Debating David Davis

Tom Griffin
4 July 2008

David Davis thinks our liberty is in peril. Many on the liberal left agree. They may not be sure about the messenger, but they gave him a hearing last night in a Westminster debate sponsored by the Observer and Comment is Free.

Backed up by Observer columnist Henry Porter, Davis took on Labour MP Denis McShane and David Aaronovitch of the Times at an event whose tone was acutely summed up by Ros Taylor:

It was an occasionally bad-tempered debate that laid bare the Government's failure to convince a vocal proportion of Britons that 42
days' detention and the "surveillance society" – ID cards, CCTV and
prying council employees – are contributing to the greater safety and
wellbeing of society. MacShane and Aaronovitch, who share a basic faith
in the government's trustworthiness and good sense, were pitted against
two men afraid of its reach and what it might one day do with the data
it accumulates.

David Davis explained that he had launched his by-election campaign because of the fear that the Government would force though 42-day detention using the Parliament Act. Interestingly, Aaronovitch declared himself an agnostic on 42 days.

OurKingdom's Anthony Barnett appealed to the measure's sole defender on the panel:

Isn't it clear now with the squalid scenes in the House of Commons, which happened when the Government won that vote on 42 days, that if it is defeated by the Lords, and then goes back to the Commons, to be pushed through under the Parliament Act, we need Labour MPs of intelligence and integrity to stand up and say: 'whatever the arguments are, we don't have consensus on pushing this through'?

MacShane resisted such blandishments:

Anthony's quite right. The House of Lords may send it back. I'm not quite sure what will happen then.

I think it's better that we have this very unpleasant conflicted debate on this now, than we wait for the next atrocity and then rush through something as the EPA [Emergency Powers Act] and the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act] were rushed through without any real consideration. A bit of prevention perhaps would be better than cure.

Would it be unfair to suggest that the Government is attempting to avoid the danger of panicky legislation after an attack, by passing a bad piece of legislation now?

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