Blair renews battle for 90-day detention of terror suspects

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Tony Blair faces a triple rebellion by MPs and peers over the crime and terror legislation that formed the centrepiece of his final Queen's Speech.

Mr Blair declared that fresh measures to tighten anti-terror legislation would be published by Christmas. They will open the door to a Bill in the new year that could extend the 28-day cap on the time police can hold suspects without charge. Mr Blair suffered the first Commons defeat of his premiership when attempts to set a 90-day limit were voted down in the Commons in November last year after 49 Labour MPs defied the Government.

Mr Blair said: "We will bring back proposals that will be based on an analysis now of what has gone on in the past few months. The issue to do with the number of days of detention will be part of that. We will look at that, depending on the evidence. I supported 90 days before on the basis that, particularly, the police handling terrorism for us thought that that was what was needed."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Menzies Campbell, said: "All the indications are that the Prime Minister has made the decision to bring back the 90-day detention proposals but is now looking for the evidence to justify it. Personal freedoms and individual liberties should not be dealt with in this way."

Labour MPs warned he faced renewed rebellion if the Government attempted to extend the 28-day limit, and Conservatives have said that the Government has failed to "make the case" for an extension.

Chris Mullin, a former chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is not the role of Parliament to roll over and have its tummy tickled every time the police or the security services make a demand upon our liberties."

Mr Blair also faces a huge challenge over proposals to abolish jury trials in some fraud cases. The legislation, due to be debated this month, faces opposition from Labour rebels. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrat have also vowed to oppose the change, which was dropped last year amid opposition by the House of Lords.

Lynne Jones, the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, said: "I'm concerned about the gradual erosion of the principle of jury trial. There's no evidence that juries have difficulty in convicting in complicated cases."

Meanwhile, Labour MPs are threatening rebellion over plans to open the probation service to competition from the private and voluntary sectors. Previous proposals were opposed by more than 100 Labour MPs, who are threatening a fresh revolt after the Offender Management Bill is published next month. The Bill is also certain to encounter opposition in the Lords.

Harry Fletcher, the general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "Privatisation could destroy the probation service and increase reoffending. "

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