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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 23:32 GMT
Clarke concession on terror laws
Police van
Ministers want to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days
Home Secretary Charles Clarke has moved to head off a further revolt over new anti-terror laws after the government's majority was cut to just one vote.

Mr Clarke's climbdown came as he faced possible defeat on plans to extend the time terror suspects can be held without charge from 14 days to 90 days.

He appealed for a vote on the issue to be delayed while he sought consensus.

Earlier, ministers won their slimmest majority since 1997 over plans to outlaw indirect incitement of terror.

'Urgent talks'

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs oppose plans to extend the detention time limit to 90 days.

Civil liberties campaigners say the move would effectively bring back internment.

Mr Clarke told MPs that police and prosecutors had made a "compelling case" for extending the limit because of the complexity and volume of evidence in terrorism cases.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke says he will be "flexible" on detention plans

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

Acknowledging there was no consensus on his plans, Mr Clarke said he hoped to return with new proposals when the Terrorism Bill is debated in the Commons again next week.

"My proposal is that we engage in urgent discussions with colleagues on all sides of the House to see if we can reach consensus on a figure beyond 14 days," said Mr Clarke.

Labour MP David Winnick, who led backbench opposition to the plans, withdrew his attempt to force through a compromise time limit of 28 days.

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

The Conservatives and Lib Dems welcomed the pledge of all-party talks.

Tory shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said he regretted the government had only moved when it appeared to be facing defeat.

'In tatters'

Earlier, 33 Labour MPs rebelled against the government over plans for a new offence of indirect incitement or glorification of terrorism.

Ministers say existing laws cover people who encourage a specific Tube train to be bombed but do not target those who urge attacks on the Underground network in general.

And they want people to be prosecuted if they know "or have reasonable grounds for believing" that their words will encourage terrorism.

I would welcome tougher laws
Robert Neve, Newport, UK

But critics tried to force changes so people could be prosecuted only if they intended to incite terror.

The government, which normally has a majority of 66, won the vote by 300 to 299 - Tony Blair's slimmest majority.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten said the terrorism plans were now "in tatters".

"The home secretary should act now to amend this illiberal and dangerous piece of legislation," he said.


Commons home affairs select committee chairman John Denham said the key test for the incitement plans were whether they would prevent young people being drawn into terrorism.

"As these clauses [of the bill] are currently drafted, they are more likely to make things worse than better," argued Mr Denham.

Home Office Minister Hazel Blears told MPs the government was willing to look again at the wording of the proposals.

But she insisted there were six safeguards to make sure prosecutions only targeted the real "mischief" which concerned the public.

And she dismissed suggestions that Cherie Blair could have fallen foul of the new laws when she said young Palestinians felt they had "no hope but to blow themselves up" shortly after a suicide bomb attack.

It later emerged that Lib Dem frontbencher Vince Cable had missed the crunch vote which the government won by just one vote.

Mr Cable told BBC News he had wanted to vote.

But he had gone to see a large group of trade justice protesters who could not get through Commons security and then been unable to return to Parliament in time for the vote.

The MP, who said he had taken part in other terror laws' votes, said he had written to the Commons authorities to complain about the "preposterous" security arrangements.

Details of the proposed anti-terrorism laws

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