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Brown backs stronger anti-terrorism powers

Reuters | November 12, 2006

Chancellor Gordon Brown, favourite to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister, said he supported police calls to extend a 28-day maximum limit on holding terrorist suspects without trial.

Saying fighting terrorism should be a prime minister's "first priority", Brown also backed police demands to allow intercept evidence to be used in court to help secure convictions against terrorists.

Both measures are expected to form part of the government's legislative plans for the next session of parliament, to be unveiled on Wednesday by the Queen.
The country's top police officer Ian Blair on Saturday called for the 28-day maximum period for questioning suspects to be extended and for the government to lift a ban on phone tap evidence being used in court.

"I completely agree with him (Ian Blair)," Brown said in an interview in The Sunday Times.

"Given the scale of the threat we face, we must give the security service and the police not just the resources they need, but the powers they need to gather securely the evidence and use that evidence to gain convictions," he added.

The comments followed a warning on the threat the country faces from the head of the country's domestic spy agency.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of intelligence agency MI5, said on Thursday Islamic militants were plotting at least 30 major attacks that may involve chemical and nuclear devices.

Brown is frontrunner to succeed Blair, who has said he will step down in 2007 and who is widely expected to go in the first half of the year.

But some in the Labour Party fear Brown is too tainted by the Blair years and lacks the charisma to win Labour a fourth straight term. They are urging other candidates to stand.

Potential challenger Home Secretary John Reid is one of the few senior ministers yet to rule himself out of the race.

Reid, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, fuelled speculation he may still stand as he attacked Conservative Party leader David Cameron's policies on crime and security.

"The dividing line between David Cameron and I now seems clear," he wrote.

Pensions Secretary John Hutton declined on Sunday to rule himself out of challenging Brown but said it was "very unlikely".

Brown said the country needed a "national security strategy" to be updated each year and a national security budget so that funds for fighting terrorism could be accessed easily.

But he dismissed calls from Cameron to create a ministerial post specifically for fighting terrorism.

"It is the prime minister who must take the lead, as Tony Blair has done," Brown said. "If you are prime minister, you cannot devolve responsibility for protecting the nation. It must be your first priority."

Government plans to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without trial were defeated by parliament but ministers are expected to seek to convince legislators to back an extension.

 

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