would be the target and victims of this legislation.

They felt if some one is held for 90 days, it amounts to a sentence and if the person is then not charged and released, the consequence of this detention would have been a total destruction of career, business, family, persons and social life.

They felt the government is going down the same route as France where some legislation have alienated young people further and the result is now visible in the streets of France in the forms of riots.

They felt that this kind of legislations would breed more terrorism and not counter it.

They felt that the government is sleep walking into clash of cultures and civilization.

They felt aggrieved and let down by the government

The younger members were angry and the older members where apprehensive.

So I don’t know who Tony Blair has been talking to – but that is what our local Muslim community gives as a snapshot view.

And as to the rest of my postbag on this issue – 50/50 for and against.

The rest of the debate was high drama indeed. I had to go and do Simon Mayo’s live programme on the debate. The Labour MP on the show was citing Andy Hayman (who provided a letter of the ‘evidence’ of need of 90 days) using the ricin incident as evidence of the need to have such an extended period of detention. Well he shouldn’t have started with me as the ricin incident happened here in Hornsey & Wood Green and was a mess in my view from start to finish. The substance wasn’t ricin. The people charged were acquitted. And as for the guy who skipped to Algeria – he was actually released after only two days – so even under current laws, the police could have kept him in detention for much longer if they’d wanted to. And he could have anyway been charged with acts preparatory to terrorism.

So – if that is the basis on which the Met is arguing to take away our rights – then it is unacceptable basis for evidence. And – quite frankly – the police do not always get it right. They didn’t when they shot Jean Charles de Menezes, they didn’t with the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four and even Sir Ian Blair got his information wrong after the shooting and we have yet to hear from the Independent Police Complaints Commission as to the findings from their investigation – an investigation which the Met tried to block.

As we went into the vote on extending detention without trial to 90 days we all thought it was too close to call. The silence fell as the tellers stood before the Speaker – and eerily into that silence was announced the first defeat of the Labour government since ’97. A strangely muted cheer from the winners. And then straight into the vote on 28 days – which was won.

So – wounded – the Government retired to sort out what line it would take on the momentous defeat. And a real moment for democracy when all sides of the House came together to stand up for what we all believe was right as the balance between our freedoms and our safety.

It’s not over. It goes to the Lords where the Lib Dems are determined to put safety locks on the numbers that can be held beyond 14 to the 28 days as well as more judicial intervention. For us 28 was a compromise – and we still need more safeguards in place. We will see how it fares in the Lords – and of course – there are still unacceptable parts of the Bill around ‘glorification’ and the definition of ‘terrorism’.