Huhne accuses Labour of 'riding roughshod' over Civil Liberties
The Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne, has condemned the government’s record on Civil Liberties in an interview with RaW News, accusing Labour of ‘riding roughshod’ over our basic rights, and saying that by panicking, the government were playing into the hands of terrorists who seek to destroy our ‘distinctive’ way of life. Mr Huhne was clearly relishing his new role on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, following his defeat by the narrowest of margins to Nick Clegg in the party leadership election in December.
On the issue of detention without trial, he said Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown had gone ‘massively overboard.’ He quoted the example of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, saying that no matter what the level of threat from the IRA, detention without trial was not extended beyond two days. He said that he was ‘entirely against extending the twenty eight day limit’, adding that the case had not been made for extending the limit at all. He also stated that the Liberal Democrats would review the system, and did not rule out the possibility of calling for the limit to actually be reduced.
Mr Huhne said the government had gone ‘far too far’ in removing traditional checks and balances and moving away from habeas corpus, often seen as a cornerstone of the British legal system. He said one of the most infamous examples of this was the case of the elderly Walter Wolfgang who was arrested under anti-terrorism measures merely for heckling the platform during the then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s speech to the Labour Party Conference, saying this highlighted the huge potential for abuse of these powers.
On ID Cards, Mr Huhne is perhaps even less convinced by the government’s argument. Asked if they would not be a small price to pay for defending national security, he replied ‘well, Spain has ID cards. It didn’t stop the Madrid bombing.’ He went on to argue that it is ‘not the role of a legislator merely to give in to a professional without seriously testing the argument.’
He also raised serious practical issues about the proposals, asking how we could be expected to trust the government to keep this confidential data safe, especially in the light of the recent missing data scandals. Mr Huhne said while you may be able to change your bank account number, ‘you can’t change your fingerprint.’
The Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman called on the government to ‘stop panicking’ and said they had got the balance between defending liberty and defending security ‘quite wrong’, but did welcome news that the government was taking some constructive steps, particularly the announcement that they would begin using intercept evidence. However that didn’t stop there being ‘alarming prospects’ for civil liberties, and Mr Huhne said he himself had used the phrase ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society.’ Here he raised the particularly worrying issue of the abuse of the ‘Wilson Doctrine’ established in the 1960s to protect the privacy of constituents when talking to their MP. He said this showed that safeguards were simply not there to prevent the abuse of new technologies.
The Conservatives did not escape Mr Huhne’s wroth either, however, telling RaW that the Tories were ‘fair-weather friends’ of the government on issues of freedom, and adding that they were ‘all over the shop on ID cards.’ He paid tribute to liberal-minded Conservatives such as David Davis, but feared they were coming under fire from within their own party.
Chief Political Correspondent