Clarke in final bid to win support for house arrest powers

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The Independent Online

Charles Clarke is to hold fresh talks with Opposition leaders tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to win support for new powers to place terror suspects under house arrest.

Charles Clarke is to hold fresh talks with Opposition leaders tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to win support for new powers to place terror suspects under house arrest.

The Home Secretary will unveil emergency counter-terrorism legislation in the Commons on Tuesday. It will include proposed new "control orders" under which suspects could be forced to remain in their own homes.

A meeting of party leaders to discuss the controversial proposals broke up on Friday with the Tories pledging to oppose the laws. But ministers hope concessions to the Liberal Democrats may help spare the Government a bruising battle on the eve of the expected general election.

They say a judge would review the imposition of a house arrest within seven days of an order being made, and would have the power to overturn it. It is thought that further concessions on the involvement of the judiciary will be offered at a meeting between Mr Clarke and Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, tomorrow.

Mr Oaten said: "We think it should be the judge taking the decision. If there is a deal to be done, it will be in that area. We are prepared to keep the door open but we are absolutely clear what our bottom line is."

Ministers want to rush through the new laws rather than renew internment powers which lapse on 14 March. Currently 11 foreign nationals are being detained without trial, mostly in the Belmarsh high security prison, under legislation described as the "real threat to the life of the nation" in a Law Lords ruling last year.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said it was better to renew the internment powers to allow time for a "proper" solution to be found. "If they really do believe they have got to have this massive change in the law let's do it properly," he said. He predicted yesterday that the Lords would reject the house arrest proposals even if they win cross-party support.

Liberty, the human rights group, said judicial supervision of control orders was not acceptable and that the Government was trying to "buy off" the Liberal Democrats.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The underlying principle of justice is simple: if you can restrict someone's liberty then you have to know what that person is accused of."

Mr Clarke, meanwhile, will next week step up efforts to deport foreign nationals suspected of terrorist involvement. He is to meet ministers from Egypt, Algeria and a number of other countries whose citizens are currently being detained at Belmarsh.

Britain will offer incentives to countries willing to smooth the return of the suspects, a senior Whitehall official said this weekend.

"We can do a number of things that might help persuade countries to co-operate," he said, citing the example of easing visa restrictions.

In return, the Home Office is seeking human rights assurances that would allow it to deport the suspects to their countries of origin.