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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 09:11 GMT
Blair set for house arrest talks
Protesters outside Belmarsh Prison
Policies on detaining terrorism suspects have proved controversial
Tony Blair is set for talks with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders about plans to keep terror suspects under house arrest.

Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy will meet the prime minister separately at Number 10 on Friday to voice concerns.

Ministers proposed the new "control orders" after the Law Lords outlawed the current powers to detain foreign terror suspects without trial.

The plans face trouble in the Lords if Tory and Lib Dem opposition continues.

Judicial input

The proposed new control orders would apply to British suspects as well as foreign ones - addressing the law lords' concerns that current detention laws are discriminatory.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has said the orders could impose curfews, tagging, restrictions on movement, and limits on the use of telephones and the internet.

The government has not put forward its proposals lightly
Prime minister's spokesman

In the most serious cases, they could involve house arrest - although the government is not using that term.

The home secretary would decide when and how to use the orders, although they would be open to independent review by judges.

Mr Kennedy, in Downing Street ahead of the talks, said he was approaching them in "a constructive spirit" and was hopeful progress could be made.

He said he would be trying to persuade the prime minister that decisions on house arrest should be made by a judge, rather than a politician.

"Certainly I'll be holding very firmly to this important principle that a politician must not be the sole judge of whether a person enjoys liberty or gets locked up - that has got to be part of the judicial process," he said.

'Making martyrs'

Earlier this month, Mr Howard said anti-terror measures were vital but the British way of life also had to be protected.

"Internment without trial creates martyrs - it can be a very effective recruiting sergeant," he said.

The Tories and Lib Dems want phone-tap evidence to be allowed to be used in courts, to allow more suspected terrorists' cases to come to court.

They suggest sensitive intelligence could be vetted by a judge to ensure fairness and protect sources.

But ministers say revealing evidence could put sources' lives at risk.

Defeat threat

Sir Stephen Lander, chairman designate of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and former director general of MI5, said analysis of phone tap evidence in court could expose to terrorists "what we can and what we can't do".

Mr Kennedy warned that the current proposals were likely to be defeated in the Lords if the Lib Dems and Tories kept to their current positions.

However, the home secretary has hinted at possible concessions, including a greater role for judges in the issuing of the orders.

Downing Street this week defended the plans, saying "extreme measures" were necessary to deal with the terrorism threat.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "The government has not put forward its proposals lightly."

Mr Blair agreed to the talks this month when Mr Howard raised the idea in the House of Commons.


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