A Lengthy Reply

I wrote to my MP Mark Lazarowicz some time ago regarding the Government proposal to increase the period of detention of suspected terrorists to 42 days – you can find the post here.

While initially stating that he was opposed to the bill, I was later informed that he had voted to support it (thanks Andrew!). So, I decided to find out why:

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Dear Mark Lazarowicz,

I wrote to you on the 5th May regarding the terrorism laws in the UK, specifically the ability to detain suspects without charge for a substantial period of time.

Part of your reply:
“You will no doubt be aware there is currently a proposal under discussion to raise the 28 day limit to 42 days. While I am of course open to all reasonable argument, I have certainly not been convinced of the case for this extension, and at present I do not intend to support it.”

I am interested to know what changed your mind on this matter as I believe you voted for this Bill when it came up in the House of Commons earlier this month, and indeed on other Bills such as the renewal of Control Orders in February, and any other legislation that blatantly removes a citizen’s basic rights without charge.

Yours sincerely,

Fergus Macdonald

I came across some of the information in this letter from a few sites I found through writetothem.com. There is quite a wealth of information on MPs available on the internet which I was slightly unaware about. I’m not surpised by this, but I have never looked it up before so wasn’t quite sure how or where this was available. It makes interesting reading if you want insight into how the person you vote for actually performs his/her duties.

Anyway, Mark replied personally to my email the same day, which again is impressive timing, and a thorough response:

Dear Mr Macdonald

Thank you for your email. I have to tell you that it was only after a great deal of thought I decided to support the government proposal on this issue. It is no secret that I had a great number of reservations about the proposal, so I shall explain why I eventually decided to vote in the way that I did.

Firstly, having looked at all the information available to me, I was persuaded that there was a case for a ‘reserve power’ of the type proposed, as long as it was genuinely that, and not a power which became used on a regular basis.

Secondly, the various amendments and concessions made by the government have made it clear that the power will indeed be a reserve power. It is certainly not the case that there will become an automatic 42 day detention period. The power will only be able to be used in closely specified circumstances, for a limited time period, with parliamentary approval on each occasion, and will require the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Lord Advocate. It is therefore a very different proposal from the ’90 days’ proposals, to which I was very strongly opposed and which I had no hesitation in voting against.

Thirdly, the Prime Minister has personally made it clear that there is no intention to seek any further changes in the number of days for which pre-charge detention is available, and that he expects these powers to be used very sparingly, perhaps (hopefully) never. I have posted in my “blog” a copy of the Prime Minister’s letter to Labour MPs on the subject. There is a link to this from my website www.marklazarowicz.org.uk.

It is always of course possible to exaggerate the threat of terrorism – but equally, we should not ignore that it is a real threat as well. That does not mean that our primary response should be security measures – the most important thing is to tackle factors underlying terrorism, whether that be social divisions at home, poverty, and sometimes foreign policy. But sometimes security measures are important as well.

It is very hard, of course, to get the balance right. The recent case of Abu Qatada seems to highlight these difficulties. He has been released on bail (indirectly as a result of the provisions of the Human Rights Act, introduced of course by this Labour government); if it had not been for Control Orders, he would now be under no realistic controls, notwithstanding the clear views expressed by the Courts previously about him.

I realise that this is not the type of answer you would like, but I can assure you that I considered the issue of “42 days detention” very carefully, and eventually thought it was right to vote in the way that I did.

I am sorry to disappoint you – and obviously if you have any comments in response I would be happy and interested to hear from you.

Mark Lazarowicz MP

In light of this reply, which I did not manage to fully read until this morning, I made the following reply:

Dear Mr Lazarowicz,

My apologies for the slow reply to your letter, I am currently in South East Asia and have just spent a few weeks travelling through Laos  and Cambodia where internet access is not as good as some other places.

I thank you for your timely and thorough reply to my letter of 25th June, and I am certain that the situation that our country faces at this time is far more complicated than I can understand as a moderately-informed citizen. I also believe from reading your letter and looking at how you have voted on other matters (for example the recent bill to make MP’s expenses more transparent) that I can trust your response and therefore your judgement – which is a welcome feeling!

Fergus Macdonald

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