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Tony McNulty, the combative employment minister tipped to replace Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary, has branded a high profile warning by a former MI5 chief that the government risks creating a police state as "abject nonsense".

McNulty was responding to criticisms of anti-terror laws by Dame Stella Rimington, head of the domestic intelligence service between 1992 and 1996, The Telegraph reports. "I have enormous respect for the work and experience of Dame Stella Rimington but I think on this she is totally and utterly wrong," he said.

"Wrong to suggest that had all the things we planned been passed we'd have been a police state, and wrong to suggest we have somehow stumbled towards a police state."

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, Rimington, 73 and now a novelist, said: "It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state."

McNulty said her "loose" use of language "plays into the hands of our enemies".

At the weekend The Sunday Times reported Westminster rumours that McNulty, a former police minister in the Home Office, is being lined up as the next Home Secretary.

His counter attack comes shortly before the Home Office is due to publish a consultation on expanding its powers to monitor the internet, a project known as the Interception Modernisation Programme. In October transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said blocking the plans on civil liberties grounds would grant terrorists "a licence to kill".

Rimington's comments hit headlines a week after a former senior MI6 agent told a conference in London that the risks from global terrorism had been overblown. ®

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