“Trust me, as a minister and as a home secretary.” That was the unconvincing plea from home secretary Jacqui Smith last week as she urged backbench Labour MPs to vote for laws to detain “terror” suspects for 42 days without them being charged.
Yet why should anyone trust her after her admission that MI5 has not requested these extra powers? Smith, prime minister Gordon Brown and a host of ministers have all claimed in the past that the security services were pressing for even more draconian legislation.
Senior figures in the legal establishment have gone further and openly opposed the 42-day detention plan.
These include director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald, Scotland’s lord advocate Elish Angiolini, and even two members of Tony Blair’s cabinet – former lord chancellor Lord Falconer and former attorney general Lord Goldsmith.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission – the government’s own human rights watchdog – has warned that it will seek a judicial review to test the legality of the new Counter-Terrorism Bill that MPs were set to vote for on Wednesday of this week.
Smith has tried to buy off Labour rebels by saying the decision to detain suspects for 42 days would be decided on a “case by case basis”.
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties campaign group Liberty, describes these amendments as “fig leaves” which do not alter the nature of the bill.
Earlier this week the government tried to persuade nine Democratic Unionist MPs to vote with it by offering them positions on parliamentary bodies and extra funding for Northern Ireland.
Foreign secretary David Miliband was forced to abandon a visit to Israel and fly back to Westminster to vote on the bill.
While some Labour MPs were expected to crumble in the face of pressure from the government, others are holding firm.
Dai Havard, Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, pledged to vote against the measures. “We know in our valleys from the experience of the Miners’ Strike that powers given to the state affecting the liberty of the subject can be used badly,” he said.