Govt drops 42-days

The government had dropped plans to extend pre-charge detention in terrorist cases to 42 days.

The decision follows a drubbing for the proposals in the Lords, with the bill being defeated by 309 votes to 118.

But home secretary Jacqui Smith said the 42-day plans would be written into a one-page piece of legislation, kept separate from the current bill, which could be passed through parliament quickly in times of emergency.

She told the Today programme: “My priority is we need to find a way through this, even if other political parties won’t engage with it.”

There had been rumours the prime minister would not enact the Parliament Act to force the legislation through the second chamber if peers rejected it. Those rumours now appear to be solid.

The vote, which came four months after the government survived a rebellion to pass the bill by the narrowest of margins, allowed campaign groups a second chance to highlight what they see as a serious attack upon British liberties.

The bill would have seen people held for six weeks on the basis of police suspicion rather than hard evidence or without formally charges being levelled against them.

This went against the basic UK democratic principles of justice, fairness and liberty, campaigners claimed.

Amnesty International UK told that Britons was in danger of “sleepwalking” into a gradual erosion of their basic human rights.

The human rights organisation launched a protest in Leeds to highlight the bill’s attack upon civil liberties and released a new viral video to accompany targeted action against the MPs that opposed it in June.

Gordon Brown was only able to get the bill through the Commons by relying on the support of nine DUP MPs, with 36 Labour MPs joining the Conservative party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP in voting against it.

As well as the below film, Sleepwalk – directed by The Stuff of Life creators DarkFibre – Amnesty International UK organised a mass sleepwalk in Leeds city centre at 19:15 BST last night.

Supporters, including July 7th 2005 London bombings survivor Rachel North, walked through the city in dressing gowns and slippers to warn against the dangers of sleepwalking into a state that limits basic human rights.

“When people find out that I’m a survivor of the 7th July London bombings, they expect me to be in favour of giving the government powers to lock up people merely suspected of terrorism for weeks without charge,” Ms North said. “No way.

“I expect terrorists to try to divide us, to make us afraid and to attack our freedoms. I don’t expect it from our democratically-elected representatives.

“Older generations faced daily bombings and thousands died to protect our ancient liberties. It is deeply shaming that we even consider such a law. Fight back!”

Fellow human rights organisation Liberty drew on the backing of 42 leading British writers to protest against the counterterrorism bill.

Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Sadie Jones and Moshin Hamid are among those who have added their words to 42 Writers for Liberty.

“We don’t know how lucky we are, to live in a nation where police officers have all of six weeks to discover why they’ve locked us up,” said Whitbread book of the year prize winner Mr Pullman.

“Ask them after 41 days why a prisoner is still behind bars, and they can honestly and innocently say, ‘No idea, mate.’ But give them that extra day, and they’ll crack it.”

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti commented: “It is so heartening to see Britain’s finest writers joining Liberty’s campaign against extending detention without charge.

“Not a single writer that was approached turned down the opportunity to register their opposition to this divisive policy.”

The House of Lords universally condemned the bill in its second reading debate.

Just one third of MPs questioned by Ipsos-Mori said they 42-day detention limit would have a positive impact on combating terrorism, with 40 per cent against using the Parliament Act to force it through.