Monday, November 12, 2007

Giving Evidence at the Home Affairs Committee

Tomorrow, I've been asked to give evidence at the Home Affairs Committee which is looking at the Government's anti-terror legislation.

I do quite a lot of (unpaid, before my detractors start up again) conferences and speeches and public and private meetings including ones with people in Government and the security services about terrorism and civil liberties, in my spare time, so I didn't realise this Committee session was such a big deal until Angus from ITN rang up about it ( the media all come and watch and report, apparently). Previous transcripts of the Committee can be seen here, here here ( this relates to the Government’s stated intentions and justification for its proposals, and might be of particular interest).

Also giving evidence is one of the Forest Gate brothers. I'm on at 10.15, then David Davies and Nick Clegg. It can be watched HERE ( on Tuesday 13, tomorrow and for 28 days after)

I've banged on enough about civil liberties and terrorism on this blog for the last 2 years( see, for example 90 days and 90 nights, The Rules of the Game Have Changed, Give Me Liberty , On Intelligence Failures, Brown on Terrorism and of course, as part of the cast of excellent Taking Liberties movie ( buy here now out on DVD) and book, ( blog here) so it will be good to try to get some of the points across in person.

When I talk about civil liberties, here on my blog, or at public or private meetings, I'm giving my personal opinion, ( I always say this and it is amazing how often this gets ignored). When I get asked to say things about the campaign for an independent inquiry, which is a group of survivors and families, then yes, okay, I am usually talking about a position held by a group, and discussed as a group. The matter of the anti-terror legislations, freedom and liberty and security and how we all cope going forward is something that I think every one in the country should have a stakehold in and an opinion about because it's very important stuff.

But I am not possessed of any special wisdom by virtue of having been on a suicide-bombed train two years ago: I just care, passionately enough about this to write, and to read and to learn as much as I can about it. To talk to people, and to listen, and to try to hold a steady course and avoid getting pulled into the malevolent hysteria that sometimes threatens to overtake the issue of terrorism.

I do this largely because when a bomb went off near by I saw ordinary people of all ages and races and beliefs stay calm, reach out to help each other, and get through the horror in a way that made me proud to be human. In the dark and the smoke, people managed their panic and fear and drew together. That experience changed me and is, for me, the antidote to terrorism - that sense of hope and support found I found from strangers on a train.

It seems to me to be a shame if in the months following that day, the country we live in is fundamentally changed, and that resilience falters, that fear and paranoia blooms at the expense of rationality and that oppressive and to me, unnecessary laws are passed to combat what is basically organised crime with an ideological twist and a neat way with propaganda. Why do we need to shred the Constitution, bin Habeas Corpus?

We already have laws against planning murder and mayhem and other crimes like fraud and inciting violence. Why is terrorism so very different to organised crime in terms of how you use intelligence to monitor and disrupt planning? Why is breaking up a huge drugs smuggling operation any less difficult than what the anti-terror agencies do now, with suspects spread out over Pakistan and the Middle East and Europe and America and evidence cached on computers?

Why do we need to detain people without charge for over a month, when equally complex cases have been prosecuted without such swingeing powers?
You tell me.

I worry about where we are heading, I think we are using fear to push through damaging, destabilising, anti-liberty laws and we are in doing so, making it worse for ourselves, not better. And if I am asked for my opinion, then I shall say so.

Well, though I will be answering questions rather than asking them, I would be interested to hear your points of view and I will do my best to communicate a faithful representation of the opinions I have heard over the last 2 years tomorrow. Anyone reading who has any thoughts on terrorism and laws please shout in the comments or send me an email.

UPDATE: some good posts I have seen on my trawls
Hamster on Detention Roulette,
Septic Isle on How I Stopped Worrying about the Muslims and Liberty 56 Days and All that
Blairwatch, Liberal Conspiracy on Gangs & Terrorism

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Blogger Henry North London said...

Just make sure our civil liberties are saved Rachel, 28 days is a heck of a long time if you dont know what's going to happen to you.

I know cos I spent 27 days in hospital and it was the worst experience of my life so far.

You really have to push and push for what liberties we have left to be retained

Taming the Lion is not easy with the streams of utter fear that the government screech at us but please do try your best.



November 12, 2007 4:45 pm  
Blogger Single Mother on the Verge said...

Good luck Rachel,

You're quite some woman.

Smov x

November 12, 2007 5:08 pm  
Blogger Woffle said...

Good luck tomorrow, and I think a lot of what you say makes sense.

But we don't have a constitution though... never have, and probably never will. George Bush notwithstanding Americans have a lot more of this liberty thing...

November 12, 2007 10:10 pm  
Blogger Leighton Cooke said...

We do have a constitution. It rests upon the two principles of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. Its key documents are probably Magna Carta and the 1688 settlement. The tricky part of this is that it hands over far too much power to the executive and has no separation of powers. The final arbiters of the British system of government are the limits set by public opinion. This is why the independence of the media is so vital. Bloggers are the modern day pamphleteers, the "radical ranters" whose duty it is to remind the powers that be that it is all of us that are the real sovereigns of our liberty.

November 13, 2007 2:04 am  

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