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Leaked report warns of 42 days rebellion

The Herald, 21 April 2008

Labour was last night accused by the Conservatives of being "split from top to bottom" on the deeply contentious issue of 42 days' pre-charge detention, after a report listing the governing party's potential rebels was leaked.

"This demonstrates," said David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, "as we have been saying all along, that 42 days is a friendless policy even in the Labour Party. It has split it from top to bottom, from Jack Straw to the lowliest back bencher. Even those voting for it think it is a ridiculous policy. It will do nothing either to protect our liberty or defeat terrorism."

While political heat is being generated over the issue of the abolition of the 10p tax rate, some Westminster-watchers believe the real parliamentary and political danger for Gordon Brown and his ministers is the one relating to the 42 days controversy.

Despite repeated assurances by the Prime Minister and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, over the need to extend the length of time a terror suspect might be needed to be kept in detention from the current 28 days, and notwithstanding all the guarantees over judicial and parliamentary oversight, many Labour MPs remain unconvinced of the need to keep someone in custody for up to six weeks without charge.

The leaked document suggests that even the UK Government's own party managers, the whips, fear that Mr Brown could be facing defeat, with 50 MPs, including 10 former ministers, apparently intent on voting against the 42-day measure and another 44 undecided.

With the UK Government's majority at 66, only 34 Labour MPs need to rebel - if all opposition politicians vote against - for Mr Brown to lose a key vote. If the leaked figures accurately reflect the situation on 42 days, then the PM appears to be in deep trouble.

According to the leak, the so-called "rebels" include Scots Katy Clark, Jim Devine, Frank Doran, David Hamilton, Mohammed Sarwar and Jim Sheridan, while the so-called "waverers" include Anne Begg, Ian Davidson, Jimmy Hood, Gavin Strang, Anne Moffat and Mark Lazarowicz, who is potentially the most significant as the MP for Edinburgh North and Leith. He is Private Parliamentary Secretary to David Cairns, the Scotland Office Minister, and, thus, could be expected to vote with the UK Government.

Another five UK Government aides are said to have concerns over the counter-terrorism issue, including Angela Smith, the PPS to Treasury Minister Yvette Cooper, who hit the headlines at the weekend when Mr Brown had to talk her out of resigning over the 10p tax rate controversy.

Even those on the so-called UK Government payroll who will vote for 42 days are, according to the leaked document, unconvinced by the proposal.

Yet amid all the nervousness, the Home Office last week was adamant Ms Smith would not "cave in" on a "real world" issue and was still confident of winning a Commons majority when it came to the crunch vote.