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Homeland Security


British Parliament Approves Tougher Terror Detention Law

By Tendai Maphosa
11 June 2008

Britain's lower house of parliament has voted in favor of a controversial bill to extend the time limit for detaining terror suspects from 28 to 42 days. The government says the extension is crucial to protect the country against terrorist attacks while opponents say it is an unnecessary infringement on civil rights. Tendai Maphosa has the details from London.

There was relief on the government benches when the Speaker of the House of Commons, Britain's lower House announced the result.

"The ayes to the right 315; the no's to the left 306, the ayes have it," said the Speaker.

The narrow victory comes after weeks of raucous debate in parliament with the opposition parties dead set against an extension. This exchange between opposition Conservative leader David Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is just an example of how the proposal divided opinion in this country.

CAMERON: "Isn't there a danger that as well as being unnecessary, this is counter-productive when you got former attorney generals, soldiers who served against the IRA [Irish Republican Army] in Northern Ireland all saying that this sort of measure could actually help the terrorists aren't we making a bad step, isn't it clear the terrorist want to destroy our freedom and when we trash our liberties, we do their work for them?"

BROWN: "Our first duty is the protection of national security. We fail in our duty if we do not take preventative measures. I say in sorrow rather than anger, it is no use opposition for opposition's sake. We have to take no risk for security."

What the House of Commons voted for included concessions the government made to get some of its own members to support it. These include an announcement by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that those wrongly detained would be compensated. Still, the government needed the support of Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Ireland party to have the bill passed as it failed to convince some of its own members.

Britain already has laws that allows terrorism suspects to be held for up to 28 days without charge. But Prime Minister Brown argued that due to the amount, sophistication and complexity of evidence that has to be assessed, police need more time to hold suspects. He gave the example of the foiled terrorist plan to blow planes up in 2006 where thousands of pieces of evidence had to be sifted through and compiled.

Those opposed to extending the deadline to 42 days say it further infringes on individual civil liberties. Amnesty International director Kate Allen appealed to members of parliament to oppose the bill saying it 'flies in the face of principles of justice'

The bill now goes to the upper chamber, the House of Lords, which also has a vote.

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