Irvine turns on his former pupil to help Lords challenge Blair's terror Bill

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Indy Politics

Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former advisor, confidant and mentor of the Prime Minister, delivered a stinging blow to his friend yesterday as he opted to vote against the Government's anti-terror Bill.

Lord Irvine joined a coalition of opposition peers to inflict a humiliating defeat on the proposed anti-terror legislation by more than two to one.

The decision of the former Lord Chancellor to vote against the Bill represents a humiliating rebuff for the Prime Minister. Lord Irvine was Mr Blair's former pupil-master while he was a trainee barrister and went on to become a guiding force upon the Prime Minister's arrival at Downing Street.

He served as an important ally during Mr Blair's first years in power, maintaining a close friendship with the family until he left the Cabinet in June 2003.

His vote reflects the opposition of the judiciary to giving politicians, rather than judges, the power to impose control orders. Twenty Labour peers defied the whip to vote against the Bill as the Lords inflicted the Government's biggest defeat since hereditary peers were abolished in 1999. They voted by 249 to 119, a majority of 130, to give the High Court the power to impose orders ranging from electronic tagging and curfews to full house arrest on terror suspects.

Ministers had insisted that judges should only decide on the most severe orders, amounting to house arrest, and leave the rest to the Home Secretary.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, made a desperate attempt to defuse the rebellion during a two-hour debate, but he failed to win the backing of a single speaker. Now the Government faces a struggle to get the legislation through the Commons when it returns tomorrow.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, was, however, still refusing to make more concessions despite the record defeat. Further defeats to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill are likely in the Lords today in a move that would embolden Commons rebels who cut Labour's majority to 14 last week.

Two other rebel amendments were passed without a vote after the Government abandoned its stance once the scale of defeat became clear. The moves strengthened the burden of proof required for a control order to be made. A second amendment requiring the director of public prosecutions declare a criminal prosecution impossible before the orders can be used was also passed.

Lord Irvine headed a list of opponents that included some of the country's most eminent legal minds and a string of senior politicians. They included Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, a former Tory home secretary, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, a former master of the rolls, and Lords Ackner and Lloyd of Berwick, former law lords.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, the human rights lawyer, said: "I wanted to ask the Lord Chancellor, a Labour Lord Chancellor, whether he had noticed that, among the critics of this Bill are a former home secretary on the opposition benches, members of the judiciary such as Lord Donaldson, none of whom would be considered lily-livered liberals? Have you noticed they are critics of something that you are proposing to the House and are concerned about the illiberality of this legislation?"

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the former Tory cabinet minister, led protests from peers arguing the public would not understand why all control orders, from house arrest to telephone restrictions, were not decided by the High Court.

Lord Donaldson said: "It is unique in civil proceedings for the Secretary of State to be able to proceed on his own and without hearing the views of the person who is the subject to the control order. It will be left to that person to appeal. That is wholly unique."

THE 20 LABOUR REBELS

Lord Irvine, Lord Acton, Lord Ahmed, Lord Borrie, Lord Clinton-Davis, Baroness David, Lord Grantchester, Baroness Hayman, Lord Judd, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Baroness Mallalieu, Lord Mitchell, Lord Morgan, Lord Morris of Aberavon, Lord Plant of Highfield, Lord Prys-Davies, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, Lord Rogers of Riverside, Lord Sheldon, and Baroness Turner of Camden

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