Charles Clarke is resisting pressure to rush through new counter-terrorism laws in the wake of the bombings.
The home secretary promised in March to bring forward a new bill to tackle terrorism this autumn.
But although the attacks on Thursday are likely to prompt calls for ministers to add ballast to the legislation, aides to Mr Clarke on Friday ruled out hurrying new measures on to the statute book.
A counter-terrorism bill will be published in the late autumn and is unlikely to start its parliamentary passage before the new year.
The home secretary has already signalled that the counter-terrorism bill will include proposals for a new offence covering those preparing to commit atrocities.
It is thought ministers want to be able to target offenders who currently evade capture under existing conspiracy laws. Such a plan was endorsed on Friday by Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner.
But Mr Clarke was on Friday night fending off calls to consider a raft of other legislative measures.
His predecessor David Blunkett floated the idea of reducing the standard of proof in terrorism cases. There have also been suggestions that secret evidence should be used in trials heard before specially-vetted barristers. And there is fairly widespread support in parliament for a law-change to allow the courts to hear phone-tap evidence gathered by the intelligence services.
John Denham, who is expected to be reappointed as Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, supports the use of such evidence, but would also like Mr Clarke to consider a French-style system of investigative magistrates.
He believes that would enable the authorities to keep suspicious people under surveillance “but in a process that has proper judicial safeguards”. “We do need a fresh approach. The French type system is certainly worth a proper examination,” Mr Denham said.
Mr Clarke appeared to retain an open mind on whether to “intensify our action” against people thought to pose a threat.
But an aide to the home secretary indicated that the autumn bill would not include the French system advocated by Mr Denham, or many of the other proposals floated.
Instead there would be “more technical adjustments” requested by the intelligence services.
A system of investigative magistrates was “such a massive overhaul that you would have to reflect on it over a period of time”.
Mr Clarke is perhaps less likely than his less liberal predecessor Mr Blunkett to come up with immediate solutions to satisfy a popular demand for action.
That may yet frustrate Downing Street, where there have already been some signs that Tony Blair is impatient for faster progress on a range of intractable Home Office problems such as anti-social behaviour.
Whatever the content of the counter-terrorism bill, ministers believe the bombings justify the measures already brought in by the government, but bitterly opposed by civil libertarians. The introduction of “control orders” – under which British citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism can be placed under house arrest – sparked a historic stand-off between the Commons and Lords in March. Some 11 orders have so far been imposed by Mr Clarke.
The home secretary is also going to use a special meeting with his European counterparts to press for more effective cross-boarder solutions to deal with terrorism. Perhaps more importantly, the government hopes that the attacks will make it more difficult for MPs and peers to oppose the national identity cards currently going through parliament. Mr Denham believes ID cards would provide some help in the battle against terrorism by combating illegal immigration and identity fraud.
Although ministers have shelved their earlier claim that ID cards were a key tool in the fight against terrorism -– Mr Clarke on Friday said: “I have never argued, and don’t argue, that ID cards would prevent any particular act”. they believe that MPs who have accused the government of using the terror threat as an excuse to instil a Big Brother state have been proved wrong.
The government is sufficiently confident of the arguments for ID cards to dispatch Andy Burnham, the Home Office minister, on a summer roadshow selling the scheme’s benefits.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, moved quickly to insist that ID cards would not have averted the London bombings. His comments perhaps suggest an awareness that renewed public concerns about terrorism could leave the Conservatives struggling to defend their staunch opposition to the scheme.
The prime minister will take a keen interest in the contents of the counter-terrorist bill. But the real difficulty for Mr Clarke will be to keep his boss happy on that, while at the same time delivering a crackdown on crime, yobbery and maintaining control of the asylum and immigration system.
Mr Pearce said: “That’s the curse of the Home Office: you have to crisis manage and it [counter-terrorism measures] will just absorb a whole stack of time now.”
Mr Denham said new terror laws were “probably” needed, but warned the government to take its time. “I don’t think we should bring forward any legislation in reaction to the bombings . . . It’s better for the government to stick to the existing timetable for this legislation and get it right,” he told the FT.
Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, the left-wing think-tank, agreed. “They will examine the legislative provisions, but they can only really do that when they know exactly what’s happened.”