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Monday, 19 November, 2001, 23:15 GMT
Anti-terror bill clears first hurdle
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett: "Proposals could have been more Draconian"
MPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of sweeping new anti-terrorism laws, including the power to imprison suspects without trial.

The proposals were given a second reading by a margin of 458 votes to five.


The government has won the vote very easily but it has not necessarily won the argument

The BBC's Political Editor Andrew Marr
But the bill is expected to face strong criticism when it goes into committee stage later this week. It will also face opposition in the House of Lords.

The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr said: "The government has won the vote very easily but it has not necessarily won the argument."

He said the government could expect further opposition from its own benches before the bill becomes law.

Controversial proposals

Home Secretary David Blunkett came under fire from all sides in the Commons over the bill's proposals.

Proposed new powers
Detain terrorist suspects without trial
Tighten airport security
Freeze suspected terrorist funds
Make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence
MPs lined up to accuse the government of using terrorism as an excuse to bring in powerful new restrictions on civil liberties.

Brian Sedgemore, one of four Labour MPs to vote against the government, said the legislation was "a ragbag of the most coercive measures that the best mandarin minds from the Home Office can produce".

In an impassioned speech, Mr Sedgemore said: "Not since the panic and hysteria that overcame the British establishment in the aftermath of the French Revolution has this House seen such draconian legislation."

Unrepentant

But Mr Blunkett was unrepentant.

Reminding MPs of the thousands who died on 11 September, he said even more Draconian measures could have been put forward by ministers.

But, he added: "It would have been wrong to do so."

"It was appropriate for us to be more circumspect and bring forward proportionate and reasonable measures," he said.

The terrorists had not only destroyed the World Trade Centre but had also "declared open season on all of us," he added.

Possible reprisals

In addition to the measures on detaining suspects, the 128 paragraph bill also includes proposals to tighten airport security, freeze suspected terrorists' funds and create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Opposition concerns
No time to debate important new legislation
Government is using terrorism as excuse for new restrictions on civil liberties
Incitement to religious hatred measures have no place in emergency legislation
Detaining suspects without trial could be counter-productive

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said he supported some of the measures contained in the bill but he thought it was being pushed through parliament too quickly.

He said the Conservatives planned to table a number of amendments with the Liberal Democrats aimed at "improving" the bill.

Mr Letwin repeatedly urged the government to think again on the "internment" of terrorist suspects.

He warned this could lead to possible reprisals against British citizens abroad.

He said he would prefer Mr Blunkett to exclude or deport foreign undesirables rather than jailing them.

There was criticism too from Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who complained the plans did not apply to Irish republican groups such as the Real IRA.

'New demands'

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes said she understood concerns that the legislation was being hurried through.

But she said it was necessary to act quickly and decisively because "the lengths these terrorists will go to, including their own death, makes new demands on our ability to anticipate their plans and therefore protect our people".

Under the government's proposals the law on detention of suspects will fall after five years and "there will be a debate every year for three hours" on the issue, she added.

Incitement ban 'wrong'

The Lib Dems and Conservatives also hit out at plans to include new laws banning incitement to religious hatred in the anti-terror legislation.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes urged the home secretary to "consult more widely and relatively quickly on the religious incitement matters and legislate separately".

Mr Letwin said dealing with the threat of terrorism and the persecution of Muslim communities in the same legislation sent out the wrong message.

'No time for scrutiny'

MPs are angry at the lack of time they have been given to scrutinize a bill that will have serious implications for civil liberties.

In total, the Commons has been given just three days to look at the legislation, a process that would normally take several weeks.

Mr Blunkett is determined to see the Bill on the statute books by the Christmas recess.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"The Conservatives say there should have been more time for the debate"
Gwyn Prosser, Labour Home Affairs Select Committee
"If we spent a little more time scrutinising... we would have a better bill at the end of it"
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thomas
"At least in the Lords we have the opportunity of changing some of the more draconian provisions of it"

Key stories

Background

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TALKING POINT

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SPECIAL REPORTS
See also:

15 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett warns of increased terror risk
11 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Tougher terror laws challenged
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Ministers defend terror crackdown
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror laws unveiled
13 Nov 01 | UK
Lessons of 'internment'
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