Leading article: We tamper with human rights laws at our peril

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The Independent Online

Yet again, the Prime Minister has proved his mastery at capturing the mood of the nation. Friday's statement was firm, but sensitive to the concerns of British Muslims. It is the substance that has caused the Lib Dems to break ranks. They sensibly warn that, however popular, the government's clampdown on those who "abuse British tolerance" could prove unworkable and damaging to ancient civil liberties. As we report today, moderate Muslim leaders see a risk that banning extremists groups will only drive them underground.

Mr Blair unveiled a sweeping range of proposals - from closing down extremist websites and mosques to banning the "fomenting of terror". But it is deporting foreign nationals who preach hate that is likely to see the most steam rising from the periwigs of the judiciary. Human rights legislation that prevents courts deporting suspects to countries that routinely use torture will apparently be torn up. Britain will now rely on wafer-thin "assurances" from 10 countries - including serial human rights abusers like Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon - that people we send back will not be ill-treated.

Many will ask why we should care about the human rights of those who want to destroy ours. Certainly figures like Abu Qatada, Bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador" in Europe - who Britain is currently trying to deport - hold deeply unsavoury views. But if he is judged to be a threat, the police should put him under surveillance until they have gathered enough evidence to charge him.

The mark of our liberal credentials is how we deal with such difficult cases. Mr Blair once boasted that the Human Rights Act was one of his "proudest achievements". Yet he is willing to jettison it as soon as it becomes inconvenient. This not only, in the words of Cherie Blair, "undermines our most deeply held values and convictions", it also hands a propaganda victory to those who like to present us as hypocritical and self-interested.

Quite apart from these caveats, many of the proposals fail on their own terms. The key test should be: "Would these new laws have stopped either bombing attempt on London?" The answers are not encouraging. All four 7/7 bombers were British-born, so couldn't be deported or stripped of their citizenship. According to their families, they formed a tight-knit group and told nobody about their beliefs or plans; local mosques and bookshops were not responsible for indoctrinating them. The failed 21 July bombing plot has been linked to our "soft-touch" attitudes on asylum. But here again, the new approach to those with terrorism convictions would have done nothing. Two of the suspects came to Britain as asylum-seekers, but that was when they were young children. And since at least seven of the eight suspected bombers were reportedly "clean-skins" - new to the scrutiny of the police and security services - no law banning the "glorification of terrorism" would have picked them up.

Over recent days the tabloids have worked themselves into an apoplexy over parliamentarians giving themselves a holiday until October. But the greater danger now is that Mr Blair will recall MPs from the poolside early in order to pass rushed and counter-productive laws.

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