42-day pre-charge detention pressure builds

Ministers are hoping to win over rebel Labour MPs who threaten a government defeat on the issue of pre-charge detention.

There are just 12 days to go until the Commons is due to vote on pre-charge issues contained in the counterterrorism bill.

Months of efforts by the government to persuade MPs and the wider public that the maximum limit should be raised from 28 days to 42 days have been unsuccessful, meaning concessions are now required to push the bill through.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme yesterday that “we remain in consensus mode” and that “this is too serious for partisan politics”.

That position appears to contradict the stance given by Downing Street. On Wednesday the prime minister’s spokesperson said Gordon Brown “remained strongly of the view that there was a need to extend the period of pre-charge detention”.

Around 50 Labour MPs are thought to be prepared to vote against the government on the issue. With the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also opposed to the 42-day limit, the government will be defeated in the Commons.

“We had set out a number of safeguards that we proposed should be put in place in terms of the role of the judiciary and of parliament, and the specific detail of that was currently being considered by parliament as the bill went through the committee stage,” Mr Brown’s spokesperson added. It is this “specific detail” on which the bill’s success now appears to rest.

The BBC reports ministers are proposing to halve the number of days in which police can use the additional powers above 28 days from 60 to 30. The Independent claims home secretary Jacqui Smith wants judges to be given strengthened powers of oversight. The Daily Mail says giving MPs an earlier vote on the issue is being considered.

It remains to be seen whether these measures will win over wavering Labour backbenchers. One of them, Andrew Dismore, told The World At One he was especially concerned by the proposals’ consistency with European law.

“There are obligations under the European convention on Human rights in relation to liberty and if you are going to go beyond that, it has to be something very, very serious indeed,” the chairman of the joint committee on human rights said.