The Sketch: Clauses, amendments and hot air. Just how the PM likes it

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The Independent Online

We always like the debate on the Programme Motion. MPs spend an hour of the debating time complaining they haven't been given enough time to debate. It's like buying a £2 coin for a fiver.

Then again, the point is worth making more than once. Gordon Brown's strategy to restore the power, influence and prestige of the House has only made, in the Chinese euphemism, "preliminary progress". The Counter-Terrorism Bill has clauses and amendments galore which will have received only the most general attention. Peter Bone counted 16 new clauses and 60 amendments to be processed in three hours. Legislators need the talent of tobacco auctioneers. Talent. It'd be like listening to the Pinky and Perky version of "I'm the very model of a modern major general."

Not that the material is suitable for light verse. Control orders. Post-charge questioning. Asset freezing. Coroners.

Yes, coroners. In future, a minister will be able to interrupt an inquest to kick out the jury, dismiss the coroner and declare the proceedings secret. Why? One reason might be that the soldier, say, lacked body armour, bullets or boots and the coroner was expressing naive disapproval. You can't have a jury hearing a case like that. They might talk. It wouldn't be in the public interest for such matters to get out. Oh no, it would damage confidence in the Government.

Oh, and if the new coroner "misbehaves", he or she can be "revoked" as well. "Misbehaviour" isn't defined but we can assume it would be misbehaviour to criticise ministers or the ministry or suggest the death was somehow avoidable or unnecessary or possibly even undesirable.

Quite a change, that.

It'll all get nodded through. As Mark Durkan said in his melancholy way, how will MPs persuade doubters of the power of scrutiny when it comes to 42 days? The proposal is that the Commons will be asked to debate – maybe on day 35 of the citizen being detained without charge – whether or not to keep him in jail for another seven days. "The noddies have it."

Mr Durkan's right, of course. The Commons is simply not set up to make these sort of decisions. Constitutionally, it's obvious bollocks. Legislatures shouldn't make executive decisions. And practically, it's absurd. MPs won't even be allowed to scrutinise the facts of the matter. The only answer to the question: "Why should this suspect be kept in jail?" is: "Because we say so." And the only response to that will be: "Very good, carry on!"

In Gordon's calculation, it's brilliant. He's found something 75 per cent of voters agree with. But when nothing is working for you, nothing will work. Voters dislike the PM so much they may resent being forced on to the same side. Still, it may result in his unpopularity bottoming out (at 19 per cent).

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