Blair rejects anti-terror bill compromise

Wednesday, March 2, 2005 A compromise put forward by the Conservatives that would have allowed easier passage through the Commons of the proposed new anti-terror legislation has been rejected by Prime Minister Tony Blair. The bill proposes new "control orders" for terror suspects which include house arrest, curfews, tagging and bans on internet and phone use. The bill will replace current powers that allow the detention of foreign terror suspects without trial which has been ruled against as a breach of human rights by the law lords.

The Conservatives wanted a "sunset clause" inserted into the bill which would have allowed ministers to revisit it in November. MPs from all parties have severely criticised the way the bill has been seemingly "steamrollered" through the Commons with only two days to debate the plans before a vote is called.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said in the Commons that it would be "far better if the whole of the legislation was subject to a sunset clause so Parliament could consider it all in a proper way instead of it being ramrodded through."

Mr. Blair said that the new house arrest powers were already going to be subject to a sunset clause because it was annually renewable. "I believe they are a proper balance between the civil liberties of the subject and the necessary national security of this country that I will not put at risk," he added.

Opposition to the bill by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have already won concessions this week. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has backed down and allowed judges to have the first say in the most severe control order cases, however, this may not be enough to ensure a smooth ride through the Lords. It is expected that the bill will face tough opposition and demands for a radical re-draft.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten has urged the Conservatives to "stick firm? There's a lot of talking left. I would be uneasy about supporting a very bad bill even if it was just for eight months," he said.

A spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch said that it was a "basic principle" that people should only be punished after a fair trial. "Having a judge impose those punishments does not sanitise them either," she added.