Government forced into climbdown over emergency anti-terror proposals

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Indy Politics

The Government was forced to climb down over emergency anti-terror legislation on Wednesday night when it announced that new powers to detain suspects without trial would last no more than five years.

In an attempt to head off a revolt by Labour MPs and the House of Lords, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, agreed a so-called sunset clause for the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Bill. The Government will need a new Act in November 2006 if it wants to continue interning suspected terrorists who claim asylum.

When he unveiled the controversial proposals, Mr Blunkett suggested the legislation would be in place indefinitely, though subject to an annual review. MPs warned that this risked repeating the errors of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced in the 1970s and upheld every year since.

The move wasn't enough to prevent the biggest backbench rebellion this Parliament during a series of Commons votes last night. Thirty-two Labour backbenchers opposed new powers to prevent the Home Secretary's decisions being challenged by judicial review, while 14 rebelled against an order to opt out of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Both measures were still passed by large majorities.

The Government faced further problems yesterday when Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, refused to back down after claiming America had failed to give sufficient attention to bringing aid to Afghanistan, while Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, defended the United States' role.