Security Chiefs Offer Late Boost to Plans for 42-Day Detention
Brian Brady; Jane Merrick, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Timely endorsement for Prime Minister as he steps up pressure to convince his backbenchers to vote for change in terror law
Gordon Brown's plans to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge received a late boost yesterday when some of Britain's top police and security officers said the controversial proposals were "workable".
But the much-needed improvement in the Prime Minister's political fortunes was swiftly followed by a series of fresh blows, including another dismal opinion poll and reported criticism from two of his most senior colleagues.
The Government is struggling to convince several of its own backbenchers that the extension from 28 days is a proportionate response to the terror threat facing the nation. Ministers are desperate to avoid defeat when MPs vote on the measures on Wednesday.
Up to 50 Labour MPs, along with civil-rights groups, former ministers and senior legal officials, have warned that the most contentious element of the Counter-Terrorism Bill represents an unwarranted attack on individual freedom.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has tried to ease fears through a series of meetings and a list of amendments designed to ensure that the powers could not be used without official scrutiny. Mr Brown stepped up the pressure This weekend with a letter to his MPs and personal calls to those believed to be considering voting against the Government.
Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and Robert Quick, the head of Scotland Yard's specialist operations, dismissed suggestions that successive amendments to the Government's detention proposals had made them too bureaucratic to have any effect.
"We must ... reflect our unanimous view that existing proposals in relation to extending, in extremis, pre-charge detention under the terrorism legislation are workable," they declared in a letter to The Times, which was written after consultation with chief police officers and anti-terror officials across England and Wales. This is a timely endorsement from experts, as the Government prepares to argue its case this week.
But, while they confirmed the operational case for the changes, the officers stopped short of offering support: "The police service will offer operational advice to government based on our experience and recognises the role of Parliament in exercising its judgement in balancing public safety and civil liberties."
Government whips are confident they will win on Wednesday, particularly after Ms Smith defended the plans before a meeting of Labour MPs last Monday. They insist they are not complacent, and might have to rely on the support of the nine Democratic Unionist Party MPs to shore up the Government's 65-vote majority.
The letter to MPs from Mr Brown, who can scarcely afford another setback after defeats in local elections and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, is a final attempt to rally the troops. The Prime Minister offered no new concessions, but assured MPs that ministers had striven to balance liberty with the need for enhanced security against "individuals and groups who are prepared to use suicide attacks and want to cause mass casualties without warning". …