A ‘wholly irrelevant’ habeas corpus diversion

It would be nice to say that when perusing the pages of Hansard there is never a dull moment. But the sorry truth is monitoring the rhetorical stylings of MPs can often be tedious, mind-numbing, agonising work.

This is why there is so much spiritual joy to be experienced on the occasions when one does stumble across a barely-noticed parliamentary gem.

Take this excellent exchange during Monday evening's debate on extradition. The great British public were busy commuting or watching primetime television (ie, not BBC Parliament), but in the Commons chamber immigration minister Damian Green was busy trying to resist backbench pressure on extradition.

Or, at least, he should have been. Green had decided to take on Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg on a subject close to every MP's soul – the right to trial known as habeas corpus…

Damian Green: Many interesting points have been made this evening, but the only one with which I flatly disagree was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who said that 1,000 years ago habeas corpus was an important part of our constitution. I would normally defer to him in matters of mediaeval history, but I do not remember in the dying decades of the Anglo-Saxon kings, underrated though they are in history, that habeas corpus featured particularly highly.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: As it happens, one can trace habeas corpus back an extremely long way, but I do not think that I said that.

Damian Green: The record will tell us which of us recollects correctly. Moving rapidly to the 21st century—

Mr Davis rose—

Damian Green: Oh dear, I should not have done this.

Mr Davis: For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my hon. Friend the Minister—actually the record goes back to the Kings of Kent in the eighth century.

Damian Green: I can feel a fascinating and wholly irrelevant debate coming upon us, Mr Speaker.

Mr Blunkett rose—

Damian Green: This will be the last intervention on mediaeval history.

Mr Blunkett: I just want to make the obvious point that what matters is not when habeas corpus was agreed in principle but whether people can implement it.

Damian Green: In his known wisdom, the right hon. Gentleman brings me back to the modern era.


— Alex Stevenson