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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 16:12 GMT
Peers and MPs battle over terror bill
House of Commons
MPs' stand in silence following 11 September attacks
By Jonathan Isaby, Senior Political Analyst for the BBC

The passage of the government's emergency legislation on terrorism in the wake of 11 September is demonstrating the different ways in which the House of Commons and House of Lords scrutinise and influence legislation.

The Commons completed all stages of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill in just three days.

Since the government has a substantial majority of 167, it was not in any danger of suffering any defeats, despite some backbench Labour MPs opposing aspects of it.


We may well see a fierce battle between the two Houses and we will just have to wait and see which capitulates first

Jonathan Isaby
BBC

The swift passage of the bill in the elected house prompted criticism from some who suggested that it was being bulldozed through, without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The House of Lords, however, is taking more time over the same job.

It spent one day giving general consideration to the bill at Second Reading, and then spent four days on its Committee Stage, during which time the government suffered a defeat on a clause concerning the detention of foreign suspects.

On Thursday, the Lords begins the first of several days consideration of the bill at Report Stage.

Here it is anticipated that Tory peers could unite with Liberal Democrats and/or Labour rebels to potentially defeat the government again on various points of contention.

After the Report Stage the bill will be given a Third Reading in the Lords, before being sent back to the Commons.

The key issues where the Lords would be likely to defeat the government concern:

  • Limiting the enforced disclosure of suspects' personal financial and tax information
  • Adding the right to swift judicial review of the use of certain Home Office powers of detention and deportation
  • Excluding from the bill the 'European Third Pillar', which allows ministers to enact inter-governmental agreement without a vote in Parliament
  • Altering the section of the bill introducing new laws on religious hatred
  • Introducing 'sunset clauses' which would require aspects of the bill to be re-enacted by Parliament after a certain amount of time

For the bill to become law, it has to be approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords in its final form before it can be given Royal Assent - the Monarch's formal seal of approval.

So when the bill eventually clears the Lords, it will have to return to the Commons for final approval.

Twin Towers
The emergency legislation was prompted by attacks on the Twin Towers

In cases such as this, where the government has been defeated in the Lords, the government has to decide whether to accept the changes the Lords has made or have the Commons reverse them.

If it does that, the bill then has to return to the Lords, which might then back down and accept the Commons' will.

On the other hand, the Lords could decide not to accept the Commons' reversal of its changes, thereby challenging the Commons again to accept their will - a situation known as 'parliamentary ping-pong'.

Power of delay

Normally, if a bill is introduced and passed in the House of Commons but is then defeated in the House of Lords, the same bill can be reintroduced in the following session of Parliament a year later.

Under procedures made possible through the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, if the Commons still supports the bill, but the Lords again refuses to back it, it will be passed anyway - effectively giving the House of Lords a simple power of delay for one year.

However, since the current anti-terror legislation is something which has been introduced as a matter of urgency by the government, thinking about reintroducing it in a year's time is not something that they will be considering.

Instead, we may well see a fierce battle between the two Houses and we will just have to wait and see which capitulates first, although compromises might have to be brokered along the way.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror bill is 'snoopers' charter'
27 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror bill faces rough ride in Lords
27 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror bill meets peer pressure
25 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Kennedy criticises terror bill
22 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs rebel on terror bill
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