THE BISHOPS of Coventry, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Oxford, and Worcester
have signed a declaration that strongly opposes the Government's Prevention of
Terrorism Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.
They joined hundreds of others, including lawyers, actors, playwrights, and
trade-union leaders, to protest about the new Bill, which gained a narrow
majority of 14 after its Third Reading in the House of Commons on Monday.
The most keenly debated part of the Bill is the proposal to introduce
"control orders", which would include house arrest, as well curfews, tagging,
and bans on phone and internet use.
The Bill gained its majority on Monday night after the Home Secretary,
Charles Clarke, introduced a last-minute amendment, which said that the control
orders leading to house arrest would be imposed by judges, not politicians.
But the human-rights organisation Liberty, which has organised the
declaration against the Bill, said it was "deeply concerned by the unending
restrictions on liberty".
A spokeswoman for the Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, said it was
something he felt very strongly about. In a debate in the Lords on Tuesday, Dr
Selby said: "I am most of all concerned that this Bill does not become what it
currently has every sign of becoming: a victory for the terrorists. . . There
are other dangers posed by terrorists, and they are extremely serious. I do not
minimise them. There is something altogether different, however, when the state
begins to turn on its people, or awards itself the power to do so."
The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Colin Bennetts; the Bishop of St
Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Richard Lewis; and the Bishop of Oxford,
the Rt Revd Richard Harries, all said on Tuesday that they felt strongly about
the issue. All four bishops said that they had responded individually rather
than speaking on behalf of the Church of England.
A spokesman for Liberty said on Tuesday: "Secret evidence delivered is not
the same as a fair trial."
During Tuesday's debate, peers put forward a "sunset clause", which would
mean the law would reach the statute book, but remain there only until 30
November 2005. The Bill was due to be debated again in the Lords yesterday.