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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 08:03 GMT
Labour MPs rebel on terror bill
Police will get new powers under the bill
Opposition to controversial anti-terrorism measures has sparked the biggest rebellion of this parliament with more than 30 Labour MPs voting against the government.

Home Secretary David Blunkett hoped to dissolve opposition to a measure allowing the detention without trial of some terror suspects - by building in an automatic lapse after a five year period.

It's long been the wish of some of the most gruesome and barbaric regimes in the world to get this government to act against people they deem to be terrorists

Diane Abbott, Labour MP
But it was not enough to prevent 15 Labour rebels voting against an order to opt out of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights preventing detention without trial.

The government's huge majority ensured the vote was easily carried.

But among those opposing the move included Chris Mullin, Labour chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, and Labour former minister Mark Fisher.

Legal challenges

Later, 32 Labour MPs voted against the government over powers which would prevent legal challenges to the Home Secretary's decisions.

MPs on all sides of the Commons have accused the government of using the terror attacks of 11 September as an excuse to force through Draconian measures limiting traditional freedoms.

They are also angry that such a controversial bill is being rushed through in three parliamentary sessions, a process that would normally take several weeks.

The bill is expected to face further opposition when it reaches the Lords.

Blunkett's concession

It is due to receive its final Commons reading next week.

Earlier, in an attempt to appease the bill's critics, Mr Blunkett told MPs there will be a "sunset clause" added to the section of the bill dealing with the detention of suspects without trial.

This means that after five years the measure would lapse and Parliament would have to vote to re-approve it.

Mr Blunkett said it would enable MPs and Peers to determine whether detention without trial was still justified.


Labour rebel Chris Mullin praised the government's "willingness to listen" on the sunset clause, as his committee had suggested just such a change.

He said it made it easier for MPs who'd had concerns over the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill to support it.

But Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, called the concession "unacceptable", as the five-year sunset clause only applied to one section of the bill.

'Internment without trial'

Mr Blunkett's concession also failed to silence backbench critics such Labour's Diane Abbott, who said of the Government's plans: "It will look very much like internment without trial.

"It's long been the wish of some of the most gruesome and barbaric regimes in the world to get this government to act against people they deem to be terrorists.

"They have got their wish in this set of internment clauses."

Internment, she said, had proved the "best recruiting sergeant" for the IRA.

'Utterly wrong'

The anti-terrorism bill's committee stage came in the wake of a joint attack on the plans from the Conservative Party leader and the Northern Ireland First Minister.

Iain Duncan Smith and David Trimble argued government risked encouraging terrorists by making a false distinction between Osama Bin Laden and Northern Ireland paramilitaries.

The pair say the anti-terror bill creates the "utterly wrong" concept of "good" and "bad" terrorists by distinguishing between international and domestic terrorism.

The Home Office has countered the criticism, saying most of the bill deals with all types of terrorism and only one part specifically targets international terror groups.

In a joint article for Wednesday's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Trimble - leader of the Ulster Unionist Party - say: "By creating different classes of terrorist, the danger is that all terrorists will be encouraged to believe that, if only they persist, sooner or later they will succeed."

A Tory bid to apply the detention provisions to domestic as well as international terrorists was defeated by 361 to 177, a Government majority of 184.

See also:

19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror bill clears first hurdle
11 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Tougher terror laws challenged
15 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK anti-terror measures unveiled
10 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble attacks Blair's NI policy
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