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Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Government's majority reduced to one over terror bill.

Looks like the backbenchers are finally awakening from their slumber. Here's to hoping the 90 days clause is defeated.

The government's majority was cut to just one today in a vote on an amendment to the terror bill.

Voting was 300 to 299 as the government narrowly fought off a rebel Labour amendment aiming to establish "intent" in the new offence of encouragement of terrorism. Cross-party opponents complained the government's current definition was too widely drawn.

The narrow margin makes it more likely the government will be defeated later on the most controversial clause in the bill, to extend detention of terror suspects without charge from two weeks to three months.

Mr Blair earlier warned MPs to "think very carefully" before opposing the bill, and reminded them that the 90-day pre-trial detention had the backing of the police.

The government had earlier pledged a rethink on the "glorification" clauses as ministers tried to head off a damaging revolt.

The Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, said she recognised "legitimate concerns" that a new offence of encouraging terrorism needed to be tightened up.

MPs have today began putting the terror bill through the detailed scrutiny of a committee stage.

In a sign of the bill's importance, MPs are debating it line by line in the Commons chamber. If passed in its current form, terror suspects could be jailed for 90 days without charge and a new offence created of glorification of terrorism.

Last week, the bill survived a mauling to be given a second reading by 472 votes to 94, a majority of 378. Sixteen Labour MPs rebelled to vote with the Liberal Democrats.

A row is expected over an amendment tabled by Labour backbenchers that would limit the 90-day detention period to 28 days. Charles Clarke, the home secretary, today said he would be "flexible" but insisted four weeks did not allow police enough time to charge terror suspects.

At prime minister's questions today, Tony Blair told MPs that a vote against the legislation would be a vote against the express advice of leading police officers.

The only reason the leading police officers need 90 days is that they do not have the specialist officers needed to decrypt hard drives and to follow up all their leads. This in an issue of training and funding, not an issue of suspects being locked up because of police and governmental incompetence and lack of planning.

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