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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 16:30 GMT
Blair rallies round terror bill
Armed police
The bill would give police wide-ranging new powers
Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a final appeal to all sides in the House of Commons to back sweeping new anti-terror laws.

His words came as ministers prepared to battle to overturn the 10 defeats inflicted by the House of Lords on the government's controversial anti-terrorism bill.

Timetable
Wednesday: Commons expected to reverse Lords' amendments
Thursday: Bill returns to the Lords
"Ping pong" battle between the two houses could go on for days
Downing Street has said the government is not prepared to "gut" the bill in order to get it on to the statute books - despite opposition calls for compromise.

Mr Blair told MPs it was important not to "let the time that has elapsed since 11 September dim our outrage" at the terrorist atrocities in the United States.

He reminded them of the "absolute certainty" shared on all sides of the House, at the time, that stronger laws were needed to "fight terrorism properly".

'Ping-pong'

Speaking at Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr Blair told MPs: "I do hope, even at this stage, that all sides of the House will support these measures and allow us to put them in place as soon as possible so that we can successfully prosecute the war against terrorism at home and abroad."

The bill returned to the Commons on Wednesday and if the government uses its huge majority to reverse the Lords' changes, days of parliamentary "ping pong" between the two Houses could ensue.

Earlier, home Secretary David Blunkett met shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin and Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes to discuss the plan ahead of Wednesday's debate.

The two opposition parties say they hope to reach a consensus with the government over the changes they want made to the proposed legislation.

No compromise

But Downing Street is saying ministers have already made several concessions and it is not prepared to drop contentious measures such as a new law outlawing incitement of religious hatred.

The prime minister's official spokesman told reporters: "What the government is not prepared to do is gut the bill.

David Blunkett
Blunkett says he will not drop key measures
"What you will see is the bill coming back to the Commons and it will be sent back to the Lords."

On Wednesday, Mr Blunkett is meeting US attorney-general John Ashcroft about the measures proposed in the bill as Mr Ashcroft begins a European tour.

If the Commons rejects the Lords' amendments as expected, the bill will go back to the upper house at the start of a battle that could last for days.

Ministers cannot use the Parliament Act to force the measures through the Lords unless they reintroduce the bill in the next parliamentary session, which starts late next year.

The ten amendments

The government's proposals have provoked outrage from all sides in the Lords.

Peers have accused ministers of using the terrorist attacks of 11 September as an excuse to push through draconian new measures limiting traditional freedoms.

In the past eight days, peers have:

  • Rejected detention of terrorist suspects without trial when deportation is not an option

  • Limited new police powers to investigate crime to crimes connected with terrorism and national security.

  • Insisted on the retention of judicial review for the Home Secretary's decisions on detention rather than the closed Special Immigration Appeals Committee

  • Voted to allow the courts to challenge the UK's opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights in detention cases

  • Thrown out plans to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence

  • Insisted that all clauses in the new bill should lapse within five years

On Tuesday, peers voted through a tenth amendment, offered by ministers, giving Parliament a chance next year to debate a voluntary code of practice on the retention of phone bill and e-mail data.

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Letwin calls for Blunkett to be statesmanlike
This controversial section of the bill would require telephone companies and internet service providers to accumulate information about their customers.

Commons leader Robin Cook has insisted the anti-terror bill would be on the statute books by the weekend, in time for an EU summit at Laeken, near Brussels.

See also:

09 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Terror risk still real - Blunkett
07 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Compromise over anti-terror plans
07 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Defeats threaten terror consensus
06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror defeats for government
06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Peers and MPs battle over terror bill
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Head-to-head: Anti-terror Laws
26 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Religious hatred law survives
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws at-a-glance
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