Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 10:37 UK

MI5 chief clarifies 42-day stance

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

The head of the security service MI5 has clarified its position on government plans to seek powers to detain terror suspects for 42 days.

Following controversy over MI5's failure to back the plans, Jonathan Evans said MI5 was not the appropriate body to advise on detention limits.

Meanwhile, Scotland's chief law officer has attacked the move.

And equalities chief Trevor Phillips says his commission may seek a legal challenge, if the plans are approved.

The Conservatives, Lib Dems and up to 30 Labour MPs oppose the plan to hold suspects for 42 days without charge, which will be voted on Wednesday.

'Recognises challenge'

The opposition parties argue the proposed pre-charge detention limit would infringe civil liberties, but ministers argue it is necessary to deal with increasingly complex terror plots.

Mr Evans said MI5 was not best placed to advise because it is not responsible for prosecutions or criminal investigations.

Human rights are essentially just that - you can't just get rid of them if you think they are inconvenient
Trevor Phillips
Equality and Human Rights Commission

He said the security services had not sought to comment on the measures publicly or privately, except to say it recognised the challenge posed to police by the increasingly complex and international character of terrorist cases.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw described Mr Evans's decision to release the statement as "highly unusual".

Meanwhile Lord Advocate Eilish Angiolini, who was appointed by the previous Labour Holyrood administration, told The Herald newspaper: "While there has been a limited number of cases in Scotland which were investigated in terms of the Terrorism Act 2000, I am not aware of any case where an extension of the period beyond 28 days would have been required.

"I, therefore, share the view of the DPP Sir Ken Macdonald and the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, that the requirement for an extension to the current 28 day is not supported by prosecution experience to date."

Working majority

And Mr Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the EHRC may seek a judicial review, if the 42-days limit become law.

"Human rights are essentially just that - you can't just get rid of them if you think they are inconvenient," he said.

"This measure would effectively suspend for the human rights and in particular they suspend them for one part of the community ... The application of these powers would be to Muslims in this country."

Mr Brown, who has a working majority of 65 in the Commons, has made it clear that he does not regard this week's vote as a matter of confidence in his premiership.

Ahead of Wednesday's debate and vote both sides are seeking to win over wavering Labour MPs - Amnesty International's UK director, Kate Allen, has written to all backbench MPs saying it represented a watershed for human rights in the UK.

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