STRONG or stubborn? When Tony Blair said yesterday that it was “time to be strong” about his government's besieged Prevention of Terrorism Bill, what exactly did he mean? Was he scoring a political point, implying that those who opposed parts of the Bill were “weak”? Mr Blair rightly says that the government has made some concessions to meet concerns about the Bill but this does not mean that others are not needed in this flawed legislation. Following yesterday's voting in the House of Lords there are now two main issues that have to be resolved today if the Bill is to be approved. The first is whether the burden of proof to justify imposing a control order (house arrest or tagging and other restrictions) should be raised from “reasonable grounds” for suspicion to satisfaction on the “balance of probabilities”. The second is the so-called “sunset ” clause designed to reopen consideration of the Bill by Parliament within a year. Mr Blair insisted yesterday that to agree with the second would send “the wrong signal” to potential terrorists. It is difficult to follow the Prime Minister's logic; the “sunset” proposal is not to consider whether to abandon the Bill but to see whether it can be improved after experience of its operation. Everyone agrees that such a Bill is necessary but in its present form it is a flawed, rushed Bill; as Kenneth Clarke said in the Commons on Wednesday, why can countless hours be spent discussing hunting with hounds but only three on a Bill which touches the very essence of British law and freedom.

Mr Blair has rightly said that his responsibility is to protect the British people from terrorism. If he does not get his new Bill through Parliament today he can still do his duty by exceptionally extending the life of the Bill that expires on Sunday night.


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