Lords 'will defeat terror Bill'

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The Home Secretary has been warned that he faces defeat in the House of Lords next week over his plan to give himself the power to put British citizens under house arrest.

The Home Secretary has been warned that he faces defeat in the House of Lords next week over his plan to give himself the power to put British citizens under house arrest.

Leading peers are outraged that a measure brought in to deal with potential suicide bombers can apply equally to animal rights extremists, Irish republicans, or anyone considered liable to resort to political violence. Charles Clarke has also been warned that the Government's majority could be "very thin" when it is voted on by MPs for the second time, tomorrow. Last week, more than 30 Labour MPs voted against the Bill. A larger number is said to be ready to back a move by Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, to take the power to issue "control orders" away from the Home Secretary and give it to judges.

Senior Labour sources said that Mr Clarke is keen to make sure the legislation is passed before the powers that keep the seven Belmarsh detainees locked up run out in March.

But Tony Blair is said to be willing to see it defeated and turned into an election issue; implying that Michael Howard's opposition means that he is "soft" on terrorism.

An opinion poll forThe Independent on Sunday shows half of those contacted agree ministers should have the power to put terrorist suspects under house arrest without trial, with 37 per cent opposed.

The Tory leadership has shown signs of nervousness at being on the same side as civil rights campaigners. Mr Howard made a telephone call to the editor of The Times, Robert Thompson, to deny that his party was being soft on terrorism and Liam Fox, the party co-chairman, pleaded with broadcasters not to allow Mr Blair or his ministers to say the Tories opposed control orders.

The Government can expect backing in the Lords from Merlyn Rees, the former Labour home secretary who was in charge of internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. He said: "Taking somebody's liberty without trial is a political issue. If you need to bring in a judge to give it respectability, it's a poor reflection on politicians."

But most peers are to opposed to giving the Home Secretary the power of house arrest over British subjects. A report last week by Lord Carlile of Berriew, appointed to oversee terrorism laws, warned: "The orders are likely to be available in relation to all forms of terrorism." The Home Office confirmed this. Lord Taylor of Gresham, a retired judge, said: "It's a basic principle of law that no minister can, by executive order, deprive you of your liberty. It has been enshrined in English law since 1765. Charles Clarke is trying to do in the UK ... what the US have done in Guantanamo."

Michael Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, warned that the proposed legislation was in danger of handing the terrorists a victory by undermining liberty.

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