The Sketch: 'Thunderbirds' are go for a parliamentary cock-up

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The Independent Online

Not since David Lammy's mental incompetence Bill has there been such a parliamentary balls-up. Or was it a cock-up?

Not since David Lammy's mental incompetence Bill has there been such a parliamentary balls-up. Or was it a cock-up?

There the Home Office front bench sat, like a row of Thunderbirds puppets, waiting to bring in the biggest change to our civic relations for 60 years (or 300 years, or 800 years depending who you listen to). It was chaotic. It was shambolic. The Father of the House said with considerable melancholy - a mood he should deploy more often - that it all "bore no relation to the House of Commons I was elected to".

The Commons was being treated with contempt, a clear majority felt. For the existence of a letter had emerged. The Home Secretary had written to the party leaders revealing that this terror Bill the Commons was to be debating yesterday would bear no relation to the Bill eventually to be passed. Numerous amendments (in Bob Marshall-Andrews' phrase "inchoate, unexpressed and undrafted amendments") were going to change the Bill out of recognition in the Lords.

So what was this paltry six-hour debate for?

Oddly enough, I thought the House came out of it quite well. The Home Secretary has made concessions on a scale he'd never have done if he'd been allowed to proceed in private. And a crucial principle emerged in the first hour of the debate.

Douglas Hogg declared that conceding the decision to a judge was no solution. The accused still won't know the charge against him, won't know who's accusing him, won't be properly represented and won't be able to question counsel.

Crispin Blunt saw further into the corkscrew. The Home Secretary "had given the game away". Mr Blunt had heard him say the law would apply "to very few people". Then Peter Lilley pushed the point home. The Prime Minister had said 700 people. Who were we to believe? The Home Secretary said that figure of 700 referred to the 700 who had been arrested since 9/11.

Ah! The 700 arrests! A parliamentary answer that revealed something more important than anything we've heard so far. Remember that of those 700 arrests, very few were charged. Very, very few were convicted. Under this new law they could all still be under the Home Secretary's personal control. Under this new law the controls might apply, then, to thousands.

I don't think we'd known that before, had we? Not thousands?

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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