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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February 2005, 12:54 GMT
Prime minister's questions
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

This cannot often be said - but something changed as a result of prime minister's question time this week.

Question time produced something
Tony Blair agreed to meet Tory leader Michael Howard and any of his colleagues to discuss a way forward on the detention of terror suspects.

His announcement came after the government and Home Secretary Charles Clarke came under intense pressure to think again over its plans to keep UK and foreign terror suspects under house arrest.

Mr Blair's concession to both the opposition parties, however, was probably not born out of a desire to give them their say on this intensely sensitive issue.

It was far more likely to have been based on the fact that, with both opposition parties set to vote against the proposal in the Commons, and some severe misgivings on the Labour benches, there was a very good chance it would be defeated.

So a compromise has to be sought. It may be embarrassing, even humiliating for Home Secretary Charles Clarke, but it looks like time for some second thoughts.

National security

Both sides later insisted they hoped a meeting could be arranged. So there is the genuine prospect, and this deserves repeating thanks to its almost unique nature, that something actually happened in question time.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy could not actually say it, but the sub-text to his questions on the same issue was "can I come too".

Michael Howard
Howard won a meeting with the prime minister
And it is hard to see how he could be excluded from what is bound to be sold as a consensus-seeking, non-party political get together to address a matter of national security.

Having won his meeting, however, Mr Howard knew he was pushing his luck to believe the prime minister would also give in to his request to back a Tory MP's bill to strengthen the laws allowing householders to tackle burglars.

It is another issue that has seen the government attacked for attempting, and allegedly failing to clarify the existing law.

Headlines that it would be OK to kill a burglar have been matched by claims that the leaflet explaining the law actually confuses the issue further.

The prime minister was having none of that one. The law was perfectly clear, he insisted.

Mind you, with the election beckoning, who knows where there might yet be room for manoeuvre on any policy that may start to look like a vote loser.




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