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Home secretary accused of putting off vote on terrorism bill

  • Government looks to DUP to help pass legislation
  • Writers sign letter against raising detention limit

Alan Travis and Nick Watt
The Guardian, Saturday March 15 2008

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, was accused yesterday of "failing to persuade her own backbenchers" to back counter-terrorism legislation after it was claimed that the second reading vote in the Commons had been postponed from the expected date of March 26.

Philip Pullman, John le Carré and other authors, academics and journalists come out today against the government's plan to raise the limit on the detention without charge of terror suspects from 28 to 42 days. The decision to delay the second reading came amid speculation that Smith, a former government chief whip, may rely on the nine votes of Democratic Unionist party MPs to push through the legislation in the face of a substantial Labour rebellion.

The DUP, whose leader Ian Paisley will step down in May, is thought to be willing to enter into talks over support for the measure in return for delaying the devolution of policing and criminal justice in Northern Ireland.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said the counter-terrorism bill which should have arrived in January had been put off. "The government tells us at every turn the changes in this bill are urgent yet, for transparently political reasons, it is continually delayed," he said.

"I can only assume the government have found it impossible to persuade their own backbenchers that the 42-day proposal is anything less than cynical political management."

A Home Office spokesman denied there had been any delay and said no date had yet been fixed for the second reading which was a matter for the House authorities.

Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, said this week that the second reading of the local transport bill would be held on March 26.

The delay leaves only one further week for the second reading of the counter-terrorism bill before the two and a half week Easter recess. Further delay would mean the bill being debated immediately before or after the May local elections.

The letter from Pullman, le Carré and others published today in the Guardian calls upon Gordon Brown to abandon his plan to extend the detention limit saying the Home Office is under-estimating the damage it would cause to the struggle against homegrown terrorism.

The letter, organised by journalist Sunny Hundal, is also signed by the academic Tariq Modood, the novelist Ziauddin Sardar , the writer Ed Husain, Fareena Alam, the editor of Q-News, and Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Institute. It is also backed by senior Labour figures including Lady Kennedy, Sunder Katwala, the Fabian Society's general secretary, and Gavin Hayes of Compass, the Labour left pressure group, as well as human rights experts, Geoffrey Bindman, Conor Foley and Francesca Klug.

The signatories say their letter reflects the broad consensus among independent opinion that no convincing case for increasing the limit has been made.

It says: "We feel that the Home Office is under-estimating the damage this legislation could have: to our struggle against homegrown terrorism; to preserving individual liberty; and to the reputations of United Kingdom and the Labour Party as forces that seek to protect and advance human rights. We are concerned that these measures will once again polarise opinion with damaging results. In particular, they are likely to undermine the efforts of those involved in the difficult task of building confidence in the intelligence work and policing efforts among all British citizens ...

"The parliamentary joint committee on human rights said 'the plans were an unnecessary and disproportionate means of achieving the aim of protecting the public.' We agree entirely, and call on the government to withdraw the measure while renewing its commitment in seeking to build a broad consensus on national security and anti-terror strategy." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008




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