British Prime Minister Tony Blair suffers defeat in vote on terror laws

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Wednesday, November 9, 2005 British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has suffered what some consider a humiliating political defeat after the House of Commons dismissed a controversial government proposal to permit the detention of terror suspects for up to 90 days without bringing charges. Under current UK anti-terrorism laws, suspects can be held for up to 14 days without any charges being made against them.

Members of Mr Blair's Labour Party used the vote to rebel against the proposal, with a crucial 49 tipping the balance to reject it by 322 votes to 291. It was the first Commons defeat for Mr Blair in his 8 years as Prime Minister. Later, a second proposal to extend the detention time limit for terror suspects to 28 days was passed by 323 votes to 290.

The police called for new powers after the bomb attacks in London on July 7, 2005. They argued that because anti-terrorist investigations can take considerable time, the new powers would have been justified. Critics are sceptical of these claims. Opponents believe that by effectively giving the government the right to imprison for up to three months anyone who it alleged to have been involved in terrorism, without having to present any charges in court to justify the detention, the bill could have led to abuses of power.

Leaders of the opposition parties were delighted with the results. Conservative leader Michael Howard said the vote had "diminished" the Prime Minister's authority and that he should tender his resignation. Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called Mr Blair a "lame duck".

Speaking after the result of the vote was announced, Mr Blair accused those who'd opposed the measure of being "out of touch", talking of a "worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion".

Former Conservative ministers Peter Lilley and Stephen Dorrell criticised the government for using senior police officers to lobby MPs over the vote. They characterised this as the "politicisation of the police".

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