Letters to the Lords regarding the Totalitarianism Bill

My name is parliament and Tony Blair wants to neuter me

As regular readers of this website will know, I have become concerned with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, as seen in these previous articles.

Therefore it's time for another letter writing campaign. This time I'm sending letters to various Lords. I've made a selection which is cross party, choosing links with my area (where I can) and going for name recognition where I cannot find a link. I have a Bishop, a couple of Law Lords, and several others.

Dear Lord (),

I am writing to a selection of members of the House of Lords because I am concerned about several recent bills which are progressing through Parliament. It is my opinion that several of these bills have serious implications for civil liberties and practical enforcement, and in at least one case the bill is unnecessary.

I know that you are very busy, so please accept my apologies for such a long letter. I do hope that you are able to find the time to consider the points within.

My first concern is for the "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill".This bill has a disarmingly benign title and aim; after all, who could oppose a bill designed to cut red tape?

To my, admittedly inexpert, eye, the bill seems to give ministers the power to create arbitrary new offences with penalties of up to two years without reference to parliament. More than this, the bill allows any piece of legislation, including itself, to be amended. Regardless of the intent of the bill, such a bill is, at best, ill advised. Even if one attributes the best of intentions to the current government, one should not have laws which rely upon good intentions – we cannot guarantee that such a law will never be abused. I would like to draw your attention to Section 1, Section 3 and Section 6.

This piece of legislation, which is woefully out of the public eye, has the potential to be one of the most, if not the most damaging piece of legislation passed by this government.

My second concern is for the "Glorification" of Terrorism Bill. The Prime Minister said that not to pass the bill would be to send out the wrong message. I was under the impression that the job of Parliament was to find a workable, necessary set of laws. It is hard to think of a piece of legislation which is as unnecessary as this one.

Under existing laws, the recent protests outside the Danish embassy were already offences as they were incitements to commit murder. Abu Hamsa was convicted under existing laws. It is hard to think of situations where current laws do not allow action to be taken in such situations. Unfortunately, it is all to easy to conceive of situations where the new "Glorification" act could be misapplied.

Would it have been illegal to support the fight against apartheid in South Africa – and what of the Palestinians? Would condemning some of the actions of the USA and UK in Iraq fall foul of this legislation as it gives tacit support (even if this was not intended) to the "insurgents"?

What about Robin Hood, a fictional character who could be classed a terrorist as he used violent means against the authority of the day?

Could Frederick Forsyth and his ilk find themselves in court if their latest blockbuster deals with a terrorist attack from the point of view of the attacker?

Without a definition that is easy to understand, the law is ill-defined and therefore hard to enforce. Coupled with the fact that cases that most people would recognize as needing to be dealt with are already covered by existing law, the "Glorification" law is not required.

The final concern I have is for both the ID card legislation and the disingenuity displayed in getting it through the commons – I refer to the "lack of compulsion". This is unless, of course, one requires a passport. The ID card system has not been justified in terms of a cost/benefit analysis; the potential gains do not outweigh the risks associated with an all pervasive system such as these ID cards (and more so, the database behind them). The database proposed is much more extensive than that which exists in other countries. In Belgium, for example, methods are used to protect privacy and data sharing, an approach in direct contrast to the Home Office. The database will be a target for organized crime – a break into the database will yield a wealth of confidential information. No system can be made 100% secure, and the higher the prize the more determined the attacks will be. An illustration of this is the recent case in which thousands of sets of details were sold by someone working in a local Social Security office.

The cards will not help with illegal immigration and working, as penalties already exist for employers failing to obtain proof of entitlement to work. Similarly, identity fraud only forms a small part of fraud in the benefit system. ID cards, seen as "the gold standard" are more likely to increase "confidence" fraud. It has been shown that when systems are apparently more secure, the human factor tends to be reduced – people stop listening to their instincts. Once in place, the Home Office would have wide discretion to change the functions and content of the scheme at will without further parliamentary scrutiny.

There is also the problem that the scheme will provide a pretext for authority figures to use the cards as a tool for harrying individuals. The chairman of the Bar Council asked the question "is there not a great risk that those who feel at the margins of society – the somewhat disaffected – will be driven into the arms of extremists?" It should be remembered that the World War 2 ID card system was removed when Clarence Willock took a case to the High Court in 1951 and Lord Justice Goddard said that the ID cards "tended to turn law-abiding subjects into law breakers".

Please allow me to emphasise a point I made earlier, that I am concerned that such laws could be abused by some future Government, and that even if the laws are made with the best of intentions now, the potential for such abuse must not be built in.

Kind Regards,

Further Reading: