THERE were probably three items on the agenda at yesterday's talks about Anti-Terrorism legislation between Tony Blair and his Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the leaders of Britain's two main oppostion parties, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy.
The first concerned the opposition parties' objection to the Government's proposal to use indefinite house arrest for suspected terrorists who cannot be charged and tried in open court because of the sensitivity of the evidence against them; from statements outside Downing Street afterwards, it seems that there was no meeting of minds on this matter despite the Home Office's offer to substitute the phrase restricting people to the premises where they live for house arrest. The second agenda item was the refusal of the government to allow phone-tapping evidence in court because of the view of the security services that this would reveal their methods and resources; such evidence is used in almost every other European country and in the United States, but Mr Clarke said after the talks that there had been no change of mind.
The third topic: under the Government's original plan the Home Secretary himself would be able to take decisions to detain terrorist suspects without trial; both Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy believe that some degree of judicial participation or oversight in such decisions is essential and they both gave the impression after the talks that some progress may have been made on this matter.
The Government has to get Parliament to renew the existing Anti-Terrorism Act before the end of March, while taking into account the recent serious criticisms of its present provisions by the Law Lords. It needs Conservative and Liberal Democrat support, hence yesterday's important but inconclusive meeting.