Blair victorious in battle over 'glorification' of terrorism

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair finally succeeded in sweeping aside opposition to controversial new anti-terror laws as he emerged unscathed from one of the most gruelling weeks of his premiership.

Legislation banning the "glorification" of terrorism could now come into force by spring after a threatened left-wing rebellion crumbled. MPs voted by 315 to 277 for the measure, giving ministers a bigger-than-expected majority of 38, with only 17 Labour backbenchers defying the Government.

The vote came after the Prime Minister launched an impassioned defence of the "glorification" ban, insisting it was essential to combat militant preachers and terrorist sympathisers. The scale of the victory, for the third tricky Commons vote in as many days, was a relief for Labour leaders, still reeling from their shock defeat in last week's Dunfermline and West Fife by-election.

On Monday the Government's majority more than halved to 31 on identity cards, while Tuesday's vote on banning smoking in public places exposed Mr Blair to charges of weak leadership on the issue. In angry exchanges yesterday in the Commons, he accused the Conservatives of attempting to "dilute and weaken" the anti-terror measures.

Mr Blair, facing William Hague after David Cameron's wife gave birth to their third child on Tuesday, said the package was "absolutely vital if we're to defend this country successfully against the likes of Abu Hamza". He added: "If we take out the word 'glorification' we are sending a massive counter-productive signal."

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said the term "glorification" was widely understood by the public and the courts. He added: "Those who seek to recruit terrorists know what it means." He said a Lords amendment to the Terrorism Bill, deleting the word, had a "narrowing effect" on the legislation, potentially excluding websites and placards carrying extremist messages.

But Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, accused the Government of creating legislation simply to win headlines. He said: "What is so irritating is that the Prime Minister comes along, he gets on his hobby horse, postures to the world, accuses everyone else of being soft on terrorism, gets his cheap headlines as he wants and then he leaves other people to sort out the mess."

The Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews, who led the previous Commons revolt on the plans, said: "Many people believe this unnecessary legislation has two uses for the Government: to persuade the public it is doing something, and as an alibi and an excuse for not having done something in the past." Home Office sources last night called on the Lords to drop its opposition to the "glorification" plan. They said: "The Commons has now made its point twice on this subject."

Meanwhile, Downing Street hit back at accusations that the Government had persistently misled the public over the need for legislation. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "[The attacks on] 7/7 was not something that was invented. It was real. Anyone who attended the cabinet presentation on the terrorist threat came away with a very sober realisation of the threat we face and the reality of the fact that we are having to operate with an ongoing terrorist threat."

The Commons rises today for a brief recess, but Mr Blair still faces an even bigger challenge to his authority as officials search for ways of reassuring backbench critics of the Education Bill due to be published within a fortnight.

Legislation since September 11, 2001

2001 The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act was rushed through following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. It brought in indefinite detention of foreign nationals.

2003 The Criminal Justice Act allows terrorist suspects to be held without charge for 14 days. The following year law lords ruled the detention of foreign nationals was discriminatory and illegal.

2005 The Prevention of Terrorism Act gave the Home Secretary power to impose 'control orders' on UK citizens and foreign nationals.

2006 The Terrorism Bill outlaws glorification of terrorism, incitement to terrorism, acts preparatory to terrorism and attending a terrorist camp. Increases time suspects can be held to 28 days.