Hard core of rebels holds key to vote on 42-day detention

Gordon Brown's fate in a crunch Commons vote tomorrow on the power to detain suspected terrorists for 42 days lies in the hands of a small group of wavering Labour MPs.

A straw poll by The Independent yesterday suggests that the Government has whittled down the number of potential Labour rebels from 50 to about 40. But that could still be enough to inflict a humiliating first Commons defeat on the Prime Minister, one that would further erode his waning authority. Mr Brown has rearranged his diary so he can speak to as many as possible of the Labour backbenchers threatening to vote against the plans, which propose that terror suspects be held for up to 42 days without charge.

The Prime Minister discussed a last-minute concession with Labour MPs representing large Muslim populations. This would allow suspects held for more than the current 28-day limit and then released to claim up to £3,000 in compensation for each day they are held.

In a boost for Mr Brown, the British Muslim Forum rallied behind 42-day detention, saying ministers had listened to its concerns. Khurshid Ahmed, the chairman, explained: "The menace of terrorism and extremism that afflicts our society has got to be tackled ... I hope people will support these proposals as they now stand, and resolve this issue once and for all."

The Government has an overall majority of 66, which means that it faces defeat if 34 Labour MPs oppose it. However, Mr Brown could escape tomorrow if he wins the support of the nine Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs. They will not declare their hand until hours before the vote.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said amendments by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, had persuaded him to support the measure. But he warned: "They are drinking at the last-chance saloon. There is no way that Parliament will countenance a further extension of the period [beyond 42 days]." David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has been ordered to cut short a visit to the Middle East so he can vote.

Some allies of the Prime Minister privately warn that defeat for Mr Brown could precipitate a leadership crisis resulting in his downfall and replacement by the Blairite Mr Miliband. One MP who has switched sides said: "It was you bastards [the media] that made me change my mind.

"You made it a vote of confidence in Gordon."

Supporters

*Sir Ian Blair – The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said the detention period should be between 50 and 90 days: "The worst time to debate whether an extension is needed would be in the aftermath of an atrocity."

*Sir Hugh Orde – The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland said the day will come when 28 days is not enough: "It may not be today or tomorrow, but we have to plan for it."

*Peter Clarke – The Met's former head of anti-terrorist operations said plots exposed since 2005 show the "terrorist threat is still real and growing in scale and complexity".

*Lord Carlile of Berriew – The Liberal Democrat peer who is the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said the need to hold suspects for 42 days will arise once or twice over the next four or five years.

Opponents

*Lord Falconer of Thoroton – The former Labour lord chancellor is to lead opposition in the Lords. He said the Government's concessions to critics are inadequate.

*Rob Beckley – The deputy chief constable of Somerset, until recently a counter-terrorism spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, warned of the harm to "hearts and minds" work with Muslim communities.

*Sir Ken Macdonald – The Director of Public Prosecutions has disclosed that no one had been held for more than 14 days since last summer.

*David Davis – The shadow Home Secretary has warned that the law extending detention would be a 'recruiting sergeant' for terrorists.

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