Desperate tactics push through 42 days

A GOVERNMENT in trouble has to resort to desperation tactics - and there were plenty in use this week as Chief Whip Geoff Hoon acted as Mr Tough Guy threatening all sorts of sanctions against wayward MPs while offering liquorish sticks to those who behaved themselves in the knife-edge vote on terrorism legislation.

Graham Dines

A GOVERNMENT in trouble has to resort to desperation tactics - and there were plenty in use this week as Chief Whip Geoff Hoon acted as Mr Tough Guy threatening all sorts of sanctions against wayward MPs while offering liquorish sticks to those who behaved themselves in the knife-edge vote on terrorism legislation.

The Democratic Unionist Party's nine MPs, Ulster Unionist Lady Heron, Tory Ann Widdecombe, and Bob Spink (UK Independence Party) trooped through the lobbies, giving Gordon Brown a majority of nine as 36 Labour rebels - including Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) - defied the pressure to defeat what they regard as pernicious legislation.

But just as Mr Brown and his whips were celebrating victory, a well-planned sting was announced - the Tories shook the Westminster village to its core when shadow home secretary David Davis, one of the party's ablest and most respected operators, announced he was resigning as an MP to take a stand against the Government's 42-day terror detention plan.


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Mr Davis, who said he was forcing a by-election to protest against the “insidious”' erosion of civil liberties in Britain, was in the vanguard of the failed parliamentary bid to defeat the proposed legislation.

Mr Davis said the undermining of civil liberties through moves such as 42 days detention and the introduction of identity cards “cannot go on. It must be stopped and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand.”

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“I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government.”

The drama continued at Westminster when the Liberal Democrats spokeswoman confirmed the party would not be fielding a candidate in the resulting Howden and Haltemprice by-election.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “The Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed this unnecessary and illiberal proposal which poses a threat so serious to British liberties that it transcends party politics. I have therefore decided, after consultation with the party nationally and locally, that we will not stand a candidate at the forthcoming by-election which will be contested by David Davis solely on this issue.”

Labour was predictably contemptuous. Communities secretary Hazel Blears said the Tories were “plainly in disarray and confusion over the serious issue of national security. This forced by-election is a farce - and an insult to the voters in Haltemprice and Howden.”

Mr Davis would not have resigned if the Government had been defeated last night. I'm sure he'll be returned with a massive majority but, as explained elsewhere, I think the Prime Minister is right, and I have always argued that identity cards are a good idea.

One question needs answering: when MPs are on holiday, how on earth can the Home Secretary seek their permission for an extension of questioning without ordering them all back from the beaches of Morecambe, Malta, and Mauritius?

That apart, I believe the Government is acting in its primary duty - protection of the nation state and its residents. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats may believe it is an erosion of fundamental human rights and habeas corpus, but I think the common good outweighs the arguments which have been put up against by the proposals.

Strong arm tactics had to be used by Government whips' to ensure a majority for the second reading. Labour backbenchers claimed they were threatened with removal of privileges if they did not fall into line, while Cynon Valley MP Anne Clwyd was supposedly told she would be stripped of her status as special human rights envoy to Iraq.

But alongside the big stick there were also plenty of juicy carrots on offer, with waverers said to be able to obtain Government favours in return for falling into line.

Some left-wingers were enticed with the unexpected prospect of Britain lobbying for an easing of EU sanctions against Cuba, while others were given undertakings on compensation packages for sick miners.

However, the best sweeteners were gifted to the nine DUP MPs, with the Tories estimating that a package worth up to £1.2 billion was on the table.

The DUP was said to have negotiated that up to £200 million in revenue from water rates in Northern Ireland will be kept by Stormont, rather than being clawed back by Westminster.

A further £1 billion from the sale of disused military bases could also stay within the province rather than returning to the Ministry of Defence.

BROWN'S CHEAP REMARK

GORDON Brown was guilty this week of making a cheap and unworthy political point because Tory leader David Cameron had the temerity to agree with him on Afghanistan.

Cameron: “I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree with me that it is clear why we are there. If we go, the Taliban come back, the training camps come back and there will be more terrorists on British streets.”

Brown: “I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he is doubting the reason for being there . . .”

After Tories MPs shouted at this utterly wrong statement, the Prime Minister quickly retreated. “Okay, the reason for being there is that we cannot allow the Taliban to get back into power, and we cannot allow al-Qaeda to get a grip on the province.”

Just what Cameron said. Brown is so used to trench warfare, that he doesn't recognise support when it's given.

BROWN SINGS TO SIR HARRY'S TUNE

THE Prime Minister has disclosed his favourite song, in a letter to children at a Dundee primary school. “Keep Right On To The End Of The Road” was written by Sir Harry Lauder soon after his son was killed in the First World War.

RENDELL RAISES FEMALE CIRCUMCISION IN LORDS

THE tricky subject of female circumcision has been tackled head on in the House of Lords by Suffolk life peeress and the best-selling crime writer Baroness (Ruth) Rendell of Babergh, who demanded action against doctors who carry out female genital mutilation.

During questions in the Lords, Lady Rendell asked if the Government would consider the introduction of routine disclosure by health professions when evidence of FGM is discovered in patients.

Replying for the Government, Baroness Thornton (Baroness-in-Waiting, Her Majesty's Household) told her: “Health professionals have a duty to ensure that they work within safeguarding law as well as professional codes. For women who have undergone female genital mutilation, it is normally expected that information is shared with others, with the woman's consent.

“When FGM comes to the attention of any professional, consideration needs to be given to any child protection implications, for example younger siblings and members of the extended family, and a referral made to social services or the police if appropriate. Indeed, under the Children Act 1989, everyone with information that a child is potentially or actually at risk of significant harm must inform social services or the police.”

Baroness Rendell said estimates that 27,000 women were at risk could be “very wide” of the mark. She urged an investigation which would be “of great benefit to health professionals, so that difficulties in gynaecological examination, notably the use of the speculum, could be anticipated and a woman's fears allayed.

“The data might also be of benefit to the police in bringing forward prosecutions; there have been no prosecutions under the 2003 Act, which is now five years old.”

CLIMATE BILL `MUST NOT BE STEALTH TAX' - GUMMER

THE Government's ground-breaking Bill to combat climate change cleared its first hurdle in the Commons - with just three Tories voting against - a second reading to the proposed legislation received a majority of 341.

The Climate Change Bill will set a legally binding target for reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60% by 2050, although the Liberal Democrats indicated they wanted this boosted to 80%, compared to 1990 levels, if the UK is to be taken seriously on the issue.

Tim Yeo (Tory MP for Suffolk South), who chairs the cross-party environmental audit committee, said in the debate that one reason for supporting was that it might accelerate British companies “decarbonising” their products.

“It will quickly give us a competitive advantage if our companies offer low-carbon products and services compared with those produced in other countries,” said Mr Yeo.

Urging honesty in the levelling of green taxes, former environment secretary John Gummer (Conservative, Suffolk Coastal) said: “Merely labelling a tax with a polite name should not make it impossible for environmentalists to point out that some taxes work and some do not.

“We want a carbon tax that does the job properly, and is not a mere stealth tax that puts money into the Chancellor's pocket,” said Mr Gummer.

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