Government stands by its 42-day limit for locking up terror suspects

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has brushed aside a chorus of protest to press ahead with plans to allow terror suspects to be locked up without charge for up to 42 days, leaked documents obtained by The Independent show. The Prime Minister's refusal to compromise leaves the Home Secretary facing a desperate struggle to avert Mr Brown's first Commons defeat. Up to 40 Labour MPs have vowed to oppose any extension of the current 28-day limit, already the longest in the Western world.

But, despite cross-party opposition and fury from civil liberties groups, a full draft copy of the Counter Terrorism Bill confirms ministers will try to push through a 42-day maximum.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will launch a concerted drive next week to win over sceptics within her party's ranks. She will face a private meeting of Labour MPs on Monday after a weekend media blitz to make the case for the anti- terror measures.

The Bill includes no fresh concessions to critics and will provoke a parliamentary battle after it is published next week, probably on Thursday.

The 75-page document, which includes 86 clauses and five schedules, also lets police question suspects after they have been charged.

It enables the courts to impose tougher sentences on offenders if they believe their crimes are linked to terrorist activity and lets police take DNA samples and fingerprints from terror suspects who are on control orders.

Ms Smith argues that extending pre-charge detention is vital because of the increasing complexity and the international nature of terrorist plots. She has insisted the new limit would only be reached in exceptional circumstances and would be subject to strict judicial and parliamentary controls.

But the Bill's critics say the Government has given no hard evidence to back up the change and warn it will backfire and help radicalise young Muslim men.

They argue that government plans to give Parliament a vote each time police want to hold suspects longer than 28 days will offer no real protection to suspects and could undermine future terrorist trials.

Gareth Crossman, the policy director of the pressure group Liberty, said: "The Government can sugar-coat these proposals but, in the end, extending pre-charge detention limits beyond 28 days is dangerously counter-productive and will damage relations between the police and minority communities.

"The bells and whistles of supposed judicial and parliamentary safeguards should not sway the real and reasonable consensus against the proposed42-day detention periods."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The Government has not been able to present a shred of evidence to justify extending pre-charge detention and there is now a range of evidence pointing the other way."

He added: "At a time when Jacqui Smith has rightly highlighted the danger of radicalisation, her fixation with extending pre-charge detention risks serving as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism."

Details of the Bill emerged as Ms Smith announced a new attempt to shut down websites that promote terrorism.

It follows mounting government fears that extremists are using the internet to recruit young sympathisers and to exchange information about terrorist methods.

The Home Secretary, who will meet internet providers to discuss her proposed crackdown, promised that hardline material would be removed.

Ms Smith said: "The internet is not a no-go area for government."

She added: "If we are ready and willing to take action to stop the grooming of vulnerable young people on social networking sites, then I believe we should also take action against those who groom vulnerable people for the purposes of violent extremism."

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