McNulty pushes 42-day detention limit

Parliament was right to reject government proposals to extend pre-charge detention for terror suspects to 90 days, a Home Office minister has said.

Tony McNulty’s admission came as the government faces a Labour rebellion against its plans to raise the pre-charge detention limit from 28 to 42 days.

MPs had rejected the 90-day proposal in 2005, handing former prime minister Tony Blair his first Commons setback in office.

Now the government is seeking an extension despite opposition from the home affairs select committee, human rights lobby groups and MPs from both sides of the house.

Mr McNulty told the Today programme the 90-day rejection was “about right in the end”, suggesting the stronger measure was being considered in the immediate aftermath of the July 2005 bombings.

“The point now is that some say this is a knee-jerk reaction to the plot the summer before last. We have spent 18 months looking at every single aspect of what the government is doing on counter-terrorism and the legislation is but part of that process,” he insisted.

He emphasised the fact that the “norm” is 14 days, with 28 days only the case in “utterly exceptional” cases. Eleven suspects have been detained for 28 days so far.

Yesterday home secretary Jacqui Smith warned the terror threat was “severe” and “growing” and that the 42-day detention limit was required as a result.

Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne said Ms Smith had failed to convince the public about the issue, however.

“The sad truth is that Jacqui Smith has signally failed to establish that any increase in the period of detention without charge is necessary to combat terrorism,” she said.

“This is the last throw of a desperate government facing a train crash because it cannot persuade its own supporters of its views.”