Cambridge MP stays on the fence as house arrest bill is pushed through

March 1, 2005 5:01 PM

Following protests over her support for the government's controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill, Cambridge's MP Anne Campbell last night changed her mind and sat on the fence, abstaining at the Commons vote on the bill's third reading.

A crucial amendment, which would have moved the power to control suspects from the Home Secretary to judges, was narrowly defeated as the government's majority was slashed from 161 to 14. Although Mrs Campbell was one of 62 Labour MPs who voted for the amendment, she voted against a subsequent amendment and abstained at the final vote, which the government won by 53 votes.

David Howarth thought Mrs Campbell needs to explain her thinking:

"Where does Anne Campbell stand on house arrest? She rightly supports an amendment to take this power away from politicians, then neither supports nor opposes the unamended bill - yet at the last reading she voted with the government. She must explain her thinking on this to the people of Cambridge."

Earlier in the day there was confusion as the Home Secretary appeared to agree to changes in the legislation - but then said he would only amend the bill once it has passed to the Lords. Many MPs from all parties argued this made the debate pointless, with Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Mark Oaten saying it made a "nonsense" of the Commons.

Charles Clarke's changes would mean he would have to apply to a judge for a control order, but only if it put the suspect under house arrest - other control orders could be enacted on his say-so alone.

David Howarth suspected the changes would not be enough to satisfy parliament:

"Although the Labour Party has made some small concessions, the central idea of allowing a politician to take away important freedoms remains in the bill. Those accused of being terrorists will still not be able to challenge the truth of the allegations against them. The standard of proof is still too low. And the government has still not accepted the obvious ways out of the problem - using wiretap evidence in court and creating a new crime of doing acts preparatory to terrorism.

"Labour seems determined to use the genuine and justified fear of terrorism to force through legislation designed to increase its own power. That I find frightening."

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