Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 19:40 UK

Goldsmith 'can't back' terror law

Lord Goldsmith
Lord Goldsmith stepped down from government last year

Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has said "the case has not been made" to extend the limit on holding terror suspects, and he could not support it.

Lord Goldsmith told MPs scrutinising plans to extend the pre-charge limit to 42 days that it would send a message to Muslims "that we are down on them".

Earlier police chief Sir Ian Blair said officers were "pushing at" the current limit and would need longer in future.

Ministers have been talking to Labour MPs to try to stop a backbench revolt.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Home Office minister Tony McNulty and security minister Lord West have been meeting potential rebels to try to win them over.

Multiple attacks

The BBC understands a vote on the plans has been put back several weeks until mid-June.

Speaking to MPs on the Counter-Terrorism Bill committee earlier, Lord Goldsmith - who stepped down as attorney general last year - said he did not understand how the government's promise that MPs and peers would get to vote on any extension would work.

We have reached a point with 28 days where we are pushing at that
Sir Ian Blair

He said they would not be told anything prejudicial to the prosecution, adding: "How are you going to give Parliament enough information to make a decision?

"Are you going to ask Parliament to simply trust the secretary of state? That doesn't really give you a great deal of a safeguard."

Lord Goldsmith, who was the legal adviser to Tony Blair's government, said the measure could alienate Muslims who would think "we are down on them", and could be used as justification for "misguided young men" to launch attacks.

He added: "The case has not been made for that extension and I can't personally support it."

'Pushing at limit'

Earlier, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said the plots were becoming increasingly complex, including multiple attack sites and computer evidence. MPs were told there had been 15 plots foiled since the 7 July 2005 bombings in London.

"We have reached a point where at 28 days we feel sooner or later - and maybe sooner - something is going to happen to make that insufficient," he said.

"We have reached a point with 28 days where we are pushing at that."

Anything is possible - the question is whether it's remotely likely
Sir Ken Macdonald
Director of Public Prosecutions

However, Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's counter-terrorism division, said there had only been three occasions since 2005 when suspects were held longer than 14 days.

And Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said while it was up to Parliament to set the time limit of detention without charge, he believed 28 days was "sufficient".

"Our experience has been that we have managed comfortably with 28 days. We have therefore not asked for an increase in 28 days," he said.

"Anything is possible - the question is whether it's remotely likely."

The bill has been given an unopposed second reading but Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and some Labour MPs have said they will fight parts of it later on.

Under the current proposals, the home secretary could immediately extend the limit on pre-charge detention from 28 to 42 days, if supported by a chief constable and the director of public prosecutions.

MPs and the House of Lords would then vote to approve it within 30 days, if they rejected it the extension would end at midnight on the day of the debate.

Attempts to extend it to 90 days in 2005 ended in Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as prime minister and some MPs that backed the 90-day detention, now say they will vote against the 42-days plan.

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