Page last updated at 18:05 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 19:05 UK

Smith hopeful over 42 days vote

An armed police officer
About 50 Labour MPs had been thought to be unhappy with the proposal

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says she is hopeful the government will win its bid to extend detention of terror suspects without charge from 28 days to 42 days.

"I hope we've moved to a set of proposals people feel able to support," she told the BBC.

But it is unclear if the 50 Labour MPs unhappy with the plan have been won over by the concessions offered.

The Conservatives said the concessions were "a deception" while the Lib Dems described one as a "con".

MPs are now studying proposed amendments to the government's Counter Terrorism Bill, which have been published by the Home Office ahead of next week's crucial Commons vote.

The amendments confirm the three main concessions being offered to opponents in a bid to win them over:

  • MPs must vote on whether to grant police the new powers within seven days of an application rather than 30
  • The 42 day limit can only be made available in the event of a grave exceptional threat
  • The time the higher limit is available is reduced from 60 days to 30 days.

Police minister Tony McNulty described the amendments as a "stronger, more focused package" that, he was confident, would win over MPs from all sides.

We should not give up lightly liberties which have taken centuries to establish
John Grogan
Labour MP

He rejected suggestions the government's main aim was to save Prime Minister Gordon Brown from a humiliating Commons defeat, saying it was "trying to get good law in this very delicate and serious area."

But Downing Street played down talk that the government was heading for victory.

The prime minister's spokesman said it was "certainly not the case that this vote is in the bag and there is more to do over the days ahead".

Independent advice

Ms Smith addressed doubters in a meeting of Labour MPs on Monday evening and in a string of media interviews.

She insisted safeguards would ensure the proposed 42-day limit would be used only in "grave and exceptional" circumstances.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Any home secretary using these powers will want to think very, very carefully about how they are going to explain it to Parliament, whether or not they are going to get parliamentary approval."

MPs will also be given "independent legal advice" about the home secretary's decision "to help to inform that debate".

Ms Smith said some MPs, understood to be members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, will get confidential briefings on a "privy council basis" about individual cases before the debate takes place.

'Attempt to deceive'

"What I'm concerned about is that we do the right thing for the UK, the right thing for people's rights, and that is that we avoid a terrorist attack as well as the rights that we completely and importantly have to afford to defendants," she said.

"Finding that balance is a difficult job: that's why we've been talking about it for so long."

But the Liberal Democrats' Chris Huhne said his party would continue to oppose the plans "tooth and nail".

He said: "Jacqui Smith's so-called key concession is a con. All she has to do is to tell Parliament that there is a grave and exceptional terrorist threat, and she will be entitled under the proposed amendment to go ahead without even considering whether the proposals are proportionate to the problem."

And shadow home secretary David Davis said the amendments were "a politically driven attempt to deceive Parliament".

He said: "These amendments are a deception. The home secretary's power to extend the period of detention without charge to 42 days remains as wide as before - and is certainly not confined to a state of emergency."

Speaking after Monday's meeting, Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran, who had planned to vote against the government, said believed the ground was "shifting" among potential Labour rebels.

But Labour MPs John Grogan and David Winnick were still not convinced the case had been made to extend the 28-day limit.

The vote may hinge on smaller parties such as the DUP, which voted against the government on 90 days but has yet to decide on 42 days and the new package of amendments.


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