Lords plan final blow to anti-terrorism proposals

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Indy Politics

Peers now look certain to throw out the contentious proposal to outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism, which critics warn will stifle free speech. And the row over locking up terrorist suspects without trial is to be reignited as a Labour peer plans a fresh attempt to force a 90-day detention period into law.

Following its turbulent passage through the Commons, peers of all parties lambasted the Terrorism Bill during its second reading debate in the Lords.

Many focused on the glorification proposal, which only scraped through the Commons by one vote this month, and ministers admit they would face an uphill struggle to persuade MPs to overturn a Lords defeat on the issue.

Lord Hurd of Westwell, a former Tory home secretary, said: "I would advise the Home Secretary not to spend too much time pursuing individuals because they delight in saying disgraceful things."

He added: "We need not to worry so much about the loudmouths as about the quiet acts of subversion and training by dangerous people, up and down the country, who on the whole keep their mouths shut."

Lord McNally, leader of the Liberal Democrat peers, complained that the Government was introducing its sixth batch of anti-terror laws. "Each of the preceding Acts, as does this Bill, ratchets a couple of notches in the loss of hard-won civil liberties and hard-won freedoms," he said. The Lords had to consider carefully whether the latest proposals were justified, he said. "Otherwise every terrorist outrage will bring forth another Bill - another notch on the ratchet, until we find ourselves without the civil liberties which we are fighting terrorism to defend."

Mr Blair suffered the first Commons defeat of his premiership this month when MPs threw out his 90-day proposal and voted instead for a maximum 28-day detention period.

Yesterday Lord Tebbit, the former Tory chairman, said he would table a Terrorism Bill amendment allowing detention for up to 60 days. He said: "I am just trying to be helpful."

A Labour peer is understood to be planning to table a 90-day amendment. But Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Home Office minister, said the Government would not support any 90-day move, even though it remained Mr Blair's preferred option. She said: "The Government accept the decision that the House has taken and we will not be seeking to overturn it in the House of Lords."

Ministers admit there is disarray within the Government over its plans for whipping the Bill's progress through the Lords.

"There was a meeting of the parliamentary party last Wednesday and it ended in total chaos," said one minister. "The whole matter is still unresolved."

In the Lords yesterday, Lord Thomas of Gresford, the Liberal Democrat legal spokesman, warned: "Badly thought-out and rushed-through new offences may, by risking the conviction and imprisonment of entirely innocent people, weaken, not strengthen, the security of the state.

"Resentment and bitterness may breed new terrorists and if the confidence of the community and the fairness and justice of the law is lost, so is the best chance of conviction."

Labour's former Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean said: "Today's terrorism is less organisation-based and more movement-based than in the past. This type of terrorism peddles its special brand of hatred through direct incitement and encouragement ... to emulate those who are held up as martyrs.

"In the struggle against terrorism, those who incite, encourage and glorify terrorism have a huge advantage over those of us who believe in democracy, the rule of law and human rights."