Labour in split over crime Bill

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A rebellion is being threatened by left-wing Labour MPs over the possibility that the Labour leadership will recommend abstaining on the Criminal Justice Bill, writes Colin Brown.

The Campaign Group of Labour MPs is planning to vote against the Bill's Third Reading and is prepared to defy the party whip.

Tony Blair, the Shadow Home Secretary, has attacked many sections of the Bill, but is anxious to avoid a trap. Some of those close to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, say privately they had hoped to produce a Bill that Labour would have to vote against.

If Labour votes against the Bill, it will be accused of being 'soft on crime' by the Tories in the forthcoming local and European elections.

Mr Blair has succeeded in overhauling the Tory lead on crime by taking a tougher line and Labour leaders fear that advantage could be destroyed by opposing the Bill on 13 April. One senior Labour source said: 'We haven't decided how we are going to vote yet . . . But it is a problem.'

The Campaign Group, numbering about 30 MPs, believes the vote symbolises a failure to take a more radical stand. 'The Bill will make squatting a criminal offence . . . and does a range of things we are opposed to. We cannot vote for it,' one MP said.