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11/13 March 2005 ~

The Bill was finally passed on friday evening.

The government has produced a timetable for Parliament to review and amend the law and has promised Parliament time to draft more wide-ranging legislation later in the year.
CNS News remarks, "Opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill created some unlikely bedfellows, from Conservative lords to Liberal members of Parliament, and Jesse Jackson even weighed in on the dispute. "Neither the U.S. nor the U.K. Government has proved itself trustworthy enough to conduct democracy by secret intelligence," Jackson said in a statement released by the London-based civil rights group Liberty."


11/13 March 2005 ~

such an extraordinary, ill-prepared, ill thought-out and cack-handed shambles

New York Times".... It has been a chaotic week, with the proposals bouncing back and forth between an increasingly angry House of Commons and House of Lords as the deadline for the law's expiration loomed. Meanwhile, it was unclear under what circumstances the detainees would be released.
On Thursday, Gareth Peirce, a lawyer for some of the men, said that she had never seen "such an extraordinary, ill-prepared, ill thought-out and cack-handed shambles" and asked, "How could anyone be convinced that those responsible know what they are doing?"


http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=267252005

Blair 'is holding gun to Parliament's head'

BILL JACOBS

WESTMINSTER EDITOR

TONY BLAIR was today accused of "holding a gun" to Parliament’s head and misrepresenting the advice of the security services as the overnight stand-off between the Commons and Lords over the Government’s anti-terrorism Bill dragged on into today.

Tories and Liberal Democrats refused to give way to the Government despite Tony Blair and his Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer saying the will of MPs must be respected by Peers. .." (More)


Reuters

he has exaggerated threats in the past

"Blair has repeatedly said he is pushing the bill on the advice of security services and police. But opponents say he has exaggerated threats in the past, with trust in the government's use of intelligence undermined after no weapons of mass destruction were found to justify the U.S.-led Iraq war. "We are back to where we were after the war in Iraq when Mr Blair misrepresented the advice of the security services," Conservative Party leader Michael Howard told BBC Radio..."Reuters


March 11 - 2005 MPs and peers are showing no signs of giving ground

Times


March 11 Guardian

Long day's night of confrontation and chaos

by Michael White and Patrick Wintour "..... Lord Thomas for the Liberal Democrats, in unusually bitter exchanges, claimed the government was bleating that there were wolves abroad. The sheep, by which Lord Thomas meant the peers, were "being told by the government to huddle in the corner of a field, and quiver there".
He went on: "The people of this country are not sheep. They have stood their ground when there have been bombs going on around them from terrorists and the IRA in Birmingham, Manchester and London. This is not an occasion to flinch as this government appears to do by building up a climate of fear to get their legislation through."
Lord Kingsland for the Conservatives said there could be no greater succour for the terrorists than the permanent suspension of habeas corpus. He claimed "the government were seeking an open ended right never to bring back trial by jury again in a certain class of cases. That would be the first great victory for terrorism over open society. It is either breathtakingly naive or deeply duplicitous."


Reuters at 11:38 AM GMT

Government to free terror suspects

The government is expecting to release all suspects held under a discredited terrorism law as politicians remain locked in an unprecedented round-the-clock debate to replace the bill before it expires.

A judge released one suspect, a 37-year-old Algerian referred to only as "A", on bail late on Thursday and said he intended to free the remaining nine soon. They include the man accused of being the spiritual inspiration for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The men have been held in a maximum security jail for up to three years without charge or trial under emergency anti-terrorism legislation passed after September 11, which was ruled unlawful by judges last year and expires on Sunday. Both of houses of parliament debated through the night, battling over powers Tony Blair wants to replace the expiring measures.

The unelected Lords opposed the measure with a tenacity unprecedented in modern times, in a standoff that pits centuries-old rights against the need to protect Britain. "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," said Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

CLOCKS STOP

Parliament was due to shut on Thursday. But official timekeepers stopped the clock at one minute to midnight to allow the rowdy debate to continue round the clock in a major test of Blair's power ahead of an expected May election.

