MONDAY'S impassioned debate in the House of Commons on the UK Government's Prevention of Terrorism Bill kept MPs and ministers up late and the latter probably had to go back to their offices to see how to patch up the difficulties they had got themselves into earlier. So when Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, was interview on BBC Radio 4*s Today programme at 7.50am (London time) he was probably not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Still he got through most of James Naughtie's questions quite well until asked why he had not been able to persuade more of the Labour backbenchers to support his position; after all, said Mr Naughtie, when some sixty of your own people vote against you or abstain, something's surely wrong? Mr Clarke snapped: One day we'll get to the point that Today presenters make the laws of the land, but we're not there yet. End of interview and a clear indication that Mr Clarke was rattled and that the Government is in deep trouble with this Bill which is probably going to be mauled by the House of Lords before it returns to the Commons.
It has become customary of late to deplore the decline of the House of Commons as a debating chamber and its impotence in the face of a ruthless government impatient with what it sees as unnecessary delaying debate. But in the past week or so the Commons has collectively re-asserted itself. This has partly been because of a revived Conservative leadership and the persistent impact of Charles Kennedy's interventions but mostly it has been the result of Labour backbenchers who have found their protest voices again, and just before an election. When a lifelong loyal Labour MP ends his speech about a Labour government's disregard for the principle of Habeas corpus with the words May the government be damned for it, it is clear that, on this issue anyway, the Parliamentary worm has turned.
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