Clarke to water down house-arrest plans

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Indy Politics

Plans to put suspected terrorists under house arrest without trial are likely to be watered down by Home Secretary Charles Clarke. The Government is searching for a compromise over creating "control orders" amid threats from opposition parties to block anti-terror legislation.

Plans to put suspected terrorists under house arrest without trial are likely to be watered down by Home Secretary Charles Clarke. The Government is searching for a compromise over creating "control orders" amid threats from opposition parties to block anti-terror legislation.

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, will hold talks with Tony Blair on Friday aimed at defusing a political row over anti-terror laws. The Government needs to agree a deal because the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have the combined numbers to overturn any proposal in the House of Lords. The present anti-terrorism legislation must be renewed next month or it will cease to be law.

The opposition parties are opposed to plans to replace detention of suspects without trial with effective house arrest under a system of "control orders". A possible compromise - which will be seen as a U-turn by many - is to abandon the idea of 24-hour house arrest and rely upon curfews, electronic tagging and banning the use of the internet. Another option is to have a time limit for the control orders and a judicial authority to scrutinise any renewal of a house arrest.

Ministers yesterday tried to dismiss reports that they were preparing to drop plans for house arrest, after police and the security services opposed the idea. The intelligence services fear houses where suspects were detained could become focal points for demonstrations and act as recruitment centres for extremists. Mr Clarke unwittingly revealed MI5 and police objections when he accidentally showed briefing papers after Thursday's cabinet meeting.

The Home Office insisted that it was not about to do a U-turn. But John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, appeared to hint at movement after the meeting on Friday, saying: "If there is any change or development or whatever, that would come afterwards and not necessarily so. So the story is misinformed."

The "control orders", which will apply to foreign as well as British suspects, are being introduced as a way of dealing with the ruling by the law lords in the Belmarsh case that the Government's powers of detention without trial, brought in after the 11 September attacks on the United States, were unlawful. It is expected that eventually the detainees at Belmarsh and Woodhill will be placed under house arrest.

Liberal Democrats are demanding that any new powers are exercised only by the courts, and insist they should not breach the European Convention on Human Rights, something which would rule out house arrest. They also want the law changed to allow evidence from telephone tapping to be made admissible in court.

The party is understood to have held talks with David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, aimed at co-ordinating its opposition to the plans.

Mr Kennedy said: "We must never have the position in this country where a politician can decide whether you walk free or are put under house arrest. That must be a judicial decision."

Mr Clarke yesterday denied he was preparing a climbdown, despite reports he would drop proposals for house arrest and allow wiretap evidence in court.

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