Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Sunday, 1 June 2008 18:04 UK

MPs 'will support terror plans'

Mr Straw said the law would only be used in exceptional circumstances

Ministers are winning over rebel MPs on the controversial terror vote to extend detention without charge to 42 days, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Mr Straw told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show the law would only be triggered in a "grave terrorist emergency".

Chief Whip Geoff Hoon said he was sure Labour backbenchers could be persuaded to support the extension from 28 days.

Mr Hoon said a package of concessions to be announced by the government would address their concerns.

'Sufficient protections'

The government is facing a tough parliamentary battle to extend the limit on holding terror suspects without charge.

The Conservatives, Lib Dems and an estimated 50 or so Labour rebels oppose moving beyond the current limit.

But Mr Straw said Labour MPs concerned about the plans were being offered more safeguards.

"The overwhelming majority of Labour Members of Parliament want to support the government on this," he said.

"They have anxieties about ensuring there are sufficient protections in this measure.

"It is very important that we have on the statute books powers and facilities which are available to the police and the courts in exceptional circumstances in a grave terrorist emergency."

Backbench concerns

BBC correspondents say the government is likely to offer two main concessions on the draft Counter-Terrorism Bill to try to appease Labour backbenchers:

  • MPs could be allowed to vote after seven days - instead of after 30 days - on the home secretary's decision to grant the police the right to detain someone for up to 42 days
  • Police would only have 30 days instead of 60 days in which to use the power of detaining someone for more than 28 days, following the home secretary's decision

Extending the period suspects can be held without charge is a very serious incursion on our fundamental freedoms
Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith

Mr Hoon said: "Bear in mind that we first published our proposals as long ago as January, the second reading was in March.

"Throughout that period there have been conversations asking them [Labour backbenchers] about their concerns.

"With the package of concessions that the government is about to publish, we are addressing them."

The government's former top lawyer, Lord Goldsmith, has repeated his condemnation of the plans.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the ex-attorney general said passing the anti-terror bill would help destroy the "very basis of free society that our ancestors fought so hard to create".

The Labour peer, who was attorney general when Tony Blair made a failed bid to increase the detention limit to 90 days, said: "There can be no mistake that extending the period suspects can be held without charge is a very serious incursion on our fundamental freedoms."

'Best leader'

His comments have been criticised by fellow Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who asked why he "sat on his hands" when Mr Blair tried to increase the limit.

Speaking to Andrew Marr, she said: "Isn't it amazing how after office suddenly people discover what their values ought to be?''

The draft bill could see Prime Minister Gordon Brown lose his first Commons vote.

It could be the latest in a long line of embarrassments for the prime minister, who has been criticised over his handling of the 10p tax rate change and changes to car tax.

Labour is also still reeling from heavy defeats in recent local elections and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

Mr Straw has once again been forced to defend Gordon Brown, dismissing speculation that he might be replaced as nonsense.

He told the BBC that replacing Mr Brown as Labour leader without a general election would be "unconstitutional".

"Technically it would be unconstitutional, but it's not going to happen," he said.

"He is the best leader we could possibly have and he will see us through these difficulties."


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