PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on 42 days

by Stephen Tall on June 11, 2008

Last week, the Cinderella at the Prime Minister’s Questions’ ball was the Government’s plan to extend to 42 days the length of time citizens can be held without being told what terrorist offence they are alleged to have committed. Not this week. Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron led on today’s Labour bid to shred our civil liberties.

Nick led on two fronts. First, that it’s absurd of Gordon Brown to suggest the House of Commons will continue to exercise oversight in such exceptional cases as present themselves as the evidence necessary to make that decision cannot (obviously) be presented to MPs.

And, secondly, that “everyone knows that the Prime Minister’s proposal will not become law” – it will be blocked by any number of bodies, including the House of Lords – “so why on earth is he playing politics with our liberties for a Bill that no one thinks is necessary, no one thinks will work in practice and everyone knows will never reach the statute book?”

Judge for yourselves how Nick did. You can watch the exchange on YouTube, or read the Hansard transcript, below.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Privates Nathan Cuthbertson, Daniel Gamble and David Murray.
Does the Prime Minister accept that irrespective of whether this House has seven days or 30 days to approve the extension of the period of detention without charge, it is not possible to provide us with sufficient evidence and information to make that judgment without either making covert intelligence public or jeopardising the legal case against a terrorist suspect?
The Prime Minister: The purpose of this coming before the House is for the Home Secretary to advise us that, in her view, there is an exceptional terrorist threat—a grave terrorist threat that either has occurred or is occurring—and that the need for action is urgent, but that it has not been possible to assemble the necessary evidence to lay charges within the 28 days. It will then be for the House to vote on the commencement order and agree that an exceptional terrorist incident has occurred. It is not the business of the House to interfere in the individual case, but it should be able to vote simply on whether an exceptional and grave terrorist threat has occurred. Given that the right hon. Gentleman and others have referred to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 in discussing this issue, I would hope that he understands that this is exactly the same problem that has to be faced in respect of that Act.
Mr. Clegg: Everyone knows that the Prime Minister’s proposal will not become law—it will be blocked in the other place, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will challenge it in court and the European Court of Human Rights will declare it illegal—so why on earth is he playing politics with our liberties for a Bill that no one thinks is necessary, no one thinks will work in practice and everyone knows will never reach the statute book?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says no one thinks the proposal is necessary, but has he looked at what police chief constables have said? Has he looked at the statements that have been made by those people who have dealt with terrorism? It is quite wrong to say that no one thinks it is necessary. Indeed, a Liberal Democrat candidate in Bristol did a survey of all his constituents: 74 per cent.— [Interruption.] Well, 74 per cent. said they were in favour and that
“The complexity of potential terrorist threats means that the police will need the additional time.”
It is not only popular; it is necessary and right. There are many people who disagree with the right hon. Gentleman profoundly.