Howard warns peers on law and order Bill: Home Secretary adopts get-tough stance to stave off rebellion

MICHAEL HOWARD is sending a tough warning to the House of Lords not to tamper with the principal planks of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, the Government's 19-point law and order crackdown which transfers from the Commons today.

The Home Secretary's decision to warn peers not to excise or substantially water down key elements follows the series of damaging all- party revolts over his other flagship measure, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, which was extensively re-written during its turbulent passage through the Lords.

While the savaging of that Bill reverberated around Whitehall and caused a number of significant climbdowns, Mr Howard believes he is on much firmer ground with the justice Bill because it has already gained the approval of the elected House of Commons, with Labour officially abstaining.

Any major changes forced on the Government by rebellious peers could be brought back to the Commons for attempted revision - while a pitched battle between the two so soon after the rail privatisation confrontation would rekindle allegations that the unelected upper House was over-reaching itself.

The Home Secretary's get-tough stance comes amid rumours that some Tories are poised to join Labour and the Liberal Democrats in rebellions over what the Government views as cornerstone changes, such as modifying the right to silence and new powers to lock up persistent offenders aged 12-14 in secure training centres.

A name on many lips is that of Lord Peyton, a former Tory Cabinet minister, who ministers believe may decide to help the opposition parties sabotage these two measures. His high-profile criticisms helped turn the police Bill into a shambles and prompted some calls for the party whip to be withdrawn.

The Criminal Justice Bill encompasses 19 of the 27 law and order announcements made by Mr Howard at last October's party conference. He wants to see them all implemented. He may also attempt to reinstate some of the reverses inflicted on the police Bill and is expected to spell out his views during its Second Reading in the Commons tomorrow.

Moves he was forced to abandon included appointing police authority chairmen and co-opted members, denying councillors a majority, abolishing some ranks and the repeal of laws giving officers the right to legal representation at disciplinary hearings.

Meanwhile, the extent of discontent over the Criminal Justice Bill will be revealed during tonight's mammoth Second Reading debate. Peers will stick to the convention of exploiting the occasion to spotlight potential rebellions while allowing the Second Reading without a vote.

Angry Labour peers are claiming that what should have been primarily a measure to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice has been subverted into a vehicle to deliver party conference pledges. Lord McIntosh of Haringey, Labour's Lords home affairs spokesman, plans an amendment seeking to create a non-statutory miscarriages of justice review body in advance of the statutory body planned by the Government.

While such a body was a central recommendation of the commission, the Government has only reached the stage of consulting with a view to legislating in the future.

Further controversy will be generated by a Labour peer's planned attempt to introduce a new offence of male rape and the outlawing of criminal prosecutions of under-age homosexual boys who have consensual sex.

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