Tensions were running high within the Coalition Government last night over whether to retain the control order regime for terrorist suspects.
Ministers have repeatedly delayed a final decision on the controversial policy inherited from Labour, as they attempt to reconcile competing political pressures and security advice. The problems in resolving the situation have become so intense that David Cameron was yesterday reported to have warned colleagues: "We are heading for a fucking car crash."
A Home Office investigation into control orders, under which suspects face severe restrictions on their movements, is understood to have concluded that the system should stay in place. And the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, recently backed their retention. He argued: "Terrorist threats can still exist which the criminal justice system cannot reach."
But the move would spark uproar among Liberal Democrats, who campaigned strongly against controls on people who have never been found guilty of a criminal offence. Several senior Tories, including the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, support Nick Clegg in his opposition to control orders. Their stance is being backed by Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, who is over-seeing the Home Office review.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, reiterated his party's hostility to the policy. "Let us see what happens in terms of the review, but I very firmly believe that the values we have in this country of a fair trial – you should know what you are accused of, you shouldn't be locked up or put under house arrest.
"It is not the sort of thing that we have traditionally done in this country and I want to get to a situation where we do not have to do that," he told the BBC yesterday. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, insisted yesterday that no decisions had been taken on the review. She said: "What I am clear about is that we do need to take some steps to rebalance national security and civil liberties, but of course commensurate always with ensuring we can keep this country safe."
In an apparent rebuke to Lord Macdonald, she pointed out that the final decision over whether to retain control orders would be taken by the Government.
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