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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 12:52 GMT
Blair stands firm on terror bill
Lord Falconer in the House of Lords
Lord Falconer told peers to get over their disputes
Tony Blair has insisted he is not being "arrogant" by refusing to give way over his controversial anti-terror plans.

He said he was trying to protect the security of British families and described Tory opposition to the plans as "extraordinary" and "unbelievable".

The bill has returned to the Lords after MPs overturned key amendments.

Peers have given way over the need for a Privy Council review, but a "sunset clause" and the burden of proof against suspects remain sticking points.

'Respect' the Commons

The debate threatens to stretch into the weekend with both sides refusing to back down.

I am not being dismissive of people's civil liberties - I don't mean to be arrogant in taking this legislation through
Tony Blair

In a series of votes over the past 24 hours, MPs repeatedly rejected demands by peers for a "sunset clause" which would kill the bill in 12 months time.

They also rejected calls for a privy council review of the bill's operation and a higher burden of proof against suspects.

As debate recommenced in the Lords, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, appealed to peers to accede to the MPs' demands and to "stop rocking" the bill.

"The time has come to respect the supremacy of the Commons, put aside our disputes on the debate and join together on the terrorist threat we revile," he said.

'Messing about'

Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, Mr Blair refused to accept the opposition's call for the bill's lifespan to be limited and accused the Tories of "messing about" with important laws.

We believe terrorists should be brought to trial and put in prison, not wandering around with an electronic bracelet
Michael Howard

"I am not being dismissive of people's civil liberties - I don't mean to be arrogant in taking this legislation through," he said.

"I am doing it genuinely to protect the security of Britain and British families.

"It's important that we have legislation on the statute book and don't send a signal of weakness that this legislation may evaporate or disappear in some months time."

He told Sky News he did not want terror to be an issue at the forthcoming general election.

In earlier rowdy scenes in the Commons, Home Secretary Charles Clarke argued that the government had made "constructive moves" to end deadlock over the bill.

He contrasted these with what he called "zero movement" from the Tory and Liberal Democrat controlled House of Lords.

'Imperfect bill'

"It's been a stick in the mud response, simply trying to put heels in the sand and prevent the elected House carrying its proposals through," he said.

"I argue that the country needs a bill which prevents terrorism and protects our people.

"It is time for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the Lords to respect the considered view of the elected chamber."

This bill proves the terrorists are already winning - we're restricting our rights through fear of an attack
Sarah, Bristol, UK

Tory leader Michael Howard insisted the parliamentary battle would "take as long as it takes" and described the bill as "full of imperfections".

He said if the prime minister wanted to push it through, it should have a lifespan limited to 12 months to give all sides time to come up with an alternative.

"We believe terrorists should be brought to trial and put in prison, not wandering around with an electronic bracelet - the kind of thing which is routinely broken by conventional criminals every day," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The notion that a tag of this kind will be a serious inconvenience to an al-Qaeda operative takes a great deal of swallowing."

Lord Steel of Aikwood, former leader of the Liberal Party, said Mr Blair should consider having a further meeting with Mr Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, in a bid to reach a compromise.

"I think it would be wrong if he were to behave like a Chinese emperor and be worried about loss of face," he said.

The debate continues as the eight remaining foreign terrorist suspects held under existing anti-terror laws - which expire on Sunday - were preparing for their release under strict bail conditions.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the debate is going on so long



VOTE RESULTS
Is the Lords right to block government anti terror bill?
Yes
83%
No
17%
27170 Votes Cast
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