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Blair appeal to MPs on terror law

BBC | November 7 2005

Tony Blair has urged MPs not to "compromise with the nation's security" over plans to allow terror suspects to be held for 90 days without charge.
He told his monthly media conference that "even now", after cross-party talks failed, the measure could pass.

The government will offer a fallback position somewhere between 90 days and 28 days before the crucial House of Commons debate on Wednesday.

But Mr Blair said he would keep trying to achieve the 90-day limit.

'More fundamental'

Ministers say the 90 days proposal, which is seen as unlikely to be backed by MPs, is needed for national security.

The Lib Dems want the maximum period in custody without charge to remain at 14 days, while the Conservatives are arguing for 28 days.

Mr Blair said: "There are people in our country now, as we speak, who are, we believe, engaged in trying to plot terrorist acts."

The problem was "more fundamental" than a simple decision by MPs about his own authority - the police were giving "very, very precise" reasons for a longer custody limit, he said.

But he added: "There's no point being daft about it. At the moment we don't have the votes to carry the 90 days. That's not for want of trying."

The government had to table an amendment on custody by Monday night, if the debate was to go ahead as planned on Wednesday, Mr Blair said.

"We've got to have another position to put forward, but it's not the position we want," he added.

Mr Blair will try to win over doubters during talks with Labour backbenchers later on Monday.

'Absolute limit'

Conservative leader Michael Howard told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "We have made it absolutely clear that 28 days is the absolute limit of what should be permitted while there's no evidence that someone been involved in terrorist activity."

If a suspect was released after 90 days without any charge, this would create a "sense of grievance" likely to add to problems, he said.

Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat home affairs spokeswoman, said her party would continue to push for a maximum period "as close as possible" to 14 days.

Earlier, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the former chairwoman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said the current terror threat was different from previous ones, such as from the IRA.

"What people are saying is that prevention is absolutely crucial," she told Today.

"It therefore means that they [intelligence services] are put in a position where they have to investigate a conspiracy at a much earlier stage... in order to keep us safe."

Last week Home Secretary Charles Clarke was forced to promise new talks after it became clear the measures faced defeat in the House of Commons.

The Terrorism Bill creates several new offences, including encouraging or glorifying terrorism, preparing terrorist acts and attending terrorist camps.

It says those offences can be prosecuted in UK courts even if committed abroad.

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