Parliament: Terrorism - Five Dissenters as MPs Back Bill to Allow Internment

Article excerpt

DAVID BLUNKETT, the Home Secretary, steered emergency anti- terrorist legislation through the Commons last night despite a barrage of complaints from MPs, who attacked measures to allow foreign suspects to be detained without trial.

Backbenchers denounced the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill as an erosion of civil liberties and complained that debate on the 114 pages of legislation was limited to three days.

Five MPs, including the former Conservative minister John Gummer, voted against the Bill on its second reading in the House of Commons, leaving the Government with a 453 majority.

Brian Sedgemore, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, described the Bill as "a ragbag of the most coercive measures that the best mandarin minds from the Home Office can produce".

He added: "Not since the panic and hysteria that overcame the British establishment in the aftermath of the French Revolution has this House seen such draconian legislation."

The other three members who voted against the Bill were the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), George Galloway (Glasgow Kelvin) and Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham).

Mr Gummer said that parts of the Bill were "objectionable and wholly wrong."

Mr Blunkett faced an hour of intense questioning when he opened the debate. He promised an extended annual debate to renew the powers in the Bill, but insisted the controversial measures were essential to protect Britain now terrorists had "declared open season" on the West. "I would be the first to come back to this House and ask that we drop that power, but I am the first to ask in the circumstances that we agree to it," he said.

The 124-clause Bill includes measures to detain suspected terrorists without charge or trial, tighten airport security, freeze suspected terrorists' funds and create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee and the influential Joint Committee on Human Rights have both criticised the proposals, warning that draconian changes to traditional civil liberties may not be justified by increased terrorist threats.

But Mr Blunkett told MPs: "This is our home. It's our country. We have a right to say that if people are abusing that right and seek to abuse rights of asylum in order to be able to hide in this country ... We must take steps to do something."

He said the terrorist threat against Britain had increased drastically since 11 September. …