Beleaguered Blair Faces More Opposition in Parliament

July 7, 2008 - 8:16 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - Facing record low levels of public support, Prime Minister Tony Blair is now being urged by opposition members in the House of Lords to drop plans to criminalize the "glorification of terrorism."

As part of a broader Anti-Terrorism Bill passed by the House of Commons two weeks ago, the proposed new crime would make it illegal to speak or publish statements anywhere at any time that encourage the "commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."

Although a final vote on the bill is not expected in the upper house until next year, opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat lawmakers have promised to pass amendments to either curtail the glorification clause or ditch it altogether.

Government ministers say the law is needed to combat Islamic "preachers of hate" but civil liberty groups worry that it will chill free speech.

Last week, Lord Douglas Hurd, a former Conservative minister, told the media that any new law wouldn't help in the fight against terrorism.

"We need not to worry so much about the loudmouths as about the quiet acts of subversion and training by dangerous people, up and down the country, who on the whole keep their mouths shut," he said.

Lord Timothy Garden, a noted national security expert, praised some aspects of the anti-terrorism bill, but called the proposed glorification crime "absolute nonsense" and said it would probably not make it into law.

Over the past month, the House of Lords has amended two key pieces of anti-terror legislation which had been passed by the lower House of Commons.

In late October, the Lords voted 260-111 to amend the proposed crime of "inciting religious hatred."

In place of a broad statue that outlawed speech stirring up hatred of other religions, the Lords created a similar but more narrowly defined offense.

Under the new law, prosecutors would have to prove criminal intent. A clause was also added guaranteeing the right to "ridicule, insult, or abuse" other religions or their followers.

Last week, the Lords also voted to restrict the number of officials who would be able to access a database linked to a proposed national identity card scheme.

Apart from the two blows to Blair from the Lords, he also suffered a defeat a fortnight ago in the Commons - his first since becoming prime minister - when Labor rebels joined opposition parties to vote down a proposal to allow police to hold terror suspects without charge for up to 90 days.

On Thursday, Philip Cowley, a political science professor at the University of Nottingham, said that while defeats in the Commons were especially damaging to Blair, setbacks in upper House also diminished his authority.

Prior to Blair becoming prime minister in 1997, the House of Lords comprised members of the nobility who passed their seats on to their heirs.

Now, however, only 92 of the 721 peers currently sitting in the upper house are hereditary lords. The vast majority of the rest are "life peers," drawn from all walks of life and appointed on a proportional basis by political parties.

In the years since the changes were made, Cowley said that Lords have proved a lot more willing to rebel against the government.

"They feel more legitimate," Cowley said. "The heredity peers who were there before felt illegitimate, because they knew that that shouldn't be there in a working democracy."

On Saturday, an Ipsos-MORI poll found that while the ruling Labor Party retained a lead over the Conservatives, only 37 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with Blair's performance.

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