British Parliament Approves Tough Terror Law | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.06.2008
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British Parliament Approves Tough Terror Law

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown narrowly survived a crucial challenge to his authority when parliament voted to raise the period terrorism suspects can be detained without trial.

An undated file photo that shows the Houses of Parliament in London

The British parliament approved draconian new terror measures

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Wednesday, June 11, narrowly survived a crucial challenge to his authority when paliament voted to raise the period terrorism suspects can be detained without trial to six weeks.

The government, faced with a major rebellion from within Brown's ruling Labour Party, won the vote in the Lower House of Parliament with a majority of just nine votes.

These came from the nine members of parliament (MPs) representing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the main Protestant party in Northern Ireland.

There had been unconfirmed reports that the DUP support was secured by a deal promising a new financial package for the province.

A breakdown showed that 37 Labour MPs voted against the government.


The measure, which still has to be passed by the Upper House of Parliament, would mean that Britain could hold terror suspects in pre-trial detention for much longer than most other western

democratic countries.

Earlier Wednesday, Brown defended the planned extension from currently 28 days to 42 days as a "necessity" in view of the growing complexity and sophistication of terror plots.

Speaking in parliament just hours before a crucial vote on the issue, Brown said he would "fail in his duty" if he did not back proposals.

Brown’s reputation

The vote was seen as crucial for Brown who has recently been weakened by poor results for Labour in local elections and negative opinion poll ratings.

Brown had been given an "important breathing space" to restore his reputation, one analyst said Wednesday. However, the considerable opposition to the measure from within his own party also showed that his leadership continued to be under threat.

Threat to basic liberties

Former Labour government minister Frank Dobson, who led the rejection camp, said Britain's tradition of civil liberties was under threat.

"I believe this is quite a fundamental issue: we have had the right not to be locked up for a long time without charge since the year 1215 - this is one of the very few things that is actually in

Magna Carta and we need to sustain it," said Dobson.

In a sign of how tight the vote expected to be, the government took the unusual step of urging Foreign Secretary David Miliband to cut short a visit to Israel Tuesday.

The plans have been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of basic liberties.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said the measures would damage community relations and "undermine Britain's moral authority around the world."

The Council said it was "concerned about the negative impact" the legislation could have on relations between younger members of the Muslim community and the police.

Police skeptical

A number of senior police chiefs, the head of the security services, and the chief prosecution agency have also said that they see no requirement for an extension of pre-trial detention.

Application of the 42-day-rule would in each case be subject to a number of judicial and parliamentary safeguards.

The government confirmed Wednesday that in a last-minute concessions to rebels, it had promised to pay compensation to terror suspects who were released without charge after being held for 42 days.

Security breach

Meanwhile, news broke in Britain the same day of a new embarrassing security breach for Brown, when a British civil servant left top secret government documents on the seat of a train about to pull out of London's Waterloo station.

The man has been suspended from his duties, the government said Thursday, June 12.

According to the BBC, a passenger who found the files said they were marked "UK Top Secret“ and contained an 7-page long intelligence assessment of Al-Qaeda and another report pertaining to the state of Iraq's security forces including "embarrassing" revelations.

It is believed they were both made by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.

The report on Iraq was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence while the report on Al-Qaeda was commissioned jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office, or interior ministry.

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