Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 11:40 UK

Government is in touch - Smith

Jacqui Smith
The home secretary said it was important to listen to the people

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has dismissed claims by a fellow minister that the government is out of touch.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said that, after 11 years in power, Labour was often "silent on the daily realities".

Ms Smith told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that she disagreed, though it was "fundamentally important that we listen to the British people".

She also defended the proposed extension to the time terror suspects can be held to 42 days.

'Great challenges'

Mr Lewis told The News of the World: "This is not a criticism of Gordon [Brown].

"But we have been in government 11 years and instead of being on the side of the people, too often we simply defend the status quo, even when it is unacceptable.

"It is right we focus on the great challenges of climate change, globalisation, security and poverty at home and abroad and the nature of public service reform.

"However, we are too often silent on the daily realities facing hard-working families."

Ivan Lewis
"Too often we simply defend the status quo," said Ivan Lewis

But Ms Smith said: "I don't agree with him that we are out of touch.

"I do agree with him that it's fundamentally important that we listen to the British people."

The home secretary also said the government's plans to extend the length of time for which terror suspects can be held to 42 days was a "win-win situation" as it covered all eventualities.

Noting that terrorism was becoming more complex, requiring a change of strategy, she added: "We are proposing to do something that is proportionate and covers that risk.

"If those circumstances never arise - if I'm proved wrong and senior police officers are proved wrong - they will never have been brought into force."

Extending detentions

Ms Smith said there would "considerable parliamentary safeguards" to accompany the new laws.

The current time limit for holding a terror suspect without charge is 28 days.

Some senior police officers support extending detentions, but it is opposed by Lib Dems, Tories and rebel Labour MPs.

The Counter Terrorism Bill, presented in January, says such powers should be used only "if exceptional circumstances require it".

Attempts to extend the limit to 90 days in 2005 ended in the then prime minister Tony Blair's first Commons defeat.

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