Of a total voting strength of 651, 173 MPs
were absent or decided not to vote on one of the Government's
flagship measures proposing the biggest changes to individual
liberties for 50 years.
A wrecking amendment proposed by Tory and
Labour rebels seeking to deny the Bill a second reading was rejected
by 306 to 93, a Government majority of 213.
The revolt was a blow both for Tony Blair
and Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, who backed the
legislation despite the misgivings of many of his MPs.
Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary,
who inherited the plans from David Blunkett, said they would help
tackle terrorism, fraud and trafficking in people, as well as making
life easier for millions of people.
At one stage Bill Cash (C, Stone)
brandished a copy of George Orwell's novel 1984 at the Home
Secretary, challenging him to repudiate claims that the measure
would effect a "sea change" in the relationship between state