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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 15:13 GMT
MPs reconsider anti-terror bill
Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke says he has attempted to end the deadlock
MPs have resumed debate on the government's controversial anti-terror bill following a 24-hour stand-off with peers in the House of Lords.

Peers have refused to give up amendments that would put a 12-month time limit on the bill and place a higher standard of proof on suspects.

The bill has "ping ponged" between the two houses four times as the two sides fail to reach agreement.

The debate now threatens to stretch into the weekend.


It comes as five foreign terror suspects were freed on conditional bail from Belmarsh Prison after being detained for up to three years.

Under the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Bill "control orders" ranging from tagging to house arrest could be imposed on both British and foreign terrorist suspects.

I am not being dismissive of people's civil liberties - I don't mean to be arrogant in taking this legislation through
Tony Blair

The government says it is necessary for national security, but opposition politicians are concerned about civil liberties.

Tony Blair has hit back at Tory claims that he is trying to make terror a central theme in the forthcoming general election.

But it is unclear how the issue will be resolved, with existing powers set to run out on Monday morning.

Over the past 24 hours MPs have repeatedly rejected demands by peers for a "sunset clause" which would kill the bill in 12 months time.

They also rejected calls for a privy council review of the bill's operation - which peers later withdrew - and a higher burden of proof against suspects.

'Messing about'

At the beginning of reconvened debate in the Lords, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor told peers: "The time has come to respect the supremacy of the Commons, put aside our disputes on the debate and join together on the terrorist threat we revile."

Mr Blair has refused to accept the opposition's call for the bill's lifespan to be limited and accused the Tories of "messing about" with important laws.

We believe terrorists should be brought to trial and put in prison, not wandering around with an electronic bracelet
Michael Howard

"I am not being dismissive of people's civil liberties - I don't mean to be arrogant in taking this legislation through," he said.

"I am doing it genuinely to protect the security of Britain and British families.

"It's important that we have legislation on the statute book and don't send a signal of weakness that this legislation may evaporate or disappear in some months time."

In earlier rowdy scenes in the Commons, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the government had made "constructive moves" to end deadlock over the bill.

He contrasted these with what he called "zero movement" from the Tory and Liberal Democrat controlled House of Lords.

"It's been a stick in the mud response, simply trying to put heels in the sand and prevent the elected House carrying its proposals through," he said.

This bill proves the terrorists are already winning - we're restricting our rights through fear of an attack
Sarah, Bristol, UK

Tory leader Michael Howard said: "Does Mr Blair really want to have this bill on the statute book or does he want to make terror an issue at the election, so that he can avoid all those other issues he doesn't want to talk about?

"It comes down to a question of trust. Can we trust Mr Blair, the man who gave us the 'dodgy dossier', to put Britain's interests first."

Lord Steel of Aikwood, former leader of the Liberal Party, said Mr Blair should consider having a further meeting with Mr Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, in a bid to reach a compromise.

"I think it would be wrong if he were to behave like a Chinese emperor and be worried about loss of face," he said.

Scenes from the continuing debate

Is the Lords right to block government anti terror bill?
27170 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed

Blair accused over sunset advice
11 Mar 05 |  Politics

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