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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 13:35 GMT
Fast law, bad law?
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Home Secretary Charles Clarke is facing opposition to his latest anti-terror laws on many fronts - not least the fact he is attempting to rush them through parliament in a matter of days.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke faces demands for more debate
Conservative spokesman David Davis has expressed dismay at the speed with which Mr Clarke is planning to force through the controversial Bill, declaring: "Parliament needs more time to debate these issues. Our civil liberties and system of justice are worth more than two days of hurried decisions."

It is a view shared by the Liberal Democrats and many on the Labour backbenches, particularly those with long memories who recall other hurried laws that proved deeply flawed.

One of the most notorious rushed laws was introduced by the Tory government in 1991 after a spate of headline-grabbing attacks by the then latest fashion accessory - Pit Bull terriers.

Pictures of children who had been mauled or worse, by the pets were more than any government could stand and they rushed through laws to, in effect, ban a list of dogs deemed dangerous.

Howls of protest followed as owners claimed their harmless pets were being threatened, while breeders and dog lovers found ways around the laws.

And, needless to say, fashions changed and new, equally macho breeds which didn't fall under the laws appeared on what seemed to be an almost daily basis.

Illegal arms

Five years later, ministers acted in the wake of the Dunblane massacre which saw a gunman kill 16 school children and a teacher in the small Scottish town.

Pit bull terrier
Dog laws were attacked
As the nation recoiled in sheer horror from the massacre, ministers rushed through laws to ban handguns.

There were objections on the grounds the ban simply would not stop similar future atrocities by individuals with illegal arms, or other equally deadly weapons.

There were also serious concerns expressed by sports shooters who claimed the laws would see their legitimate activities banned.

It is now said that the law failed to reduce the number of firearms circulating in the UK and that it has indeed hit the legitimate sport.

The then Tory Home Office minister Timothy Kirkhope is on record stating: "Looking back, this was "knee-jerk legislation". With more debate, and with the benefit of hindsight, we would have approached things differently".

More recently the ban on fox hunting in Scotland, and to an extent the one in England is being held up by critics as an example of legislation being forced through parliament.

Final hurdles

Neither pieces of legislation could be called rushed as they took years to make it to the statute books.

But they were certainly forced through despite massive opposition and, at the final hurdles, pretty speedily.

The experience in Scotland has also suggested there will be problems with enforcement of the law.

And only a month ago the parliamentary and health ombudsman Ann Abraham declared the government was rushing through bits of legislation and called for greater scrutiny of planned laws.

"Major policy changes are ill-considered or badly implemented and often fail to take into account the impact they may have on people's lives."

That had led to complaints from members of the public about services, she said, highlighting the 222 complaints her office had received last year about the Child Support Agency - a 5% increase compared to the previous year.

Of course for every critic of these laws there are those who claim they work fine and insist it was right at the time to get them onto the statute books as soon as possible.

Some circumstances require virtually instant decisions, they claim. And Mr Clarke seems in no mood to delay the passing of his controversial measures.

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