Politics: The Week in Review

After the Parliamentary summer recess, MPs returned to the House of Commons on Monday 5th September amid speculation over the past relationship between Britain and Libya. It has been reported that a series of documents, allegedly implicating both Britain and the US in the illegal act of extraordinary rendition, have been discovered in the Libyan capital of Tripoli following the advancement of rebel forces in recent weeks.

The files were found in the office of Musa Kusa, the Foreign Minister under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and contain information detailing the relationships that were developed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with Libyan intelligence organisations. It is claimed that the CIA arranged for the transportation of suspected terrorists to torture camps based in Libya, sending a list of questions that the organisation wanted their Libyan counterparts to ask and even being present at some of the interviews. It has also emerged that MI6 took part in the practice of extraordinary rendition by returning identified political opponents of the Gaddafi regime to Libya – despite knowing that he had previously ordered the assassination of activists and rebels who publicly opposed his dictatorship – in exchange for Libyan intelligence on suspected terrorists.

Although it is too early regarding the situation in Libya to make a full assessment of the documents, it is clear that there is evidence to support the allegations of government involvement, and particularly that of MI6, in rendition. Consequently, David Cameron revealed on Monday that the Gibson Inquiry, originally set up to investigate cases involving British nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay, would be extended to review the British connection with torture in Libya. The inquiry will be led by former judge Sir Peter Gibson, who will now attempt to uncover the truth about these documents and, if they are found to be correct, decide if those responsible will face prosecution. When considered in the context of diplomatic relations and serving the national interest, however, this is not a clear-cut case.

Meanwhile, despite increasing speculation over his whereabouts, including some reports that he has fled to Niger, the search efforts for Gaddafi continue to be focused in Libya as rebel forces believe he is still in the country.

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New evidence also came to light in the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World this week, as former editor Colin Myler and lawyer Tom Crone testified in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. They claimed that James Murdoch, the chairman and Chief Executive of News International, the corporation which owned the News of the World, was aware of an email that suggested phone hacking was widespread across the Sunday newspaper. The two men stated that Murdoch was told of the email in a meeting to discuss the compensation payment for former football manager Graham Taylor as part of the hacking scandal. Despite the fact that their testimonies directly contradict Murdoch’s statement which he made to MPs two months ago, in which he denied knowledge that the hacking went beyond rogue reporter Clive Goodman, Murdoch publicly reiterated his denial in the wake of these comments. Earlier in the week he refused to accept a bonus reported to be around £3.7million because ‘it was the right thing to do’ under the circumstances.

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The much debated Health and Social Care Bill, which has been designed to revolutionize the National Health Service (NHS), was successfully passed through the House of Commons on Wednesday 7th September, despite strong opposition to the reform from the Labour Party and several dissenting members of the Liberal Democrats. The Bill, which was first introduced back in January, was passed by MPs with a final vote of 316 to 251 and will now be put forward for a first reading in the House of Lords.

The primary intention of the Bill is to establish an independent NHS Board which would have the power to allocate resources and provide guidance. In addition to developing Monitor as a governing body of economic regulation, this is designed to cut expenditure on the numerous health bodies that currently exist within the NHS in order to meet government commitments on spending cuts. However, the concerns raised by the opposition to the Bill include the increased involvement of GPs and committees, since it is argued that the reduced accountability of ministers could lead to the effective privatisation of the NHS. These claims were rejected by Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, the chairman of the health committee, who stated that the Bill had been vastly improved since it was initially conceived. One amendment which was not included, however, was a change to the law on the level of available counselling for women considering abortion, with MPs voting against the introduction of independent advisors as an alternative to the counselling currently offered by clinics.