The Lords insisted on inserting the safeguard to the Anti-Terrorism Bill in a series of votes in the Upper Chamber. At the same time ministers are trying to assert their majority in the House of Commons to secure the defeat of the amendments.
Home Office minister Jeff Rooker labelled the changes ‘wrecking amendments’ and warned their inclusion would hamper the ability of security services in the UK and abroad to deal with the terrorist threat raised by the events of September 11.
Rooker said that under one clause Customs and the Inland Revenue would be allowed to disclose information to law enforcement agencies for the investigation of crime.
He said: ‘Reducing the gateway to cases of terrorism or threats to national security would be counter-productive and reduce the effectiveness of fighting terrorism.
‘We know, as regards the work of the Inland Revenue, that terrorist groups are relying on the work of the informal economy, the hidden economy, which is massive in some countries. It cannot be measured but it is worth billions of pounds.’
But Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said peers had to reconcile their duty to safeguard traditional civil liberties with their duty to forestall emergency threats to national security.
He warned that reaction to authoritarian measures could itself foster terrorism.
He said: ‘It is counter-intuitive to believe that civil liberties are best preserved by suspending them. That tends to be a poor way of winning the battle for hearts and minds, here or abroad, without which no long-term national security is possible, particularly post September 11.’
Baroness Buscombe said: ‘To extend the power of disclosure in criminal proceedings for the purposes of any criminal investigations, however remote or minor anywhere in the world in this emergency legislation is unacceptable.’
She warned that if use of the powers became common place there would be a feeling that the right to privacy had been revoked and would be less frank with the authorities.
The original majorities for the amendments were substantial.
‘Big Brother’ fears over Terror bill