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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 20:51 GMT
Anti-terror defeats for government
Police in foreground, with World Trade Center wreckage behind
The government has suffered a series of defeats in the House of Lords over its proposed anti-terrorism legislation.

In the latest pair of defeats, peers voted for amendments changing key aspects of the government's controversial proposal to detain terrorist suspects without trial.


Again the Lords has found a commonsense way forward - balancing the need for anti-terrorist powers with respect for civil liberties

Lord Strathclyde
Tory Lords leader
In five earlier votes on Thursday peers backed moves to restrict police powers, involving the disclosure of personal financial information, to the pursuit of terrorists and defence of national security rather than criminal activity as wanted by the government.

The defeats mean a parliamentary clash looms next week when the bill goes to the Commons - where the government intends to try and overturn the defeats - and then returns to the Lords.

Ministers hoped to see the proposals, which are the UK's legislative response to the 11 September attacks, on the statute book by Christmas but that target is now at risk.

A spokesman for Home Secretary David Blunkett said after the defeats: "We feel that the unelected Tory peers are disembowelling vital parts of the bill and completely undermining our fight against terrorism."

He said the distinction peers tried to make between terrorism and crime was "false".

Government warned

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes told BBC News Online "The House of Lords votes are clear and persuasive majorities from many quarters of the House which the government will ignore at its peril.

"We said we could deliver majorities to defeat the government on several key areas of this bill, we also said that we could take on and reduce the risk of terrorism without losing key civil liberties if the government accepted a bill reduced of its unacceptable elements."

He warned the government would "have its backs against the wall" if it only introduced "fig leaf concessions" next week.


The idea that those who are 'just criminals' are not connected to terrorism is a misnomer

Lord Rooker
Tory and Liberal Democrat peers joined forces to argue that measures to force authorities such as Customs and Excise or the Inland Revenue to reveal personal information to police were cast far too widely - and could be used by the police in minor criminal cases.

Home Office Minister Lord Rooker, who is steering the bill through the Lords, warned them their proposed changes "taken together, as a group if passed will wreck the bill".

He said it was not always obvious when a piece of information related to terrorist activity, and pointed out that terrorists were often involved in criminal activities such as drug, cigarette and people smuggling.

Terrorists 'underestimated'

The law as drafted by the government would help the authorities detect that kind of activity, he said.

"The idea that those who are 'just criminals' are not connected to terrorism is a misnomer. Therefore we need facilities to look at all the pieces of the jigsaw."

But Conservative peers' leader Lord Strathclyde insisted: "Contrary to the impression given by the government, these amendments do not affect any of the central purposes of the bill.

"They leave the government with exceptional new powers to fight terrorism, which everyone wants."

Key objections

However, they would deny the state the right, which many feared, to commandeer private and personal information on the merest suspicion of a criminal offence unrelated to terrorism, he said.

Lib Dem Lord Phillips of Sudbury said their proposed raft of changes to the bill "goes to the core of our objections" to it.

He warned of widespread fears that the extension of existing powers over disclosure of information to police and other security agencies by public bodies "is not confined to protection of national security".

Both main opposition parties say they do not want the bill as a whole to fail but they do want changes to key parts.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"The legislation looks like being batted back and forth"
The BBC's Sarah Nelson
"Ministers must have guessed it was going to be bad"

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See also:

06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Peers and MPs battle over terror bill
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror plans suffer first defeat
06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Minister backs EU-wide warrant
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Head-to-head: Anti-terror Laws
26 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Religious hatred law survives
22 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs rebel on terror bill
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws at-a-glance
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