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Thursday, September 22, 2005 

Clarke considers compromise over terror laws, while Ian Blair takes his turn to spout drivel.

One reality check, and one from someone who's starting to seem increasingly deranged:

Charles Clarke said today he was seeking a compromise with opposition parties on his proposals to detain terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days.

In an interview published today in the New Statesman magazine, the home secretary said he was willing to consider limiting the timescale for detention in light of opposition from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Mr Clarke also alluded to revelations of his own reservations on the matter, when an early draft of a letter to his opposition counterparts was accidentally released. The first draft of the letter to the Conservatives' David Davis and the Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten was more equivocal than the one which was eventually delivered.

Today Mr Clarke said: "I'm convinced the three months is fine. But because David [Davis] and Mark [Oaten] had raised doubts, I was uncertain quite how to word the covering letter. "Will we compromise? We will seek to do so. My preference is to work on a basis of compromise and agreement if we can. But if Mark Oaten wants to say there is no case for extending the time beyond 14 days, I couldn't accept that.

"But you could have a slightly different argument about timescale."

However, Mr Oaten yesterday specifically said the Liberal Democrats were not prepared to "barter" on the matter. Mr Oaten dubbed detention without trial for three months "internment" and said he would oppose all of the government's anti-terrorist bill if that section was not dropped.

He said, "I'm not going to get into a barter [with Charles Clarke] My starting point is we don't need to extend it beyond 14 days. We are not going to barter about 1 month or two months ... "

Today the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, also attacked the idea in his speech to conference. He said: "There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. This proposal undermines our most basic rights and eats into our most cherished freedoms. If we undermine the foundations of our legal system then we let the terrorists win."

Liberal Democrat peers in Blackpool have suggested that the home secretary would find it very difficult to get his legislation through the House of Lords if he did not compromise on detention without trial and drop the new offence of "glorifying" terrorism.

In his New Statesman interview, the home secretary said he believed that the 90 day period was still justified, because the police and security services needed longer than the present 14 days because of the difficulty of obtaining forensic evidence.

Sir Ian's comments came on the same day as he announced plans to bring soldiers into police firearms units and give officers powers to confiscate driving licences or issue antisocial behaviour orders. His plans provoked alarm among civil liberties groups, but he won qualified support from the Home Office by suggesting that officers should be given radical powers to deliver justice on the spot.

Addressing the Police Superintendents' Association conference in Warwickshire, Sir Ian said he believed the police service should be "bold enough to explore whether certain functions can be carried out by people on short-term contracts, partially warranted only to do a certain type of the police job, whether that be surveillance officers, underwater search, financial investigators, mounted branch or, even, firearms officers.

"Could we bring staff directly in from the armed services, give them a certain amount of basic training and clear instructions as to their firearms duties, so they would be partially warranted, on a fixed-term contract, to undertake only those duties?" In clarification afterwards, the Met said those recruited would be "people leaving the armed services with proven firearms skills" who would be deployed as firearms officers following "a small amount of additional training".

On giving police officers powers to impose interim Asbos or suspend driving licences, Sir Ian said: "Some antisocial activities can be very difficult to deal with through the normal criminal justice system because it takes so long ... but we have to be careful about this. I don't want to see this as a massive widening of powers."

His remarks on pay set him on a collision course with rank and file officers by demanding the abolition of the body which negotiates salaries on a national basis. He told delegates: "We should press for the abolition of the Police Negotiating Board and move towards regional agreements around pay and conditions."

The director of the civil liberties group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, accused the commissioner of behaving like Judge Dredd, the post-apocalyptic policeman-cum-executioner in the comic 2000AD. "This is more like summary justice, which has no place in a democracy," she said.

A Home Office spokesman said Sir Ian's ideas were "part of the ongoing debate we are having about workforce modernisation and the police service".

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, criticised the idea of using soldiers. "There's a vast difference in the way police and soldiers are trained and their roles are very different. The army are trained to cope with war zones. London is not a war zone."

The Liberal Democrats seem to be the only party (that actually has seats in parliament at least) that has principles left. Despite their rather opportunist opposition to war, with their pledge of support to the troops, they have come into their own recently in demanding changes to the government's worst excesses. They helped knock the control orders bill down to size. Now hopefully they will stop the affront to liberty which is the planned 3 month detention. It's good to see that Charles Clarke recognises that there's almost no way he will get away with trying to force the measure through parliament. What I don't believe is claim is that it was him that was coming up with the wording of the letter sent to his opposite numbers. The draft which was sent has the fingerprints of a certain Mr Blair or one of his "advisors" all over it. The glorification clause must also be dropped, because it is utterly unenforceable, a restriction on free speech, and already existing laws can be used against the worst offenders or sympathisers.

Meanwhile, "Sir" Ian Blair seems to be a little worse for wear after his obviously unfortunate dose of reality which was dealt him thanks to his officers murdering Jean Charles de Menezes. His idea of recruiting army soldiers was shown to be a disaster by the events of July the 22nd. That he should consider extending such use of soldiers and even SAS men further shows how little he has learned, despite his professions that he thought about resigning. The police and the army are completely different cultures. Secondly, on the "interim" ASBOs idea, it smacks of the idea of taking "yobs" directly to cash machines to pay their fines. It didn't work and was a ridiculous idea, as is this. As with ASBOs, such interim orders would hit the mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars and the different in society. Such further marginalisation does not solve anything. As for taking away drivers licenses for reckless driving, it's the kind of idea that sounds good on paper but when actually carried in practice could result in people losing their jobs for a moment of silliness, which we all have.

Sadly, Blair's namesake is more and more keen on cracking down on "anti-social behaviour". Of course, this doesn't extend to bar and pubs being allowed to stay open for 24 hours, or for supermarkets to do the same when selling alcohol. Expect ASBO interim orders to be introduced and also used instead of actually arresting or cautioning youths who happen to just be loitering around "with intent". Blair is only interested in quick fixes now. His term is coming to an end, and he couldn't care less about the state of his party once he's gone. It makes a mockery of his slogan while shadow home secretary to be tough on crime and even tougher on the causes of crime. He's only ever tried to deal properly with the former.

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