LONDON - Lord Irvine, the former Lord Chancellor, joined a coalition of opposition peers yesterday to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Government's anti-terror Bill by more than two to one.
In a crushing blow to Tony Blair's stance on the issue, Lord Irvine, his personal and political mentor, and the crossbencher Lord Condon the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, voted with Conservative, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers to ensure that only judges will have powers to authorise "control orders" on terrorist suspects.
Twenty Labour peers defied the whip to vote against the Bill as the Lords inflicted the Government's biggest defeat since the abolition of hereditary peers in 1999. They voted by 249 to 119, a majority of 130, to give the High Court the power to impose orders ranging from electronic tagging and curfews to full house arrest on terrorist suspects.
Ministers had insisted that judges should only decide on the most severe orders, amounting to house arrest, and leave the Home Secretary to decide on lesser restrictions.
Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor made a desperate attempt to defuse the rebellion during an impassioned two-hour debate, but failed to win the backing of a single speaker.
Last night Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, was still refusing to make further concessions despite yesterday's record Lords defeat.
The Home Office insisted that it would not back down over the proposals, but with further defeats in prospect today ministers will face a tough task getting the legislation through the Commons tomorrow.
Lord Irvine, whose association with Mr Blair dates back to 1976, when he took on the future Prime Minister as a pupil at his legal chambers, headed a list of opponents which included some of the country's most eminent legal minds and a string of senior politicians.
The Government's opponents included Lord Brittan, the former Conservative Home Secretary, Lord Ackner, the former Law Lord, Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, and Lord Lloyd, the former Law Lord.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the former Conservative cabinet minister, led protests from peers arguing that the public would not understand why all control orders from house arrest to electronic tagging and telephone restrictions were not decided by the High Court.
Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, said: "It is unique in civil proceedings for the Secretary of State to be able to proceed on his own and without hearing the views of the person who is the subject to the control order. It will be left to that person to appeal. That is wholly unique."
Lord Falconer attempted to persuade peers that house arrest orders, which would require to derogate from the European Convention on human rights were fundamentally different from less serious, "non-derogating' orders.
But he finally admitted defeat at the end of the bruising debate.
He said: "I have put my arguments about the distinction between between derogating and non-derogating orders. For reasons I am almost completely unable to understand, I find no support in relation to my arguments in the house. It is for the house to say whether it agrees or disagrees."
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is a clear demonstration of the need for control orders to be made by Judges, not politicians."
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, predicted the Government would be defeated in the Commons if it refused to make further concessions.
He said: "The Home Secretary will have to take note of senior and well-respected Lords such as Lord Irvine and Lord Condon."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties pressure group Liberty, added: "The courage and clarity of the speeches in the Lords puts elected politicians to shame. This Bill must be defeated in the Commons."
But a Home office spokesman said: "The Government continues to believe that the Bill as passed by the House of Commons strikes the right balance between protecting the security of the nation and safeguarding individual liberties."
Speaking before the defeat, Tony Blair's official spokesman stressed that he was determined to drive the proposals on to the statute book.
Mr Clarke has been heartened both by polls showing public backing for the Government's stance and by support for the move from Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
A Home Office source said: "There will be no more flexibility . . . We believe the public are behind us on this issue. We have got a terrorist threat that we need to have the ability to deal with."