Night and day: anti-terror Bill sent back to the Lords, again

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MPs again rejected House of Lords demands to re-write controversial anti-terror laws today as the parliamentary stand-off continued for a second day.



MPs again rejected House of Lords demands to re-write controversial anti-terror laws today as the parliamentary stand-off continued for a second day.

For a third time, MPs voted down peers' demands for a "sunset clause" which would see the Prevention of Terrorism Bill self-destruct after a year.

The Bill will now return to the House of Lords for the fourth time during an impasse which has lasted almost 24 hours. And there is still no sign of either side backing down.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the Government has given all the ground it is prepared to. He said "stick-in-the-mud" Tory and Liberal Democrat peers had made "zero movement" towards a compromise.

He said the Bill was vital for the safety of Britain and he again demanded a climbdown from the unelected peers.

Mr Clarke told MPs: "In 12 hours of debate, there has been no movement at all in the Lords. Two whole Lords sessions with zero response.

"It's been a stick-in-the-mud response simply trying to put heels in the sand and prevent the elected House carrying its proposals through.

"I argue that the country needs a Bill which prevents terrorism and protects our people.

"It's time for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the Lords to respect the considered views of the elected chamber."

But Tory leader Michael Howard said his party would not relent until the sunset clause was included in the new legislation. And he insisted it was the Government, not the Lords, that was to blame for the crisis.

"(The House of Lords) is offering it to the Government on the basis that it lasts for 12 months," he said.

"It suits the Labour Party and the Government to turn this into an argument about the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords."

He told the BBC: "It's not really about that, it is about the most effective way of fighting terrorism, about our fundamental liberties and about whether the Prime Minister is telling the truth."

In a series of votes throughout the night, MPs repeatedly rejected peers' demands for a sunset clause, a Privy Council review of its operation and a higher burden of proof against suspects.

The debate raged as the eight remaining foreign terrorist suspects held under the existing anti-terror laws - which expire on Sunday - were preparing for their release under strict bail conditions.

They include Abu Qatada, the Palestinian-born cleric who has been described as Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe".

Earlier in the Lords, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, warned peers that they could not carry on their defiance of the democratically-elected lower chamber.

"In the eight years that I have been in this House, I have never seen a situation where a Bill of this importance is being blocked by this House," he said.

"There is absolutely no doubt that this House, when there is a disagreement of that sort, will give way to the Commons."

The war of attrition began around 11.30am yesterday when peers began debating the amendments which the Commons had overturned on Wednesday.

By mid-afternoon they had finished voting and the Bill was on its way back to the Commons.

MPs began their deliberations on the Bill at 6pm and by 8pm had despatched it back again to the upper chamber.

Peers resumed the fray for a second time at 10.15pm, voting at 11.30pm to return it to the Commons.

At 1.20am, a distinctly rowdy Commons had another go in a fractious and bad-tempered debate, kicking it back to to the Lords shortly after 3am.

At 5am it was the turn again of peers, who in little under an hour had sent it yet again on its way back to the Commons.

It was back in the Commons shortly after 8am and was then returned to the Lords after about an hour-and-a-half.

The Prime Minister refused to comment on the legislation's prospects. Tony Blair was asked as he left a press conference on his Commission For Africa report if he was confident of getting the Bill, but declined to answer.

During the press conference, No. 10 aides refused to call questioners who wanted to ask about the Bill.

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