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Four bishops sign a declaration opposing the new terrorism Bill

THE BISHOPS of Coventry, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Oxford, and Worcester have signed a declaration that strongly opposes the Government's Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

They joined hundreds of others, including lawyers, actors, playwrights, and trade-union leaders, to protest about the new Bill, which gained a narrow majority of 14 after its Third Reading in the House of Commons on Monday.

The most keenly debated part of the Bill is the proposal to introduce "control orders", which would include house arrest, as well curfews, tagging, and bans on phone and internet use.

The Bill gained its majority on Monday night after the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, introduced a last-minute amendment, which said that the control orders leading to house arrest would be imposed by judges, not politicians.

But the human-rights organisation Liberty, which has organised the declaration against the Bill, said it was "deeply concerned by the unending restrictions on liberty".

A spokeswoman for the Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, said it was something he felt very strongly about. In a debate in the Lords on Tuesday, Dr Selby said: "I am most of all concerned that this Bill does not become what it currently has every sign of becoming: a victory for the terrorists. . . There are other dangers posed by terrorists, and they are extremely serious. I do not minimise them. There is something altogether different, however, when the state begins to turn on its people, or awards itself the power to do so."

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Colin Bennetts; the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Richard Lewis; and the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Richard Harries, all said on Tuesday that they felt strongly about the issue. All four bishops said that they had responded individually rather than speaking on behalf of the Church of England.

A spokesman for Liberty said on Tuesday: "Secret evidence delivered is not the same as a fair trial."

During Tuesday's debate, peers put forward a "sunset clause", which would mean the law would reach the statute book, but remain there only until 30 November 2005. The Bill was due to be debated again in the Lords yesterday.

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