Ministers plan concessions on terror law

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The Government is to dilute its proposal to allow the Home Secretary to impose control orders on suspected terrorists in an attempt to avert a parliamentary rebellion against the controversial measure.

The Government is to dilute its proposal to allow the Home Secretary to impose control orders on suspected terrorists in an attempt to avert a parliamentary rebellion against the controversial measure.

Under a planned concession being considered by ministers, the Home Secretary would be able to grant only an interim control order which would have to be approved speedily by a judge.

As currently drafted, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill would allow the Home Secretary to grant an order, which would be subject to a judicial review within seven days.

The Government is expected to table an amendment to the Bill in a move aimed at preventing a rebellion when MPs debate it again on Monday. It hopes the concession will win over the Liberal Democrats, whose support will be crucial if ministers are to avoid defeat when the measure reaches the House of Lords.

Yesterday the Cabinet discussed the new powers, which include preventing suspects travelling or using phones and the internet and the ultimate sanction of house arrest. Some ministers are understood to be pressing Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, to switch to a policy of interim orders.

Three former cabinet ministers have tabled amendments to the measure. Robin Cook, Chris Smith and Frank Dobson proposed that the Home Secretary should apply to the courts for a control order rather than be able to impose one himself. If the courts granted an interim order, there should be a hearing to consider whether a full order should be made.

Tony Blair, in a letter to the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, said that all the experts who had reviewed the issue had concluded that there would always remain a group of suspects, however small, whom it was impossible to prosecute because of the sensitivity of the evidence against them. He told Mr Howard: "To the question of what we do to control the actions of those we cannot prosecute but who our security services say are a risk to our country, your party does not seem to have an answer."

The Tory leader told Mr Blair in his reply: "I am not against the principle of control orders. But we do have serious reservations about the way you plan to operate them. We do not believe these decisions should be taken by a politician. We also have concerns about the burden of proof. And we remain to be persuaded that al-Qa'ida operatives would be seriously inconvenienced by a tag."

* The royal wedding and the general election are among "obvious and enormous targets" for a possible terror attack by al-Qa'ida, Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said yesterday. He indicated that the UK would be on a heightened terror alert in the coming months. An extensive security operation is planned for the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles on 8 April at the Guildhall in Windsor and the reception at Windsor Castle.

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