Lords accused of 'gambling with lives' as Clarke plans terror Bill deal

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Labour rebels were warned that they risked "gambling with people's lives" last night if they kept up their opposition to the Government's anti-terror Bill as Charles Clarke prepared a major climbdown in the face of a fresh series of overwhelming defeats in the House of Lords.

Labour rebels were warned that they risked "gambling with people's lives" last night if they kept up their opposition to the Government's anti-terror Bill as Charles Clarke prepared a major climbdown in the face of a fresh series of overwhelming defeats in the House of Lords.

Government whips were using a mixture of threats and concessions to try to bring dozens of backbench rebels into line when the Prevention of Terrorism Bill returns to the Commons for a showdown today.

The Government was heavily defeated five times yesterday, with peers voting by nearly three to one to impose a "sunset clause" to ensure that plans to put suspects under house arrest expire in November.

However, Mr Clarke will offer two crucial compromises today in a bid to save the controversial Bill, according to an interview with the Home Secretary in today's Guardian. Firstly, he is expected to concede to rebel demands that judges, rather than the Home Secretary, will normally decide whether the lesser category of control orders that restrict an individual's contacts and activities should be imposed. He will maintain the power to detain suspects who might flee in emergency situations.

Mr Clarke is also expected to accept that the proposed law will face renewal every year by votes in both the Lords and Commons. However, he is not expected to give way on the opposition demands for a sunset clause. Such a stance would put him on a collision course with the Lords, which voted by 297 to 110, a majority of 187, in favour of the legislation lapsing on 30 November.

Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former lord chancellor and Tony Blair's political mentor, joined the rebel ranks for a second day. Fellow peers also backed moves limiting the range of control orders that could be imposed and voted for an amendment ensuring that suspects would not be barred from state benefits.

Hilary Armstrong, the chief whip, spent yesterday meeting rebel backbenchers trying to establish their "bottom line" as ministers tried to talk round the 62 Labour MPs who rebelled against the Bill last week, when Labour's majority fell to 14.

Whips fear they will lose the Bill altogether if concessions do not win over the rebels and have delivered dire warnings to backbenchers over the need for the legislation. A government source said: "I'm astonished that unelected politicians are gambling with people's lives. It's very brave of them to think the country can be left unprotected after 14 March."

A whip confirmed that ministers were considering "significant concessions". He added: "We have to get a substantial majority in the Commons to persuade the Lords that we are serious about getting this through."

Hazel Blears, a Home Office minister, indicated concessions were likely. She told Today on Radio 4: "I'm going to be looking at the Lords debate today extremely carefully and looking at the points that have been made to see if there is any room for further agreement."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said any attempt to strong-arm opponents into backing the Bill by threatening to let suspects go free would be "a disgraceful way for a Government to behave".

Peers lined up to argue that the Bill should not be indefinite. The shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Kingsland, said: "Parliament has spent the last 700 years protecting our liberties; it seems outrageous that we should be asked to allow an open-ended right to remove the most fundamental of them from our statute book."

Lord Waddington, a former Tory home secretary, said: "It is ridiculous for Parliament to proceed in this way, even if this were not a Bill which affected individual rights to the extent this Bill affects them."

Lord Ackner, a former law lord, said: "I would have thought the need of a sunset clause is absolutely obvious. The judicial process has been distorted by the rush that the Government has insisted." He added: "The long vacation is just the sort of time for the Privy Council to get down and work out undisturbed what their views are."

Baroness Williams of Crosby said: "If the counter-terrorism Bill of 2001 was rushed through Parliament, this legislation is being stampeded through Parliament. It is sometimes felt that, increasingly, our executive and even our Prime Minister, brilliant communicator though he is, do not treat Parliament, either of its Houses, with any great seriousness."

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