Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 18:04 UK

MPs vote on 42-day detention plan

Gordon Brown and David Cameron clash over the 42-day debate

Gordon Brown's hopes of extending the time police can hold terror suspects without charge hang in the balance - with MPs now voting.

The prime minister's spokesman said earlier that "if the vote was held now... we would lose", but efforts have been made to persuade Labour rebels.

The government may have to rely on the support of nine DUP MPs who have yet to say how they will vote.

The Tories and Lib Dems have urged Labour MPs to reject the proposals.

'Regular contact'

The prime minister's official spokesman told reporters Labour whips were indicating that if the vote was held immediately, the government would lose.

That was shortly after 1600 BST. But, later, as the DUP MPs met to discuss in a statement, one of them - Nigel Dodds - appeared to suggest his party might support ministers.

He said: "The Democratic Unionist Party has been engaged and continues to have regular contact with senior government figures.

"We will make our decision on the issue of 42-day detention based upon what is in the best interests of protecting the safety and security of the United Kingdom."

We will always look at the evidence, but on the evidence we have seen to date, I see absolutely no reason not to repeal this
David Davis
Shadow home secretary

To defeat the government, some 33 Labour MPs need to rebel, assuming all other MPs - including those of the DUP - also vote against it.

In the Commons debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the "reserve power" for 42 days was necessary to counter a threat that was "more ruthless than we have ever faced before".

The government was "not proposing an automatic or immediate extension to pre-charge detention beyond 28 days", she said.

Defending liberties

It would only be used with the support of the director of public prosecutions, the backing of Parliament in a vote, with judicial safeguards and only for a temporary period.

She confirmed that suspects held beyond 28 days but then released without charge would be eligible for an "ex gratia" compensation payment.

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It was the job of government, the police and prosecutors to protect the public from terrorist attack, but it was the job of Parliament "to give them the tools to do that", she said.

But shadow home secretary David Davis countered that it was the "job of Parliament to defend the liberties we have had for centuries".

He said he feared the 42-day plan would "actually mean more innocent people being put in a cell for six weeks".

"No money on this earth will compensate for that," he said.

Labour's Diane Abbott said: "The fear in my Muslim community is if 42 days goes on the statute book it will become routine."

Keith Vaz, Labour's chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, said he backed the move, adding that by 2010 his Leicester East constituency would have a majority of Asian people living there.

"I would not vote for this measure if I felt that in any way they would be disproportionately affected," he said.

'Hole in the head'

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the vote was not about confidence in Mr Brown but about a "national security measure".

However, he said: "Given where the opinion polls are and everything else, this potentially is, I suppose, something the government needs like a hole in the head."

HAVE YOUR SAY
The argument is not convincing and the government cannot be trusted with such powers
Stephen Waldock, London

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg urged the DUP to oppose the measure. "The DUP has a proud record of defending civil liberties, most notably resisting internment, and I hope its MPs will remember that tradition when they vote on the government's proposals," he said.

Police have claimed that, under the existing law allowing 28 days' detention before charge, they almost ran out of time to investigate two suspects over the failed plane plot at Heathrow in August 2006.

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

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

But a defeat would add to the pressure on him as he seeks to regain momentum after recent difficulties, poor polls and elections results.

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