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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Q&A: Anti-terror bill

As the battle of wills over the government's anti-terror plans continues in Parliament, BBC News Online answers questions on what the row is about and how it could pan out.

Q: Why are the government's anti-terror plans in the news?

A: The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill is the emergency legislation the government has put together in the wake of the US terror atrocities.

The bill is currently going through Parliament, with Home Secretary David Blunkett wanting the new measures on the statute books by Christmas.

Conservative, Liberal Democrat and even a handful of Labour peers have defeated the government 10 times in the House of Lords during scrutiny of the bill.

Q: What measures does the bill contain?

The bill is wide-ranging and the plans include:

  • New powers to clampdown and monitor terror groups' funds.

  • Allowing government agencies, such as Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue, to pass information to police where national security is an issue.

  • Detention without trial for suspected international terrorists where they cannot be deported.

  • New offence of incitement of religious hatred.

  • Enabling communications companies to keep information about what phone calls or e-mails are made by their customers, although not about their contents.

  • Making it an offence knowingly to cause a nuclear explosion - something not currently in British law.

    Q: So why the opposition?

    A: The Tories and Lib Dems say they too want the terror bill in force by Christmas but worry the bill goes wider than just tackling terrorism.

    They accuse the government of trying to rush through other bits of law that are not emergency measures.

    Concerns have been raised that parts of the bill amount to an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties and historic rights such as habeas corpus.

    The plans for detention without trial have especially provoked fears and the peers want terror suspects to be able to have their cases reviewed by a panel of judges.

    The religious hatred clause should be removed from the bill, they say, and tighter rules are needed on how public bodies like customs are allowed to pass details to the security agencies.

    The peers are also pressing for the scope of the measures allowing communication companies to keep data to be further restricted.

    Q: Do the Lords' changes put them on collision course with the government?

    A: Yes. The government used its huge majority to overturn the series of Lords' defeats when the bill returned to the Commons on Wednesday.

    But peers are expected to renew their opposition to the controversial plans when the bill goes back to the Lords on Thursday.

    Q: What does the government say to its critics?

    Ministers have accused "unelected" peers of trying to "disembowel" what are measured and proportionate plans to tackle the real terror threat faced by the UK.

    The government says it has already made concessions but will not allow the bill to be "gutted".

    It points also to safeguards within the bill, such as using the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) to review cases of detention without trial.

    Q: What happens if the Lords continue to insist on their changes?

    We are now seeing a game of parliamentary ping-pong, where the bill will keep passing between the two Houses of Parliament until someone gives way.

    In theory, this deadlock, which could see all-night sittings of Parliament, could continue ad infinitum, especially with neither side wanting to back down.

    Opposition parties do say they want to reach a consensus and they could offer alternatives to the changes they have already made, especially if they can reach a compromise with the government.

    Q: Surely the government can force the new laws through the House of Lords?

    The only way to do that would be to use the Parliament Act - but that could not be done until next year, meaning the bill would not become law until 2003.

  • See also:

    13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
    Peers accept terror concessions
    13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
    Fresh hurdle for anti-terror bill
    07 Dec 01 | UK Politics
    Compromise over anti-terror plans
    28 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Terror bill is 'snoopers' charter'
    29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Head-to-head: Anti-terror Laws
    13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Terror laws at-a-glance
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