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Blair 'faces new rebellion over anti-terror legislation'

London Independent | November 14, 2006
Ben Russell

Tony Blair has been warned that he faces renewed dissent over planned anti-terror laws as research showed the Government faced record levels of rebellion from its backbenchers last year.

Labour MPs defied the whip in more than a quarter of votes during the last session of Parliament, academics at Nottingham University said.

More than half of the rebellions, and the four defeats inflicted, were over Home Office Bills, leading to warnings that the Government could face problems with legislation in a Queen's Speech expected to focus on crime and anti-terror measures.

The research came amid renewed calls for the Government to consider extending the time police can hold terror suspects without charge. The current limit of 28 days was set as a compromise after MPs threw out government plans to permit suspects to be held for up to 90 days.

Tomorrow's Queen's Speech is expected to include controv-ersial anti-terror legislation, while Gordon Brown and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair have called for an extension of the time suspects can be held in terror cases.

Labour MPs rebelled in 95 out of 343 votes, almost equalling the 96 rebellions suffered by the Government during the whole of Mr Blair's first term. MPs rebelled more often even than during the 1992-93 session, when John Major struggled to push the Maastricht treaty through Parliament.

Philip Cowley, a researcher, found that 114 Labour MPs had voted against their whips since the general election. He said no other post-war government with a majority of more than 60 in the Commons had suffered as many defeats in an entire parliament, let alone in its first session.

The most frequent rebel was John McDonnell, the chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and a declared candidate to stand as a left-wing successor to Mr Blair. Mr McDonnell warned there was widespread unease over civil liberties across all parties and predicted fresh unrest if ministers failed to make the case for new anti-terror laws. He said: "If the Government is going to focus on this in the Queen's Speech they will have to come up with some very strong arguments and evidence."
Other senior Labour backbenchers also warned that the Government had to give strong evidence to justify extending the length of time police can hold terror suspects.

David Winnick, the Labour MP who proposed the 28-day compromise, told the BBC that he did not believe there was "any justification" for increasing it.

John Denham, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, called for an independent review of any case for an extension. He said: "If the Government is now convinced by the evidence they should subject it to the sort of independent scrutiny that the select committee called for. I think that if that happened, Parliament would be inclined to support a change."

STEVE RICHARDS, PAGE 27

Top 20 dissident MPs

2005-06: VOTES AGAINST GOVERNMENT

* John McDonnell 63
* Jeremy Corbyn 60
* Robert Wareing 42
* Lynne Jones 41
* Alan Simpson 40
* Kelvin Hopkins 36
* Bob Marshall-Andrews 35
* Mark Fisher 34
* Clare Short 34
* Glenda Jackson 33
* Kate Hoey 32
* Ian Gibson 24
* Mike Wood 22
* Paul Flynn 21
* Linda Riordan 21
* David Taylor 20
* Diane Abbott 19
* Katy Clark 18
* Dennis Skinner 18
* Gordon Prentice 17

 

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