Terror suspects will be held for up to 56 days without charge and the country's first single border force created, under moves by Gordon Brown to counter the rapidly growing security threat to Britain.
He was accused of pushing for a return to internment with the " draconian " proposal for a sharp increase in the maximum 28-day detention period. To the anger of civil liberties groups and opposition parties, the Prime Minister suggested it could even be doubled.
He told the House of Commons there was a "growing weight of opinion" suspects might have to be held beyond 28 days when police intervened early to thwart a terrorist attack, particularly where there were huge amounts of evidence to examine and where investigations were international.
Mr Brown set out several options for raising the limit, but said his preference was for an extension "for up to 28 days more or a lesser period" with a judge approving each seven-day extension and MPs being kept informed. Other possible options included introducing a French-style system of "examining magistrates" to conduct terror trials and giving police the power to question suspects for an extra 30 days by declaring a national emergency.
The Prime Minister took MPs by surprise by announcing the establishment of a unified border force, which will bring together officers from the immigration service, Revenue and Customs and UK Visas. From next month, travellers arriving at UK ports and airports will be met by a "highly visible uniformed presence". By the end of the year they will pass through a single control-point for passport and customs checks.
The move, similar to Conservative proposals for a border police force, is designed to intercept more potential terrorists when they attempt to enter the country. But critics pointed out that no extra cash would be found to set it up and officers would only have "police-like powers" to detain travellers.
It will be backed by the issuing of biometric visas to all visitors next year and a new system of electronic exit controls from 2009.
In a further attempt to tackle domestic radicalisation, Mr Brown announced an extra ?70m would be given to help local councils and community groups resist violent extremism.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, backed plans to allow terror suspects to be questioned after they have been charged as alternative to increasing the 28-day period. He said this was the best way of letting police get on with their job "without introducing what could ... start to look like a form of internment".
Eric Metcalfe, of the human rights group Justice, said: "No amount of additional scrutiny by the courts and Parliament can prevent the injustice of an innocent person detained without charge for over a month."
Nicola Duckworth, of Amnesty International, said the 56-day proposal amounted to "internment and an assault on human rights and freedoms" . Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, warned of "taking Britain into a permanent state of emergency and internment".
Eighteen months ago, an attempt by Tony Blair to increase the maximum detention period from 14 to 90 days was defeated after a Commons rebellion, forcing him to accept a 28-day compromise. Mr Brown reassured MPs yesterday he did not support the 90-day proposal and insisted he wanted to win consensus for a new limit.
Mr Brown had a foretaste of possible struggles ahead when the veteran Labour MP David Winnick, told him: "We should be reluctant to go any further as it could be counterproductive in the fight against the terrorists and their apologists."
Figures released by the Home Office recently showed that between 11 September 2001 and March this year, 1,228 people were arrested on suspicion of terror offences. Of those, 669 were released without charge; and only 241 had been charged with offences under terrorism legislation.
What Labour said...
Labour on a single border force, 2 November 2006. Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister:
"The chaos of a damaging, distracting and disruptive reorganisation of three agencies on the front line into a single border force. That idea is outdated and is rooted in a concept of a frontier that is long past.
It is simplistic and dangerous in the disruption that it poses. The number of people who seek to come to this country might double in the next 10 to 15 years, and I simply cannot think of a worse use of time than to consume front-line staff in the process of reapplying for their own jobs in a reorganisation, the benefits of which we are already achieving by equipping different agencies with the powers to do each other's jobs"