Leading article: Dangerous, draconian, illiberal and unnecessary

But no longer it seems. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday, many MPs were apparently persuaded of the Government's case after speeches from Tony Blair and Charles Clarke. Others seem to have got cold feet about inflicting a defeat on their own party. There are even reports that some Tories are coming round to voting for the legislation. Mr Clarke is now confident that enough MPs will back his proposals to get them through the Commons.

We must hope his confidence is misplaced. Those Labour backbenchers who defied the Government whips last week should do so again. The Tories should also stick to their principles. After last week's debacle, the Liberal Democrats certainly have no excuse for failing to turn up to oppose this profoundly illiberal Bill.

Nothing has changed since last week. The "concessions" that are to be introduced today - a one-year sunset clause and greater judicial scrutiny - are derisory when one considers that this legislation would undermine the protection from arbitrary detention, one of our most fundamental liberties.

Mr Blair never misses an opportunity to point out that the request for 90-day detention comes from the police and the security services. Those who oppose it, he infers, are thwarting the ability of these organisations to do their jobs and playing politics with public safety. This is nonsense. These are the same security services, lest we forget, that told us Iraq had WMD. And, in any case, it was Mr Blair who deliberately abandoned the cross-party approach to dealing with the post-7 July terror threat. Why? So he could put pressure on the Tory party. Mr Blair calculates that even if he is unsuccessful in getting this legislation through, others can then be "blamed" in the event of another terrorist attack. What is this if not playing politics?

One of the most suspicious aspects of the Government's tactics has been the alliance it has formed with Britain's biggest-selling daily newspaper. In recent days The Sun, as well as backing Mr Blair, has publicised helpful (if rather suspect) opinion polls suggesting widespread public support for the reform. Mr Blair has seized upon this to suggest that MPs are out of touch with the electorate and that the public backs him. But, unfortunately for Mr Blair, we do not make policy by plebiscite in Britain. And the fact that the Prime Minister has fallen back upon the support of his media allies is indicative of a failure of political leadership.

The two-week detention period for suspects is enough. We do not need more legislation to tackle terrorism. What we need is better intelligence. And MPs should bear in mind that the consequences of this move could be catastrophic. Internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s boosted support for the IRA. The same could easily happen now with respect to Islamist terrorism.

There will be miscarriages of justice if such draconian powers of detention are introduced. Those tempted to give the police the benefit of the doubt and grant them these sweeping new powers should remember the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in July. Mistakes will be made. And the result will be that innocent people are deprived of their liberty for an unacceptably long time. This Bill is unjustified and dangerous. Labour MPs should today put country before party and reject it.

Comments