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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 11:38 GMT
Clarke plays down terror retreat
Police van
Plans to hold suspects for 90 days could be torn up
Home Secretary Charles Clarke has insisted his anti-terror laws are still on course despite a climbdown over plans to hold suspects for 90 days.

Mr Clarke was forced to back down after the threat of defeat in the Commons.

He said he would seek agreement with all parties and bring forward new proposals early next week.

Labour's majority was cut to just one on the separate issue of banning indirect incitement to terror but Mr Clarke said this was not a key measure.

Backbench revolt

He said most MPs backed the government's anti-terrorism bill, which returns to the Commons on Thursday, "because people know and believe it's right", although some had doubts about the details.

We know that the home secretary himself was very lukewarm about the period of 90 days from the beginning
Micheal Howard

Mr Clarke agreed to all-party talks on the detention of suspects Wednesday to head off a backbench revolt on the issue.

He said: "I thought it was important that MPs talk to their constituents over their weekend.

"Go and talk to their communities, go and talk to their police in their locality and form a view.

"And that's what I think should happen and we'll have the discussions that I said and we'll come forward with detailed proposals early next week"

'Unacceptable'

Labour MP David Winnick, who has led back bench opposition to the plans, agreed on Wednesday to withdraw his attempt to force through a compromise time limit of 28 days.

But he warned MPs: "If it's a question of 90 days being dropped to 80 days or 75 days, I believe that is totally unacceptable."

Mr Clarke has refused to be pinned down on how long he thinks suspects should be detained but he told MPs he wanted to "reach consensus on a figure beyond 14 days".

He said police and prosecutors had made a "compelling case" for extending the limit because of the complexity and volume of evidence in terrorism cases.

And he promised to look at new safeguards, such as a senior judge supervising the process.

'Lukewarm'

Civil liberties campaigners warn extending detention without charge would effectively bring back internment.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said he still wanted to reach agreement with the government on the issue but said the arguments put forward so far "do not withstand scrutiny".

"We know that the home secretary himself was very lukewarm about the period of 90 days from the beginning. "The truth is that the government have not made the case for that period," Mr Howard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Scrutiny

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said his party would not shift from its view that the current 14 days is long enough to detain terror suspects without charge.

"We will continue to press all moves in that direction, both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords.

"And of course the government's argument itself as a result of yesterday's [Wednesday] discussions and the partial climbdown thus far by the home secretary is greatly weakened."

Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, who was appointed by the government to scrutinise terror law, warned against a "Dutch auction" on the detention of suspects, saying it would be bad for MPs to "barter" over such important legislation.

He urged a stronger system of judicial scrutiny, but added: "I think that for most cases the existing maximum of 14 days is more than enough."


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Details of the proposed anti-terrorism laws



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