Government publishes anti-terror bill
The Guardian, Staff and agencies, Wednesday October 12, 2005
Tony Blair today insisted the case for holding terrorism suspects without trial was « absolutely compelling » as the government published new legislation allowing detention for 90 days wihout charge.
The provision – first suggested by ministers after the July 7 London bombings – would extend the present limit of 14 days in police custody without charge for terror suspects by more than six times.
Mr Blair said his concern was « to protect people in this country and to make sure their safety and their civil liberty to life come first ».
Recent reports suggested the government was split over the 90 day detention period, with Mr Blair in support but the home secretary, Charles Clarke, telling MPs he may be prepared to compromise over the timescale.
The anti-terror bill is intended to make it easier for plice to arrest and question suspects who may be planning an attack but do not have sufficient evidence against them to be charged.
The bill includes new offences of making preparations for a terrorist act, distributing terrorist publications and undertaking terrorist training, and also aims to tackle extremist preachers who glorify or encourage terrorism.
Speaking at prime minister’s question time, the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, said criminalising acts preparatory to terrorism meant extending the detention without charge period to 90 days was unnecessary.
« Why is it you remain so wedded to this proposal for 90 days? » he asked Mr Blair. « Surely it’s wrong … surely you are going to have to back down. »
The 90-day detention period was included in the bill at the request of the police. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, today told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had received « a briefing on the case from the police on this … [but] I have to say it wasn’t very persuasive ».
The bill was unveiled today by the Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, and Mr Clarke.
Among its measures are plans to make it easier to deport people with dual British citizenship. Ms Blears said the plans were necessary because the present « bar on depriving citizenship is really quite high ».
Mr Clarke also revealed that British diplomats around the world had started to draw up a list of foreign nationals to feature on a new banned list.
Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the government’s independent reviewer of counter-terrorism laws, today said he had concerns that plans making it an offence to undergo or provide terrorist training were « more extensive than required », but did not take issue with an extension to the present 14-day detention period.
His report on nine suspected international terrorists held under control orders pending deportation to Algeria or Jordan said it was « uncertain » when the government would obtain diplomatic agreements allowing the former Belmarsh detainees to be returned to their homelands.
He said detention without charge should be « unless there is an early and realistic prospect of the relevant memoranda of understanding being reached presently ».
Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA man, today told Guardian Unlimited the legislation was « counter-productive » and would alienate British Muslims. He said: « There used to be a saying [in Northern Ireland] that in English society it was, ‘innocent until proved Irish’, and I think something similar is about to happen to the Muslim community. »
A multi-party coalition including Ken Livingstone, the Labour mayor of London, Liberal Democrats, Greens and representatives of the main Muslim organisations will this evening meet in Central Westminster Hall to protest against the bill.