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Lords inflict defeat on anti-terror Bill By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent 08 March 2005

The House of Lords ripped apart the Government's anti-terror Bill last night, inflicting a series of humiliating defeats on proposals to give the Home Secretary extensive powers over suspected terrorists.

A series of rebellions, led by Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former Lord Chancellor and mentor of Tony Blair, emasculated the bill after peers from all parties joined forces to block the Government's plans.

The former metropolitan police commissioner, Lord Condon, was among those to vote against proposals to allow the Home Secretary to impose "control orders " on suspected terrorists. The independent peer's intervention comes despite a warning this weekend from his successor Sir John Stevens that about 200 "Osama bin Laden-trained terrorists are walking Britain's streets." He claimed it was "vital" the Bill be passed as soon as possible.

But after an impassioned debate, peers voted against giving the Home Secretary powers to impose Control orders including curfews, electronic tags and internet bans.

A powerful coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and and Tory peers voted by a majority of 130 to pass such powers to judges instead. Lord Irvine's decision to vote against the Bill will come as a blow to Tony Blair who relied on the senior lawyer as a friend and adviser when he entered Downing Street.

The Government's failure to see off a rebellion, may force ministers to consider further concessions or risk losing its entire anti-terror bill.

Last night, ministers were insisting they would stand firm. But they accepted two Liberal Democrat amendments to avoid a further defeat by peers.

The Government agreed there must be "reasonable grounds" for suspicion rather than just a "balance of probabilities" before a control order can be imposed. It also agreed the Director of Public Prosecutions must assert there was no reasonable prospect of prosecuting the suspect in court, before an order is made.

The Bill is expected to face further criticism when it returns to the Lords today and the Government is bracing itself for a fight in the Commons.

Last night, David Davis, the shadow home secretary. warned the Government against trying to reverse the amendments in the Commons.