Brown faces terror law defeat amid new deadlock

GORDON Brown is facing defeat over his counter-terrorism legislation after ministers and MPs were deadlocked over contentious plans to extend the length of pre-charge detention.

Attempts by MPs, peers and human-rights campaigners to offer alternatives to extending the length of time a terror suspect can be locked up without trial from 28 days to 42 days were rebuffed by ministers yesterday.

With a crunch vote expected in the next few weeks, the Prime Minister remains determined to press ahead with the plan, despite fierce opposition from Labour back-benchers.

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An influential committee has suggested a range of amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Bill around which rebels are expected to rally. The joint committee on human rights (JCHR) said the government's proposed system for pre-charge detention was "confused" and "fundamentally flawed".

Ministers have, however, refused to drop the 42-day proposal.

Andrew Dismore, a Labour MP and chairman of the JCHR, said: "

We are astonished, and extremely disappointed, that the government have failed to consider our proposed alternative.

"I will be tabling amendments to give effect to the committee's recommendations and to enable the Commons to consider our alternative package of measures, which would be more effective in protecting the public."

Alternatives suggested by the committee include lowering the charging threshold for terror cases, introducing new offences, allowing intercept evidence in court and imposing surveillance on suspects. Some of these proposals have already been taken forward by ministers.

Privately, ministers believe potential rebels can still be swayed if other compromises are made.

But yesterday, hopes of a consensus being struck over the crucial 42-days issue were dealt a blow when Tony McNulty, the Home Office Minister, insisted there would be no backing down by the government.

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He dismissed campaigners' alternative proposals, saying they had no case for dropping the bid to extend detention without charge to 42 days.

He added: "I reject the notion from Liberty (the human-rights campaigners] that somehow, an extension on pre-charge detention is not necessary."

He said the case had not been made that proposals put forward by the JCHR could make up for dropping the 42-day clause.

The minister described suggestions such as bail for terror suspects as "very problematic" and said the use of intercept evidence in court alone would "not be a panacea".

Mr McNulty admitted the lack of agreement meant that the bill had been left "in a state of flux".

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty,

said: "It is for the government to justify its case when it wants people to be held for longer, not for us to make our case."

She predicted the bill would fall if the government did not change its stance, adding: "To lock people up for longer periods will be counterproductive, in particular, for the government's preventative strategy, which is an important part of Mr Brown's attempt at consensus politics."