The Sketch: Lords rise in their undemocratic way to defend our freedoms

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The Independent Online

In the haste and confusion things easily get lost. Especially something new. Especially in Parliament.

In the haste and confusion things easily get lost. Especially something new. Especially in Parliament.

It is an entirely new system of justice they are proposing, so you had better watch out. I'd not heard this new legal principle phrased as clearly as it was the day before yesterday.

It was very helpful of Hazel Blears (and there's a sentence you don't see often). Her assertion didn't get any coverage, so here it is again: "A different form of decision-making will be used from that which applies when people are arrested on the basis that they have already committed an offence. This point goes to the heart of the matter ... control orders are designed to deal with not only what has happened but what might happen."

Let us descend into the minister's text. These new powers she is describing are to be applied to people who haven't broken the law. People who haven't "already committed an offence". That is an entirely new legal principle. Under these proposals, people may be arrested on the say so of the minister of the Interior. They need not be told who is accusing them, nor what the charge is, nor the evidence against them. And now we learn, they may not even have committed an offence!

But, you will say, there are shoe bombers left and right, planning to blow up aircraft; clearly they must be restrained before they commit the offence.

Excuse me? Planning to blow up a plane is an offence. Conspiracy. Wasn't there some bedsit Muslim in west London arrested a couple of years ago for having a map of Heathrow? For possessing material to be used in an act of terrorism? The powers exist already. If you commit an offence you are liable for arrest. If you have a map of Heathrow and they think you're dodgy they can arrest you. Ms Blears is saying you don't even have to have the map. You can be arrested even though you have not "already committed an offence".

We'd been hoping the Lords would rise again in their magnificently undemocratic way to defend our demotic freedoms. The Home Secretary had told the Commons the Bill was nothing to do with them, it was being rewritten so that the Lords could debate it for four days. It turns out to be three days because Charles Clarke hadn't given them the amendments yesterday either.

We heard quite a good speech from the Bishop of Worcester. Quality is all the more effective when it takes you by surprise. Lady Anelay (pronounced "anally" I regret to say) led for the Tories. And one creaking ancient intervened on Charlie Falconer to ask if he could think of a single instance of a judge being able to deprive a person of liberty without conviction. "Bail," the Lord Chancellor replied triumphantly. Or, in layman's language, "No".