Daily Archives: 7 December 2005


File under cynical hack…

Legal doubt on 28 days detention

An influential parliamentary group claims there is not enough evidence to justify extending the time a terrorist suspect can be held from 14 to 28 days.

Last month Tony Blair suffered his first ever defeat when MPs threw out plans to allow police to hold suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

Instead MPs voted to extend the detention time from 14 to 28 days.

But the Joint Committee on Human Rights says this could still pose a potential legal problem for the government.

The committee, which is made up of MPs and peers, says the plan could lead to the “inadmissibility at trial of statements obtained following lengthy pre-charge detention”.

Good stuff. But what’s this press release from the Joint Committee’s chair?

Dismore Starts Terror Petition Campaign

Andrew Dismore, Labour Member of Parliament for Hendon, has started a petition campaign, in support of the Government’s proposals to combat terrorism.

Mr. Dismore and his helpers will be asking residents to sign the petition at his regular street stalls, and when calling on residents on the doorstep. Mr. Dismore will also invite those who have previously expressed support for the Government’s stand on terrorism to collect signatures, too.

Mr. Dismore said:

“In the course of debates in the House of Commons, the Government made a series of amendments which went some way to meeting a number of criticisms of the Bill and also improved it.

“However, the most important measure, that of the length of time the police can hold a suspect, was defeated by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, with the support of a small number of Government rebels. As the Bill now stands, the police may hold a suspect for up to 28 days, subject to seven day renewals by a judge.

“Personally, I believe this was a dangerous decision and I hope that those who voted against this part of the Bill do not come to regret it in the light of any future events.

“I believe the police made an extremely strong case, and I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the Government in its proposal for a maximum of 90 days.

“However, the Bill remains under determined attack by the unelected House of Lords, with a number of peers who wish to reduce the period of detention to the existing 14 days, to water down proposals in relation to the offence of indirectly inciting terrorism, and who wish to narrow the definition of terrorism, amongst many other amendments they will propose in an attempt to destroy the Bill.

“I believe it is vital that the Government stands firm and receives all the encouragement it can get to defend this vital measure from further dilution by the opposition parties in the House of Lords.”

Surely, as he feels so strongly about the issue, he should resign as chair of the committee on a matter of principle, regardless of the cut in pay it would lead to?

You can read his full report here.

Less than sure about Sure Start

Evidence has been dribbling in that Sure Start is not merely failing to help but is actually hindering the most vulnerable families in deprived areas.

This is a difficult one, and Lisa Harker is correct to say that it is too early to make any pronouncements on the scheme’s relative success or failure. However, Tim Worstall is also correct to point this out:

Wondrous. It’s all so difficult to measure that we’ll never know so we’d better keep spending money on it.

Thanks for that Lisa.

The problem with this scheme is that it is a classic case of national government trying to do local government’s job. Lisa Harker is keen to emphasise how each local Sure Start is profoundly different from the next, but why are national funds being spent on a scheme that is essentially uncoordinated?

Wouldn’t it be better to give local government the clout to be able to set up its own schemes (or not) and leave them to evaluate each scheme on its merits? A bit of Darwinian evolution can’t do us any harm here, and local circumstances demand local solutions.

The alternative is that the government will eventually come up with a one-size-fits-all “best practice” which is all but guaranteed to fail as it will inevitably be too inflexible, bound up by targets and red tape and crucially exist to serve the Man in the Ministry not the families on the ground.

This is an area that national government simply cannot succeed, and it shouldn’t even try.

Meeting the Challenge 4/3: Localism

LOCALISM: to what extent can policing, health and regeneration be devolved to neighbourhoods and families?

Full paper.

This is a bit of a silly section. Admirer as I am of David Boyle, it is clear that he wrote this chapter and appears to be having a conversation with himself. Happily however, this is one area where I appear to be relatively in tune with my partisan superiors.

The Centre for Um’s Free Think website is currently looking at this area, although traffic to it would appear to be stony dead. Go over there and have a look – I have been valiantly defending Sarah Teather’s good name and fearlessly mocking Prof Corrigan’s deluded fantasies.

The real question for me here though is not policy but strategy. The party has always been in favour of radical decentralisation to one extent or another, and yet it never appears to be a campaign issue for us. Read our “top ten reasons to vote Lib Dem” and not one – not one – is a commitment to devolve power (indeed, as the Tax Commission admits, the local income tax pledge commits us to make local government even more reliant on central funds!).

So instead of answers, I have questions that I’d like the working group itself to answer:

  • How do we sell localism in a general election, rather than hide it in our manifesto?
  • How can we resolve the paradox of fighting an election at a national platform whilst effectively prescribing localised solutions?
  • Does our commitment to localism extend to making it a core part of our campaign strategy, even if the polls say it is not an issue that the public are particularly interested in?

If the working group cannot answer these three simple questions, then I would humbly suggest not spending any more time on the subject.