Page last updated at 20:33 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 21:33 UK

Johnson's doubts on 42-day effort

Alan Johnson
Mr Johnson succeeded Ms Smith as home secretary

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said he agrees too much time and effort was spent trying to get a 42-day terror detention limit through Parliament.

His predecessor Jacqui Smith told the Guardian it had "distorted the focus we had on terrorism" - the plan was shelved after being rejected by peers.

Mr Johnson told MPs her words should be read by cabinet ministers in the event of any future discussion on the issue.

But he did not rule out extending the 28-day limit if circumstances changed.

The government's efforts to extend the period terrorism suspects can be held before they are charged proved controversial.

Plans shelved

They narrowly got the proposals through the Commons, by a majority of just nine votes after nine DUP MPs agreed to back it - which prompted claims the vote had been "bought".

Mr Brown denied any deals were done with the DUP but then shadow home secretary David Davis quit as an MP in protest. He regained his seat after running a by-election campaign focused on civil liberties.

Months later the House of Lords overwhelmingly rejected the proposal by a majority of 191 and the plans were shelved, although then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said they would be included in a draft bill - to be brought back in an emergency.

At the weekend Ms Smith, who quit as home secretary last month, told the Guardian: "I'm not sure the amount of effort and political capital and time we used on it was justified even had we been successful in getting it through.

"We spent too long on it and it distorted the focus we had on terrorism."

Speaking to the home affairs committee on Monday Mr Johnson said: "I've never been at a cabinet session where we looked at the past and thought what we would have done differently.

"But I think the comments of my predecessor ... should be written down and passed to cabinet members in case there is a future cabinet discussion about that."

Asked by Labour MP David Winnick if he agreed with Ms Smith, Mr Johnson replied: "Yes".

But asked if he would consider bringing in the draft bill he said he would take advice from MI5 and the police.

"If the advice came from them and if the circumstances arose ... I would act accordingly."

But he added: "I can see no sign of that being the case at the moment ... that the security forces and the police and others would want a change to 28 days."

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, said she was "greatly heartened by the humility of the home secretary's remarks alongside those of his immediate predecessor".

But she urged him to "look again at the counterproductive control order regime that allows indefinite house arrest without evidence, charges or trial".

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