MPs warn against rushing through anti-terror Bill

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Legislation giving the Government sweeping powers to detain terrorist suspects without trial was heavily criticised yesterday by an influential committee of MPs and peers.

The all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill was being rushed through Parliament and may not be justified by the current international situation. A 20-page report, produced after the Bill was published on Tuesday, said: "Careful consideration is not aided by the decision to push a Bill of this size and complexity through Parliament at such breakneck speed. Too many ill-conceived measures litter the statute book as a result of such rushed legislation in the past."

The report reopened the row over the Bill, which boiled over after the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, attacked "airy fairy" critics of the anti-terrorist measures.

The committee, chaired by the Labour backbench chairwoman, Jean Corston, said the Bill, due to be debated by MPs next week, lacked proper safeguards and could fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.

MPs will vote on an opt-out of the human rights convention on Monday and debate the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which is expected to be on the statute books by Christmas.

Members of the committee said they were conscious of the threat to Britain's national security in the wake of the 11 September attacks. But they said: "Parliament should ... resist the temptation to grant powers to governments which compromise the rights and liberties of individuals.

"The situations which may appear to justify ... such powers are temporary – the loss of freedom is often permanent."

The committee warned that powers in the Bill to allow police to force people to remove face coverings such as traditional burqas "risk being seen as authorising an unreasonable and disproportionate interference with their dignity".

The committee warned: "We have concluded that, on the evidence available to us, the balance between freedom and security in the Bill before us has not always been struck in the right place."

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