The Sketch: Tough on terror, but tougher on the Tories who oppose this Bill

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The Independent Online

A 19th-Century cartoon had an adult admonishing a child to think before she spoke. She replied: "How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say?"

A 19th-Century cartoon had an adult admonishing a child to think before she spoke. She replied: "How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say?"

It's why we have three readings for Bills and a report stage. We don't always know what we think until we see what we say. Having seen what's been said about the terror Bill, we now think about it differently from a few days ago.

Last week it was intolerable that a minister of the interior should be able to put people under house arrest without a judge's signature. Now, this judicial remedy is worse than the affliction. It will make a judge "the creature of the executive". People are starting to demand full due process - a charge, a trial, evidence, a conviction - before depriving any British citizen of his liberty.

Time allows repetition, and that makes a difference. Every time I hear it said the minister can order a curfew - for tonight - on a British citizen, the astonishment penetrates a little further.

It's clear that the due process in committee is essential to the product. Two hundred amendments were presented to the Lords (a day late, ungrouped) and there was very little time to discuss them. This will have an effect.

One example: At what point do control orders become criminal matters rather than civil, and what effect does that have on the standard of proof? Who knows how much weight such a point has? We only know how much discussion it's worth by having the discussion.

There's worse. Try saying this: Tony Blair doesn't want the Bill. He wants the Tories to strike it down in the Lords. He doesn't want the Bill.

Evidence for this came at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. Mr Howard offered to support the Bill if Mr Blair would accept a sunset clause. Mr Blair rejected the offer, saying there was, in effect, a sunset clause already.

But ... then ... why reject the offer of support? Because he doesn't want the Bill! He wants to be able to say the Tories are soft on terror. He wants to be able to blame the Tories for any atrocity deaths that may be coming up. He wants the Bill to embarrass the Tories! He doesn't want the Bill!

(Is repetition making a difference?) HE DOES NOT WANT THE BILL!

The Government may be putting up proposals to abolish an 800-year-old tradition, one of the most fundamental components of the British constitution, to embarrass an opposition. Thinking this may not be a crime, but it might become criminal, if the Bill becomes law. It depends on the minister's mood.

Lord Onslow called the thing: "A rotten, rotten, stinking Bill." Repetition, you see, it helps clarify matters.