[ 21:54 monday 19 november – piscita, isola di stromboli ]
on my desktop as i write i’ve got a live video stream from the uk house of commons. the government’s emergency anti-terrorism bill is being debated. the discussion is passionate and at moments surprisingly moving.
for anyone who’s interested the feed is always available at
representatives observe that britain already has more official secrets than any other state in western europe. that this new bill goes a long way to creating the conditions of a police state. that it contains provisions which represent significant constitutional change (removing the fundamental right to trial, permitting persons to be imprisoned indefinitely at the instruction of the secretary of state, creating an unprecedented mechanism by which all future decisions made by the european union home affairs committee will automatic pass into uk law without normal parliamentary debate) yet is being rushed through the house without time for proper scrutiny.
i cannot recall having heard such discussion in parliament during my lifetime. these people have some understanding of what they are in the process of doing.
the bill is being presented as emergency legislation which removes it from the normal requirements of parliamentary debate. though it is a long bill, only three days of debate have been allotted. it is scheduled to reach the statute books by christmas. with the government’s huge majority there is not the slightest chance that it will be stopped or significantly amended.
therefore, in seven weeks, this will be the law of the united kingdom. those who like me are citizens of that nation had better get used to the fact that this is now the kind of society of which we are a part.
the full text of the bill is published at
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pabills.htm. typically it is written in a way which makes it hard for the ordinary citizen to see its significance. i draw people’s attention to two clauses in particular:
– section 21 : suspected international terrorist: certification
this lays out the basis on which the secretary of state may “certify” that someone is a “terrorist”, after which they may be imprisoned indefinitely. there is no need for any crime to have been committed. there is no need for a trial to take place. the suspect has no right to know the accusation against them. the suspect has no right to see the evidence against them. there is no limit to period for which they may be imprisoned.
– section 29 : exclusion of legal proceedings
this explicitly cancels the authority of any court to challenge decisions of the secretary of state.
over the past four years a succession of bad bills have passed onto the uk statute books. a mental health act which permits indefinite incarceration and treatment without trial if a single qualified psychiatrist pronounces a citizen to have a “serious personality disorder” likely to lead tham to commit a crime. an anti-terrorism bill which makes the possession of information likely to be useful to terrorists an offence in its own right. a regulation of interception powers bill which creates a presumption of guilt for those who receive encrypted messages unless they can prove they are unable to decrypt them.
i have observed these and other measures passing into law and felt an inexorable progression towards the sort of bill being debated tonight. the moment i heard of the atrocity in new york i knew the conditions existed in which that progress might continue to its logical and grim conclusion. i fear greatly for the bills we shall see in the months ahead.
beverley hughes, parliamentary secretary representing the home office, makes a gloriously chilling slip in replying to concerns from the floor. “we understand how serious these questions are and we’ve taken ten minutes… er, i mean ten weeks… to consider them.” a little later she expresses the view that “we cannot draw a line between crime and terrorism” which certainly represents the thrust of legislation over the past two years. the consequences of such a view are worth pondering.
[ 23:45 ]
the anti-terrorist bill passed by 400 votes to 5. the house is now debating a “derogation” of the european convention on human rights. the government adjudges that britain currently faces a risk “which threatens the life of the nation” and thus claims emergency powers to over-rule the part of the convention on human rights guaranteeing the right to a fair trial. it is worth noting that no other nation in europe has felt it necessary to do derogate this clause.
if i interpret the technicalities correctly it is irrelevant what conclusions the house comes to in this debate. the measure has been introduced by executive order and has already come into force.
since magna carta, 800 years ago, every person suspected of wrong-doing in britain has been accorded the right to a trial before their peers. in one and a half months that right will cease to exist. what’s happening?