Lords may block 'Draconian' Bill against terrorism

War on terrorism: Security
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Proposals to scrap the right to judicial review for suspected terrorists who seek asylum will be bitterly opposed in the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrats said.

In a move that could trigger big delays for the Government's new Emergency (Anti-Terrorist) Bill, the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, said his party would team up with former judges on the crossbenches to block the "Draconian" measures.

Mr Kennedy issued his warning as civil liberties lawyers claimed that the legislation, which would allow detention without trial, could inflame tension in Britain's Muslim community.

Labour MPs were angry that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had taken the unusual step of laying a parliamentary order to allow Britain to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Walter Schwimmer, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said he was "not pleased" by the proposals and warned Mr Blunkett that any individual detained could issue a legal challenge.

The Bill contains wide-ranging measures to close loopholes and update defences against terrorist attacks. As well as detention without trial, the Bill seeks to remove access to judicial review for suspected terrorists. This follows Home Office claims that individuals can roam freely during years of "endless legal wrangling" over their status.

Ministers are hoping to have the Bill on to the statute book before Christmas. Mr Kennedy warned, however, that the in-built anti-Government majority in the Lords could be mobilised if consensus was not sought.

He told The World At One on BBC Radio 4: "There are aspects of these measures that we agree with. But that doesn't mean to say that you sign a blank cheque for any particular Draconian constraint on civil liberties and that is something that needs to be probably put before the courts."

Mark Fisher, the former minister and Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said the Commons should be given a chance to question the Home Secretary as soon as possible. Graham Allen, a Labour MP and former whip, said he was worried that the Government was trying to "ram through" the legislation without trying to build a consensus.

Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for Linlithgow and father of the Commons, said: "What I really fear is that internment could spill over into some kind of confrontation with Islam."

The human rights lawyer Sadiq Khan said the measures might heighten racial tension where riots were seen earlier this year. "There is concern that this power will be used disproportionately against those who appear to be and are visible Muslims," he told the BBC.