Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 1 News List

UK passes anti-terror bill after acrimonious debate

NEW POWERS The British government now has a host of new legal options it says it will use to fight terrorists, but critics decry what they see as an attack on civil liberties


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair won the support of Parliament Friday for a new anti-terrorism law, allowing the government to act swiftly against eight foreign terror suspects who have been granted bail.

The House of Lords approved new powers to order house arrest, impose curfews and use electronic tagging for terror suspects without trial, after the government made concessions to end a bitter parliamentary deadlock.

The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which also allows the government to ban terror suspects from meeting certain people or traveling, and to restrict their access to the Internet or telephone, later received the formality of royal assent to become law.

The new control orders are likely to be used immediately against the eight foreign nationals, including radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada who has alleged links to al-Qaeda. The men have spent three years in a high security prison without charge but were granted bail at a special commission on Friday.

The law under which the men were detained, and which allowed the judge to set such bail conditions, expires on Monday. The government urgently wanted its new powers cleared by Parliament and had warned that without new legislation the men could have walked free.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he would sign control orders Friday night for the 10 men held under the current terrorism legislation that expires Monday.

Parliament was deadlocked for almost two days over the bill, which will apply to both foreign nationals and Britons, with both the government and opposition refusing to make concessions.

The main opposition Conservative Party said the legislation would infringe civil liberties and had demanded a so-called sunset clause guaranteeing that the law would expire a year after being passed. The government refused, saying such an amendment would send a message that Britain was soft on terrorism.

Seeking to end the standoff, the government produced a timetable for Parliament to review and amend the law and promised Parliament time to draft more wide ranging legislation later in the year.

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