Tough new anti-terror laws receive cross-party backing
Scotsman | July 19 2005
SWEEPING new anti-terrorist powers are set to be rushed through after the government and opposition parties forged a broad agreement on the political response to the London attacks.
As three significant new laws were agreed in principle, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was preparing to push ahead with another strand of his anti-terror strategy, a forceful call to the British Muslim community to do more to identify and eliminate extremists in their midst.
In talks with his opposition counterparts, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, agreed to speed new counter-terror powers into law.
As soon as MPs return from their summer break in October, they will begin voting through new legislation, which should be in place by Christmas.
Despite the lengthy summer recess - the Commons will rise on Thursday and return on 10 October - the government has ruled out any summer recall of parliament, not least because building work to install new security measures will put most of the Palace of Westminster out of use during that time.
A new offence of "acts preparatory to terrorism" will give the police more scope to tackle those they suspect of extremism. A law banning the providing or receiving terrorist training is also aimed at a key foundation of terror cells, foreign training camps.
Perhaps the most dramatic law will be a prohibition on glorifying or inciting terrorism.
Underlining the tensions surrounding the issue, it was reported yesterday that a Muslim cleric banned from the United States for condoning Palestinian suicide attacks is due to speak in Manchester next month.
The Egyptian-born Yusuf al-Qaradawi has said that Palestinian bombers achieve "martyrdom in the name of God".
Despite the efforts of all the main political parties to mount a show of unity, their agreement on terror laws was only made possible yesterday because they also agreed not to discuss the most controversial of the government's plans, "control orders" imposed on suspects.
That debate will have to wait until January, the parties agreed.
Despite that omission, Mr Clarke lauded the cross-party deal, which was in great contrast to the lengthy and heated exchanges which characterised the last debate over new terrorism powers in Westminster.
"We believe that is the right way to go and we believe it will enable us to address the threat which we face with the unity and determination which is critical," he said.
Mr Clarke said there were "no main outstanding points of difference". However, he conceded that there remained "issues" to be discussed.
David Davis, the Conservative Party's shadow home secretary, said it was "vital that all of the country and all of the political parties pull together to get the right outcome for our country".
He welcomed the Home Secretary's decision to accept a number of his proposals that would ensure the easy passage of the bill.
He said the Conservatives would work with the government to ensure that the bill was well drafted. "I think our country has responded magnificently in the last ten days and it is up to us to do the same," Mr Davis said.
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, also said that the London bombings transcended party politics. "We are pleased that this will be legislation that will be properly scrutinised by both Houses in the autumn and we will play our part in a constructive way in agreeing to that legislation," he said.
Ministers admit that tougher laws alone cannot stop terrorism and in Downing Street today, the Prime Minister will tell Muslim leaders he expects them to do more to help remove radical elements from their community.
"It is important that we listen to the Muslim community and that they themselves come up with ways to solve this problem," Mr Blair's spokesman said yesterday. That means more than simply condemning extremism, also actively confronting militants and combating myths about Western governments, the spokesman said. "While words are welcome, they are insufficient."
Concluding the government's consultation process following the London attacks, Mr Blair will on Thursday meet police chiefs and senior intelligence officials to discuss quite how the new laws can be framed and implemented to best equip the security services to prevent more attacks.