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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 12:41 GMT
Battle ends over anti-terror bill
The act gives police sweeping new powers
New emergency anti-terror legislation has been passed after Home Secretary David Blunkett compromised on key issues.

In a major policy U-turn, Mr Blunkett agreed to drop proposals making incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence.

Bill timetable
13 Nov: Proposals published
26 Nov: Bill clears Commons despite revolt by 21 Labour MPs
29 Nov: 1st Lords defeat
6 Dec: Peers inflict seven more defeats
12 Dec: Commons reverses Lords defeats
13 Dec: Bill "ping-pongs" between Lords and Commons until compromise agreed
The House of Lords finally agreed to the bill early on Friday morning, allowing it to become law once it received royal assent shortly afterwards.

Mr Blunkett's concessions were designed to clear the way for the controversial Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill to be on the statute book by Christmas, as he had pledged.

Despite the concessions, the bill gives police and security services significantly more powers.

It allows foreign terror suspects to be detained without trial where they cannot be deported - those arrested will have a right to appeal although not to a full court of law.

That power will, however, have to be renewed by Parliament after 15 months.

Other measures mean police can access more data, such as tax returns, but the government has agreed an amendment so disclosure must be proportionate to tackling terrorism.

The government stressed there were no plans to introduce a separate bill on the dropped religious incitement provision.

Blunkett 'pleased'

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett said he was "very pleased" and felt the government had "largely got the bill it wanted".

But the concessions he had to offer to make the bill acceptable to opposition parties included:

  • Limiting the introduction of anti-terrorist measures agreed at a European level

  • Allowing seven "wise people" to review the measures after two years

  • Limiting police access to electronic data such as e-mail and the internet on suspicion of terrorist activity

The Conservatives said the proposed amendments made the bill acceptable.

The proposed legislation on incitement to religious hatred proved the most controversial aspect of Mr Blunkett's bill, with opposition parties dubbing it hastily conceived and ill thought-out.

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes described the passing of the bill as a "major achievement."

She told BBC News: "I can say to the British people tonight we have done our very best to respond to what we felt were gaps in our current legislation to meet new terrorist threats."

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Letwin says the bill is better for its changes
As for the failure to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence, she said this was a "lost opportunity" and warned there may not be time in this parliament to pass it in separate legislation.

Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes had earlier told MPs his party would continue to "fight for the time to legislate properly" on the issue.

He said if the government wanted to legislate on it, it would find the parliamentary time.

But his remarks were dismissed by the home secretary who said it was too late, having successfully defeated a law on incitement to religious hatred, for Mr Hughes to begin speaking out in favour of one.

Mr Blunkett hit out at the "triumphalism" of the opposition parties, and in particular the Lib Dems, who had succeeded in defeating the government on this issue.

"We had a rational debate on it, the government have conceded that we have lost on it, the House of Lords have voted twice substantially against it - but it isn't a matter for anyone to rejoice in."

Conservative compliments

Mr Blunkett praised the "sensible" attitude of shadow home affairs secretary Oliver Letwin, in helping to reach a compromise on the bill.

Mr Letwin said debating the bill had been an arduous process that had "proved the value of parliamentary process and parliamentary checks."

He said Mr Blunkett had ended up with a better bill as a result.

For the Lib Dems, Mr Hughes told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he still had concerns about the new laws.

"The new terrorism act increases the power of the executive substantially, invades the privacy and reduces the freedom of the individual, potentially significantly," said Mr Hughes.

The BBC's Robin Chrystal
"Defeat and compromise are not words Tony Blair is used to hearing"
Lord Strathclyde, Conservative leader in the Lords
"We have reached a consensus position, it is a better bill"
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood
says the lost parts of the bill would have protected people of all religions
See also:

14 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror Act at-a-glance
13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Setback for anti-terror bill
12 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair rallies round terror bill
07 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Compromise over anti-terror plans
06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Peers and MPs battle over terror bill
26 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Religious hatred law survives
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