UK to step up anti-terror legislation

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Monday, November 13, 2006

New measures to counter the threat of terrorism in UK are expected in the Queen’s Speech.

Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitan police chief, in a speech in Berlin, highlighted the scale of disaffection among the Muslim community, pointing to reports that between 40,000 and 120,000 Muslims believed that the London bombings, when four British suicide bombers killed 52 civilians, were justified. He believed that this disaffection was related to the very negative way in which many in the Muslim community perceived the country’s foreign policy. This view had been expressed last month by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and by the Head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, earlier in the week. However, Prime minister Tony Blair contested the strong connection to foreign policy, saying that the problem has "grown up over a generation".

Sir Ian outlined where he thought new legislation was needed. Despite the fact that the measure had caused the Government to be defeated in the last session of Parliament, he wanted the extension of the 28 days suspects can be held without charge to be reconsidered. He wanted the law restricting the reporting of court proceedings relaxed to let people, particularly in the communities from which those on trial come, to see justice being done. As things stand, once they have charged a suspect, the police have no right to continue questioning; this should be changed, he said. He also wanted phone tap evidence to be allowed in court and flag burning to be made illegal. Home Secretary John Reid will have an opportunity of introducing new legislation in the Queen's Speech.

Following Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller’s statement that MI5 has the task of keeping track of 1,600 suspects engaged in 30 known terrorist plots with a staff of 2,800, and that disaffection is increasing as never before, it is expected that more resources will be provided to support her department’s work. Patrick Mercer, the shadow homeland security minister said that both the intelligence and security servcies needed a substantial increase in resources. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has said that his first priority as Prime Minister would be to head anti-terrorism measures personally. In his present post he has responsibility for the allocation of resources to government departments.

The opinion poll findings quoted by Dame Eliza are questioned by the 1990 Trust (a charitable trust supported by the Rowntree Trust, Comic Relief, CRE and others). Introducing an internet survey conducted between the 8th and 27th September 2006, Karen Chouhan of the 1990 Trust said "This (referring to Dame Manningham-Buller’s speech) is nothing short of irresponsible politicking and journalism which is designed to create a moral panic to pave the way for renewed legislative assaults on civil liberties and can only serve to fuel fears and hostility towards Muslim communities in the UK". The specific criticism of the use being made of the ICM/Sunday Telegraph Poll, that has been widely reported, is that "some sections of the media have conflated Muslim respondents answering positively to the question of whether they have sympathy ‘with the feeling and motives of those who carried out the attacks’ (20% of those polled in the same ICM/Telegraph survey of February 2006 answered affirmatively) with the violence itself. To understand the motive behind an action cannot be equated with violence itself, and the media have a responsibility to create a clear demarcation".

A Report from the Joseph Rowntree Trust, by Professor Stuart Weir, Director of Democratic Audit at the University of Essex, Dr Andrew Blick and Tufyal Choudhury was published today November 13, 2006. It concludes that "the government’s counter terrorism legislation and rhetorical stance are between them creating serious losses in human rights and criminal justice protections...and so are prejudicing the ability of the government and security forces to gain the very trust and cooperation from individuals in those communities that they require to combat terrorism."

Parliament resumes its work next week when the Queen’s Speech will indicate what new anti-terrorist and anti-racist legislation the Government intends to propose.

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