LONDON — After a bitter parliamentary struggle, Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed through a new anti-terrorism law Friday that allows suspects to be kept under tight police control on a judge's order.
The House of Lords approved the measure without amendment Friday night after more than 30 hours of deliberations. The breakthrough came when Blair's Labor Party government agreed that lawmakers would have the opportunity to reject or rewrite the law next year.
Passage came the same day a judge freed on bail eight terrorism suspects, one of them an alleged spiritual leader for Al Qaeda. They had been held for up to three years at London's Belmarsh Prison under an existing anti-terrorism law.
Although the suspects were released, the judge set tight conditions for their bail similar to those envisaged in the new law. They are required to remain in their homes 12 hours a day, cannot use telephones and must wear electronic tracking bracelets. They also are barred from having meetings outside their homes or receiving visitors without court permission.
Blair argued that the new anti-terrorism bill was vital to help protect the British public from attacks such as the train bombings in Madrid, which occurred a year ago Friday. The old law, under which the eight suspects were detained without trial for as long as three years, was ruled illegal by Britain's highest court in December. It remains in force, but is due to expire Sunday night.
The prime minister accused his opponents of playing politics with the public's safety. He also argued that the unelected House of Lords had no right to defy the elected House of Commons, which had approved the government's version of the legislation.
"To continue to try to water down and weaken this legislation is wrong and should be stopped," Blair said before the House of Lords relented.
The best known of the eight released Friday was Abu Qatada, a Sunni Muslim cleric who has been described by U.S. and British officials as the spiritual inspiration to Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta.
The detention of the suspects at Belmarsh -- known as Britain's Guantanamo, after the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- has long been a source of contention for human rights officials and activists.
The question of how to keep the suspects under tight police control gave rise to the debate in Parliament. The discussion also was fueled by statements this week from a former Metropolitan Police commissioner in London that there might be 200 would-be terrorists inside Britain intending to inflict harm on the public.
Conservative and Liberal Democratic opponents in the House of Lords said the bill was sloppy and ill-conceived. They argued that provisions allowing house detention based simply on suspicion would threaten the fundamental liberties that have taken root in Britain over eight centuries.
Opponents also argued that because members of the House of Lords are not elected, they can better afford to take the long view on the country's basic principles and not be swayed by electoral considerations.
In a case of legislative pingpong that lasted Thursday night and all day Friday, the Lords insisted that the new law have a "sunset clause," so a "more considered bill" could be developed and drafted within eight months.
Observers said they could not remember a piece of legislation that had inspired such passion.
Conservative leader Michael Howard said he was satisfied after Home Secretary Charles Clarke promised that a new and more comprehensive anti-terrorism law would be put before Parliament next year.
"He's agreed to a sunset clause in everything but name," Howard said.
The expectation that Blair will call a general election to take place May 5 contributed to intransigence on both sides. The Conservatives hoped that their defense of civil liberties, such as the right of a defendant to face his accusers and protection against detention on a government official's say-so, would strike a chord with voters.
Blair's Labor Party argued that passing a temporary law would send a signal of weakness to terrorists.
The prime minister professed astonishment that Conservative members in the House of Lords would oppose the bill since their party normally styles itself as the guardians of law and order in British politics.
British police have said they often are unable to prove in court their suspicions about the terrorist threat posed by suspected individuals.
One alternative offered by some lawmakers would change the law to allow the use of wiretap intercepts as evidence.
The Law Lords, Britain's highest judicial authority, ruled in December that the terrorism law passed in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks violated the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because its provision for detention without trial applied only to foreign suspects.
The new law allows controls to be placed on terrorism suspects whether they are foreign or British, up to and including house arrest. Suspects who violate their control orders could then be jailed.
Blair initially suggested that the Home Office alone could decide on the controls, but in response to objections raised by the House of Lords, he agreed that a judge would have to authorize the control orders.
However, Blair resisted the suggestion by some Liberal Democrats that there be a preponderance of evidence before the judge approves the police control, and held out for an easier standard of suspicion.