Anger at rush on stalking Bill

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Government plans to rush the proposed stalking law through all its Commons stages in one day provoked an angry response yesterday from civil liberties campaigners and the Liberal Democrats.

The move, set for Monday week, would mean that some of the toughest criminal laws ever to reach the statute book would be expected to clear its second reading, committee stage, and report and third reading in a matter of hours.

As drafted, the Protection from Harassment Bill could trigger prosecutions carrying heavy penalties for two instances of stalking or racial or neighbour harassment, without the need to prove intention to cause injury. Breach of a civil injunction could also amount to a criminal offence leading to severe punishment.

John Wadham, director of Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: "Every single piece of legislation which has been rushed through in this manner has been fraught with problems and has in practice taken up an enormous amount of government time after the event."

Archie Kirkwood, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, protested to government managers that the time-scale would prevent proper scrutiny of the measure. His party has demanded at least an extra half-day to enable MPs to table committee and report stage amendments.

The Government is banking on Labour support for the measure following last month's pledge by Tony Blair, the party leader, to help get it passed.