Researching material for other posts on theyworkforyou.com (IE Hansard with bells on), and having watched a fair bit of BBC Parliament in the last couple of months, I find that the quality of information and debate in the Lords generally exceeds that in the Commons, although I concede that the quality of debate in the Commons generally exceeds that of the portion which is newsworthy.
Of course, hereditary peerages – governing because of the gift of a past monarch to an ancestor – are an undemocratic mechanism, but that doesn’t seem to stop the Earl of Onslow, for example, and others from following a genuinely held sense of nobility and honour to protect and further liberty and justice in our country:
I do not think that any of your Lordships will know of Ernest Adamson or Theodore Zissu. They are the first and last names on the West Clandon village war memorial at which I was present when a wreath was laid yesterday. What did they fight for? They fought for us to be free, for our institutions of a parliamentary democracy, for liberty of the subject and for the freedom of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. What they did not fight for were identity cards, a civil contingency Bill or the arrest of a woman for reading in front of the Cenotaph the names of people who fell. They did not die for the erosion of the right of trial by jury, for reducing the ban on double jeopardy, for imprisonment without trial for something that was not a criminal offence or for collecting DNA on children and a large percentage of the immigrant population. They did not die for detention without trial for long periods.
That issue is the most important we face. We cannot hold our heads up as a democracy, as a country of free people, and claim to set an example to others in this world if we lock people up on the whim of the police that it might possibly be a good idea—even if they cannot think of a real reason to do so. There is no need for this. Not only do I say that, but it is the view of Peter Clarke, the deputy assistant commissioner in charge of terrorism. When we saw him the other day, he said, in direct contraction of last week’s speech by the head of MI5, that the terrorist threat was no worse than it had been when the 28-day detention rule was introduced. This confirmed what Mr McNulty, the Minister, said in July.
So far as I can gather, there is absolutely no evidence of the need to extend the 28-day detention period, and it is hard to exaggerate what a dismal example it would show to others in the world. It is the behaviour of General Musharraf and of most of the grubbier regimes on this Earth; it is the sort of behaviour that is happening in Guantanamo Bay. Your Lordships have a good reputation for defending civil liberties in this Parliament—far better than another place. If the measure gets through the Commons, I hope that we will be strong enough to vote solidly against it, because it is wrong and unnecessary and because no more than 28 days has ever been needed.
Lord Onlsow admits he is a “constitutional anachronism”, but he has my vote, a vote he does not need and that I will never be able to cast.
Let us hope that Labour fail to “reform” the Lords and that the Conservatives consider any changes to that House with great care.