Reid seeks consensus on anti-terror measures
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Community relations could be put at risk because police are over-using powers to stop and search passers-by, the Government’s terror watchdog is warning.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, signalled yesterday that a new raft of anti-terror measures would be announced within months. It included a possible increase in the time suspects can be locked up before they are charged and a new register of people convicted of terror-related offences.
Security is also being stepped up around gas plants and pipelines amid fears that they could be targeted by terrorists.
However, Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, said he was alarmed by the widespread and inconsistent application of powers already available to police.
He attacked the numbers of people being detained under section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, which entitles police to stop and search people near areas considered to be terrorist targets.
Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, also said the power was being interpreted differently across the country. “In my opinion its use could be halved from present levels without risk to national security or to the public,” he said in his annual report.
He added: “Terrorism- related powers should be used for terrorism-related purposes; otherwise their credibility is damaged. The damage to community relations if they are used incorrectly can be considerable.”
He also called for the creation of a national police Special Branch, arguing that small police forces had little counter-terrorist experience and needed to pool their expertise.
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Reid announced a series of anti-terror proposals that could form the basis of a Bill in the autumn.
He said: “I believe that terrorism remains the greatest threat to the life and liberty of this nation and the many individuals who make up this country. It is the greatest challenge we face and it is important that our legislation continues to evolve to meet that threat.”
The Home Secretary said he hoped to reach a cross-party consensus on increasing the time that terror suspects can be held without charge beyond the current 28 days.
But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said Britain’s limit was “already the most draconian of the common law democracies”. He added: “Some counter-terrorism experts fear that such a move would cause resentment in the Muslim community, and damage our ability to gather intelligence – the critical weapon in our battle against terrorism.” David Winnick, the Labour MP for Walsall North, said MPs had a duty not to support measures that were “counter-productive and could alienate law-abiding people whose loathing of terrorism is no less than our own”.
The human rights group Liberty said the proposals “amounted to internment and could act as a recruiting force for terrorists”.
Mr Reid also announced plans for a “register for terrorists”, imposing strict conditions on people convicted of terrorist offences once they are released from jail.
It may operate retrospectively, and there are understood to be about 40 terrorists in jail on whom officials are keen to keep close tabs upon release.
The Government proposes giving judges the power to impose longer sentences for crimes aggravated by terrorist motives, such as credit card fraudsters who are raising money for terror cells.
The Home Secretary, who will step down in 19 days’ time, also said he had not been persuaded to change the law on allowing telephone taps to be made admissible as evidence in court.
But he will ask the Privy Council to carry out a review of so-called “intercept” evidence.