Over 100 people packed out a committee room in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening of last week for a meeting called to defend civil rights against New Labour’s anti-terrorism legislation.
Speakers included Gareth Peirce, the human rights lawyer, and Saghir Hussain from Stop Political Terror, as well as representatives from Liberty, the civil liberties campaigning group. James Welch, Liberty’s legal director, stressed that the amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill being offered by home secretary Charles Clarke were not acceptable.
The bill will allow the government to place people suspected of planning terrorist attacks under house arrest using secret evidence.
James Welch said that the bill was wrong in principle and should be voted down.
Gareth Peirce said, “This is the worst, most frightening piece of legislation that I have ever seen in this country. It is a complete entrenchment of a totalitarian state.
“There is a mad stampede to put this legislation through, the most important challenge to our unwritten constitution we have seen. This is peacetime, but we are getting the worst of wartime legislation.
“They are taking [our rights] away on the pretence that there is an emergency. It is all rubbish, smoke and mirrors, lies. Laws like this are the real threat to the nation, not terrorism.What it’s about is to affect the lives of potentially every single person living in this country, at the whim of the executive.
“They can take [your freedom] away, indefinitely, whoever you are, on the basis of these control orders.
“If you are the subject of a control order you could be required to supply information to a specified person on the basis of a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you have it. And what if you don’t? Then you go to prison.
“Can you imagine what it will mean to be the subject of a control order? All the courts can say is, was there a proper process and is there a reasonable suspicion. It’s all a trick.This is the thought police. This is a complete recipe for a dictatorship.
“I applaud those MPs that opposed the bill, but there are too many who did not. Anyone who votes for this act should not deserve our votes in the general election. It is worse than a betrayal, it is an act of treason.”
The meeting was organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, with support from other organisations including Stop Political Terror, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, Respect and the Green Party.