The Government suffered a House of Lords defeat at the hands of Tory and crossbench peers last night over its plans to detain foreign terrorists suspected of plotting attacks abroad.
Conservatives argued the plans should be widened to include those accused of terrorism in the UK. Crossbench peers joined them to throw out the proposals by 149 to 139 votes during the committee stage of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.
Tory critics, including the former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, claimed the crackdown would allow Irish Republican suspects to escape justice. Lord Dixon-Smith, a Tory home affairs spokesman, said he wanted to "remove this distinction I regard as invidious and unnecessary".
But the Government argued its Bill related to the international crisis following the 11 September attacks in the US and that existing legislation already covered domestic terrorism.
After the defeat, which took Labour by surprise after the Liberal Democrats decided to abstain, a Home Office spokesman hinted the Government could consider concessions on the issue. "We maintain our position that the need to take these powers is based on the changed circumstances since September 11 relating to international terrorism. We regret that the Lords didn't agree. We will be considering the best way forward," the spokesman said.
The Home Office Minister, Lord Rooker, told peers: "The mechanism we've used here for dealing with international terrorism would not be suitable or consistent with our general policies for dealing with home-grown terrorism."
Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, predicted further Government defeats on the Bill during the next week.
"I think there's a good deal of disquiet about this legislation, not just in the Conservative Party but right across all parties," he said.
"We want to see an anti-terrorism Bill that does what it is supposed to do – focuses on terrorism and can be enacted quickly."
Ministers also face problems over laws bringing in a new offence of inciting religious hatred and to allow Parliament to adopt European Union anti-crime measures by secondary legislation.
The Bill's critics are worried by a move allowing the Home Secretary's decisions on detention of suspected terrorists to go unchallenged by judicial review.
Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, said: "It has been disappointing to see the Conservatives hijack today's debate. They chose to narrow the focus specifically to the situation in Northern Ireland. This Bill is about international terrorism. The Conservatives totally failed to address that."Reuse content