Howard admits defeat expected in crime vote

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The Home Secretary has accepted that the Government is facing defeat in the House of Lords this week over its plans to impose minimum sentences on habitual offenders.

The Crime Bill, under which repeated violent or sexual crimes would carry life sentences and habitual burglars and drug dealers would spend a minimum time in jail, has run into trouble because Labour has demanded more flexibility for judges.

Mr Howard said yesterday that it was "quite possible" that peers would pass an amendment allowing judges to set aside minimum sentences when they believed they would be unjust.

He attacked Labour for backing the move, saying the party had voted against an almost identical measure in the Commons. If the Government was defeated it would seek to reinstate its plans at a later stage, he said.

"This is at the heart of the Bill, it is something that is overwhelmingly supported by the police. The public over- whelmingly support it..." he added.

Labour's home affairs spokesman, Jack Straw, said yesterday that there should be some exceptions to Mr Howard's new rules, and offered to discuss the issue with him.

Mr Howard also announced yesterday that he had agreed to implement changes to his Police Bill so that police would need prior approval from a security commissioner before carrying out electronic surveillance operations.