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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Brown's early terror challenge
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

One thing is absolutely certain about John Reid's latest anti-terror proposals - he will not be the minister to drive them through parliament.

Gordon Brown and John Reid
Mr Brown has backed many of Mr Reid's proposals
While the long period of cross-party talks he has announced are taking place, in an attempt to forge a consensus about the way forward, Mr Reid will leave office along with the prime minister and Gordon Brown will take over, appointing his own home secretary.

Which raises obvious questions over exactly how much weight should be given to this package, which includes some highly-controversial suggestions.

The key - as has been the case with virtually all government policies for the past few months - is not just "what do the opposition parties want" but, more importantly, "what does Gordon want".

Part of the answer to that came in weekend briefings from the Brown camp - said to have irritated Mr Reid - setting out precisely what the chancellor wants.

And, no surprise, they were just the things included in Mr Reid's statement to the Commons - the possibility of allowing phone tap evidence to be used against suspects, allowing police to question individuals after charging them and the creation of a terrorist register.

Backbench rebellion

Most controversially, however, is the prime-minister-in-waiting's support for an extension of the 28 day pre-charge detention period, as set out by Mr Reid.

The last time the government attempted such a move, in 2005, it suffered its first defeat as MPs rejected a 90 day period in favour of the 28 day option, a doubling of the previous time limit.

London terror attack
Ministers want tougher anti-terror laws after London attacks
One other thing, then, is absolutely certain. Neither Mr Brown or his new home secretary will want to suffer a major backbench rebellion, let alone a defeat, within weeks of coming to power.

So, this time, all the talk about seeking a consensus probably means exactly what it says.

As Mr Reid said, he plans a "more comprehensively consensual approach" to legislation than ever before attempted.

On some of those measures, such as questioning after charge and even phone tap evidence, there may already be an unannounced deal and both the Conservative David Davis and the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg appeared generally supportive.

But, once again, it will be the extension of detention powers that will prove the most difficult to win.

Civil liberties

Ministers believe the mood has changed in their favour since the last attempt and that, once MPs consider the evidence and hear the police arguments, they will be ready to concede a longer detention period.

But, as Mr Davis stressed, the Tories still do not believe such a move is sensible as it is too draconian and not yet backed by evidence.

"We do not protect our way of life by undermining our way of life," he said.

Mr Reid announced he wants to balance some of these measures with new protections, such as reports back to MPs and even parliamentary debates on how they are operating.

And Mr Brown has stressed that, while he will put the fight against terrorism top of his agenda, he is equally committed to protecting civil liberties.

Meanwhile, Tory leader David Cameron will want to position his party to avoid claims they are soft on terrorism - a line persistently pursued by Mr Blair.

But this package is still going to present the new prime minister and his home secretary with a serious challenge just weeks into their jobs.

If they fail it will prove highly damaging, and perhaps show Labour MPs are not ready to give up their rebellious tendencies under a new leader.

But if they succeed, it will provide a welcome early boost to their new careers.

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