The old law allowed foreigners to be detained indefinitely without charge if suspected of terrorism. The new measures would apply to Britons as well, allowing the government to impose a range of restrictions, up to house arrest without trial. Both require Britain to suspend the right to a fair trial guaranteed under European law, the only country to do so. The elected Commons backed Blair after he made concessions. But the unelected Lords, who by convention are expected to yield to the elected chamber, refused to back down, saying the new measures revoke fundamental rights. Bleary-eyed Lords, many elderly, returned to reject the bill at 5 a.m. after a few hours sleep in offices or nearby hotels.

A black-clad official in a wig carried the bill back and forth through the ornate corridors of Westminster between the two chambers as each voted to reject the other's version. Politicians noted the dawn of the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people, a signal of the importance of anti-terrorism measures.

TAGGED AND RESTRICTED

Lawyers said the suspects would be freed on bail under the expiring law, or released under restrictions imposed under the new law. Either way they would be electronically tagged. They include Abu Qatada, a Syrian cleric who the government says was a spiritual mentor to Mohammed Atta, leader of the hijackers who staged the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Opponents to the government's bill -- many from within the Labour Party -- say it is badly drafted or draconian. Blair has repeatedly said he is pushing the bill on the advice of security services and police. But opponents say he has exaggerated threats in the past, with trust in the government's use of intelligence undermined after no weapons of mass destruction were found to justify the U.S.-led Iraq war. "We are back to where we were after the war in Iraq when Mr Blair misrepresented the advice of the security services," Conservative Party leader Michael Howard told BBC Radio. "(Trust) now comes to the forefront of the argument."

"The parliamentary drama has even led some commentators to speculate that Blair might call a snap election, although most are still banking on a May 5 poll."


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1521108,00.html

Terror Bill 'ping-pong' could go on for days

By Simon Freeman, Times Online

MPs and peers showed no signs of giving ground on proposed new terror laws as their Parliamentary war of attrition raged into its 24th hour today.

The Commons and Lords were becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions over the three key areas of dispute in Tony Blair's proposed legislation for control orders.

The Lords want to ensure a higher level of evidence is required before the orders - which restrict the movement of suspected terrorists without the need for a court conviction - can be imposed.

They also want to enshrine greater powers for the Privy Council when it carries out annual reviews of each case.

The third and major sticking point is the peers' demand, strongly backed by the Conservatives, that a "sunset clause" is injected into the Prevention of Terrorism Bill meaning it will automatically expire in 12 months' time.

The debate has become an ideological struggle between the need to protect the country from the action of terrorists and the desire to preserve ancient freedoms and civil liberties.

At 9.37am today, in their third vote since the session began at 11.30am yesterday, MPs secured a comfortable majority for the Government rejecting all of these amendments by majorities of around 100.

That sent the Bill papers shuttling back up the corridors of Parliament to the House of Lords where peers were to resume at 11am. With neither side showing any inclination to compromise it is possible the Parliamentary "ping-pong" could last all day and even into the weekend.

As the Bill was batted to and fro between the two increasingly tetchy houses, representatives from each side took a break from the proceedings to blame the other side for the deadlock.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, accused the House of Lords of a "stick in the mud" response.

He said: "There are very many Lords - both Tory and Liberal Democrat by the way - who recognise that it is not constitutional for the Lords to keep on blocking once the electoral chamber has made its voice absolutely clear."

"What has happened is there has been a digging-in of heels which I think is quite unacceptable."

Mr Clarke said the opposition in the Lords had fallen from 150 to 50 overnight, while support for the Bill in the Commons had remained steady.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, who is leading the opposition charge, countered saying that the fault lay firmly with the Government. He said: "The Upper House has put forward suggestions for improving the legislation. That is exactly what it should be doing.

"And what it is now being subjected to is a battle of attrition by the Government to try to whittle down the overwhelming view expressed there, not only by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers but by crossbench peers and even some of their own.

"That is the extent of the problem the Government faces and until it starts to listen it is going to continue to have a problem."

Interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, said that he was willing for the debate to continue for "as long as it takes". He said: "It suits the Labour Party and the Government to turn this into an argument about the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords."

