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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 21:00 GMT
'Phone-tapping' evidence vetoed
Home Secretary Charles Clarke
Opposition parties are at odds with ministers over phone-tap evidence
Home Secretary Charles Clarke has ruled out a government change of heart over the use of phone-tapping evidence in terrorist trials.

He said he had "reviewed the matter fully", but would not change his opinion that phone-tap evidence should not be used in court.

He was speaking after he and Tony Blair discussed the issue in Downing Street with the two main opposition leaders.

Talks with Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy will continue, he said.

House arrest

The government is keen to secure cross-party agreement for its controversial anti-terror measures to ensure that emergency legislation is passed by 10 March.

Mr Clarke said on Friday that the controversial new laws will be introduced next week for debate.

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

At the centre of the controversy are plans for new "control orders", proposed after the Law Lords outlawed the current powers to detain foreign terror suspects without trial.

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

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.

But the two opposition leaders want the courts, rather than politicians, to rule in such cases.

Michael Howard outside 10 Downing Street
Mr Howard said he hoped Mr Blair would reflect on the issue

After his meeting with Mr Blair, Mr Kennedy suggested there had been movement on the appropriate level of judicial involvement.

"The government is acknowledging that we do need to build in a more tangible use of the judicial process. However, how we go about doing that remains an idea for discussion," he said.

But it seemed the two sides remained at odds over the use of phone-tap evidence in courts, which opposition parties say would 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.

Mr Clarke said: "We have reviewed this matter fully and we take view that it would not assist in getting further prosecutions and therefore we will not be changing the view that we have already taken that we'll not be allowing intercept to be used in such cases."

But Mr Clarke said discussions with Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy had been "very useful".

He was confident that all parties wanted to put national security at the heart of their concerns to ensure Britain was protected from terrorism.

'Extreme measures'

After his meeting with Mr Blair, Tory leader Mr Howard said it was "wholly unacceptable" that dangerous terrorist suspects would be "detained in their living rooms" and not a prison cell.

He also rejected the notion that phone-tap evidence should not be used in court.

It was used in court in almost every other European country, Australia, Japan and the United States, Mr Howard said.

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

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

Why the government is seeking cross-party support

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