Clarke blow No. 1: Ruling hits key anti-terror measure

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The Independent Online

Charles Clarke was dealt a severe blow just hours after starting work as Home Secretary today, when law lords ruled suspected terrorists should not be detained without trial.

Charles Clarke was dealt a severe blow just hours after starting work as Home Secretary today, when law lords ruled suspected terrorists should not be detained without trial.

Mr Clarke pledged to press ahead with ID cards and other tough anti-terror measures following David Blunkett's dramatic departure.

But he hardly had his feet under the desk at Queen Anne's Gate before the Lords ruled detention without trial breaches European human rights law.

The judgment throws into doubt a central plank of the Government's anti-terror strategy, just months before an election Labour will fight largely on the issue of security.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman demanded an urgent statement from Mr Clarke.

The ruling underlines the formidable burden Mr Clarke takes on in his new post, which is only added to by Labour's election strategy.

His own backbenchers have already suggested Mr Blunkett's resignation should trigger a rethink on plans for ID cards.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy urged Mr Clarke to "pause" before bringing forward the controversial scheme.

However, Mr Clarke today declared: "I certainly shall not pause. I will go ahead with the legislation."

As Education Secretary he was branded "soft" by Mr Blunkett, just one in a series of caustic comments to a biographer that did so much to undermine Cabinet support.

But that criticism was withdrawn over a "very nice lunch", Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Any fears that I might be soft on crime would not be justified either," he added.

With a Commons showdown on ID cards looming on Monday he held out hope to critics that some of their concerns would be taken on board.

However, he continued: "The predominant feeling I have felt on the Labour Party backbenches and, actually, I think in the country as a whole, is that we have to tackle these issues.

"I might wish in an idealistic world we didn't have some of these things but I think what people want today is a world in which they feel secure."

The 2001 al Qaida attacks had made such measures necessary, Mr Clarke said.

"War has certainly been declared on democratic society by terrorist organisations.

"And I certainly think it is our responsibility as a society and certainly my responsibility as Home Secretary to do my best to defend us against that threat."

Mr Clarke also said the immigration and asylum system needed "urgent reform" to cut numbers.

"Great achievements have been made by David Blunkett and his predecessors but I think everybody acknowledges there remain issues that have to be resolved," he said.

"The impact of organised crime that I mentioned earlier on people-trafficking has had a very serious effect on our society as people are brought in in quite an unacceptable way by great criminal gangs leading to terrible tragedies ... They have to be stopped."

Mr Clarke rejected suggestions that the departure of Mr Blunkett despite staunch support from the Prime Minister signalled the end of Tony Blair's era.

And despite the harsh criticism in the biography of the Sheffield Brightside MP he had warm words for his predecessor.

"I have every personal sympathy and support for David in his personal life and what he has done, as well as respect for what he has done in his professional life," he said.

"I think that is a set of events which have worked out in the dramas of yesterday and I'm very, very sorry it has come to that.

"But the idea that it is somehow some symptom of failing government or whatever I absolutely do not accept."