UK Politics

Control orders: Nick Clegg denies 'peaceniks' row

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Media captionNick Clegg: "We're dealing with a difficult set of dilemmas and balances to strike"

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has denied there is an "almighty row between peaceniks and securocrats" over the future of control orders.

Mr Clegg said the house arrest-style system would be reformed but refused to be drawn on its replacement.

In a speech on civil liberties, he pledged to reform libel for the internet age and to protect everyone from academics to "humble bloggers".

He said the current libel system had turned the UK into a "laughing-stock".

Liberty and security

The government's massive review of counter-terrorism laws is expected to be published within weeks.

That review has been overseen by Lord Macdonald QC, a Liberal Democrat peer and former director of public prosecutions.

But its publication has been delayed amid tense discussions in government over the future of control orders. The home secretary can impose the house arrest-style measures on people suspected of involvement in terrorism who cannot be charged because they have not yet committed a crime.

In each case, controlees face restrictions on their liberties including home curfews, electronic tagging and a ban on who they are allowed to contact and where they can go.

The Liberal Democrats made a manifesto pledge to scrap the scheme, But supporters of control orders say there is no alternative for a small number of potentially dangerous people.

In his speech to the Institute of Government think tank, Mr Clegg said: "This is not a straightforward trade-off between liberty or security, as if one must come at the expense of the other. It is about how we balance the two.

"The Government has not been consumed by some sort of almighty row between peaceniks on the one hand and securocrats on the other.

"While the full details of the review are still to be decided, there will be significant reform.

"Control orders cannot continue in their current form. They must be replaced.

"And we will introduce a system that is more proportionate, in line with our long-held commitment to due process and civil liberties; that seeks to disrupt and impede would-be terrorists from carrying out their heinous crimes; and that continues to focus on bringing terrorists to justice."

Responding to the speech, Lord Reid, the former Labour home secretary, said Mr Clegg appeared to have "backed off" on control orders.

"I very much welcome the fact that Nick Clegg seems to have backed off from plans to abolish the central thrust of control orders," he said. "Obviously we must await full details but it now appears to be recognised that these measures remain essential in a small number of cases to protect the public."

Libel reforms

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Clegg said the coalition government would restore civil liberties with the same systematic ruthlessness with which the former government took them away.

And he said he wanted to reform libel and turn the law from "an international laughing-stock to an international blueprint."

He said a forthcoming draft libel bill would propose a statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest, "whether they be big broadcasters or the humble blogger".

That move, which was being considered by the former Labour government when it ran out of time, comes after a string of cases in which scientific writers have been sued over legitimate academic research or studies.

Mr Clegg said libel should also be reformed to better reflect "the realities of the internet" and also to end "libel tourism" under which foreign claimants sue foreign publications or writers in the British courts.

"We want public-spirited academics and journalists to be fearless in publishing legitimate research. Not least when it relates to medical care or public safety," he said.

"It is a farce - and an international embarrassment - that the American Government has felt it necessary to legislate to protect their citizens from our libel laws."

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