"It’s not really about that, it is about the most effective way of fighting terrorism, about our fundamental liberties and about whether the Prime Minister is telling the truth."

As the debate raged, the eight remaining foreign terrorist suspects held under the existing anti-terror laws - which have been ruled unlawful and will expire on Sunday - were preparing for their release under strict bail conditions.

And in Madrid, church bells rang out across the city to mark the first anniversary of the train bomb atrocity which claimed 191 lives.


http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=267252005

Blair 'is holding gun to Parliament's head'

BILL JACOBS

WESTMINSTER EDITOR

TONY BLAIR was today accused of "holding a gun" to Parliament’s head and misrepresenting the advice of the security services as the overnight stand-off between the Commons and Lords over the Government’s anti-terrorism Bill dragged on into today.

Tories and Liberal Democrats refused to give way to the Government despite Tony Blair and his Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer saying the will of MPs must be respected by Peers.

As tempers frayed at Westminster as the controversial proposals shuttled between the two chambers, Lib Dem Leader Charles Kennedy said the Government was trying to bully Parliament.

He said that the Government was effectively saying: "‘We are putting a gun at your head and if you don’t agree to our interpretation of events then this will send entirely the wrong signal to the international terrorist community’.

"This is absolutely ridiculous, it is an insult to people’s intelligence."

He said the Government could get the Bill into law if it accepted the key concessions being called for by the Lords - a sunset clause to ensure the law lapsed within 12 months, a review of its provisions by the Privy Council, and a higher standard of proof, "balance of probabilities" instead of "reasonable grounds for suspicion" - before the new control orders could be given.

Tory leader Michael Howard agreed and said the Conservatives would continue to protest and refuse to accept the Bill until the Government finally caved in on these crucial issues.

He said: "It suits the Labour Party to give the impression this is about the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It’s not really about that. It’s about the most effective way of fighting terrorism, it’s about our fundamental liberties and it’s about whether the Prime Minister is telling the truth."

And he repeated his claim in the Commons that when Mr Blair said at Question Time that the security services had advised against a "sunset clause" he was not telling the truth.

During the debate last night, Mr Howard claimed Mr Blair didn’t have the courage to come to the Chamber and explain himself.

And as MPs started to debate the latest House of Lords defiance this morning, Mr Howard said that as over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, Mr Blair had "misrepresented" the advice of the security services. He said that after the conflict he had warned that if Mr Blair went to the public and said ‘We have a national emergency and the security services say we must do something’ he would not be believed.

Mr Howard added: "Now he has done it again. This is a question of trust."

He denied the Lords were simply blocking the Government’s legislation, but were trying to improve a deeply flawed piece of law. He said the Bill was "full of imperfections".

But Lord Falconer said the House of Lords should give way. He said it had the right to make suggestions but not the right to block the will of MPs who had constituents to whom they were responsible. And he said the Government would continue until it got its way, adding: "It is wrong for the Tories and Lib Dems to block [this] Bill."

A series of votes began last night with the Commons returning at 1.20am and 8am again to reject the Lords’ demand.

The Government says the new control orders - which range from electronic tagging to restrictions on terror suspects movements, association and use of telephones and the internet to house arrest - are vital to fight terrorism.

Mr Blair said demand for a sunset clause would cast a pall of uncertainty of the legislation and said of the Lords: "They have got to understand to continue to water down this legislation is wrong. They should stop it. It is time to get serious. We are talking about an issue where the advice is clear. We need these powers."

But Mr Howard said the Government could have the Bill for a year and then everybody could work out better legislation.

If the Bill fails to become law by Monday ten terrorist suspects currently held under existing legislation - which was deemed unlawful by the House of Lords in December and sparked the need for the current controversial Bill - will be freed from Belmarsh and Woodhill Prisons.

But while the debate was going on, the courts were considering bail conditions to allow them out of prison now. Two have already been released and eight more could be released later today.

The only options available to the Government if the Lords continue to resist are to accept their amendments or renew the existing discredited anti-terror law and face an immediate human rights challenge from the detainees.