Blair May Speed Up Tightening of Terror Laws
By James Blitz and Jimmy Burns in London and Holly Yeager in Washington
Published: July 11 2005
updated: July 12 2005

As Tony Blair said Britain could speed up the introduction of new laws to apprehend and prosecute people preparing to commit terrorist acts, a poll published in The Times newspaper on Tuesday showed a majority of the public would back tough new anti-terrorist measures. 

The Populus poll showed 86 per cent favoured giving the police new powers to arrest people they suspect of planing terrorist acts while 61 per cent said they supported the introduction of ID cards.

As the main UK political parties united to condemn last week's terror attacks in which 52 people are confirmed to have died the prime minister said the government could accelerate the introduction of planned new anti-terrorist legislation later this year.

Addressing parliament for the first time since the bombings, Mr Blair promised one of the most “vigorous and intensive” police manhunts the UK has seen to catch those responsible. The Blair government believes the police already have sufficient powers to hunt down and prosecute the individuals thought to be Islamist terrorists who implemented last week's attack.

But ministers believe the police face serious obstacles when it comes to apprehending and prosecuting people whom they believe to be in the process of planning a terrorist attack. The prime minister indicated that he could implement such laws later this year if the police so demand.

His comments came as President George W. Bush said the US was “working with our allies to share information and to prevent terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction”.

The US is re-examining counter-terrorism policy at home in the wake of the London bombings and Mr Bush cautioned that “there's no such thing as perfect security”.

But Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, complained the Bush administration had done too little to protect US cities.

“We should take very seriously the lesson learned from the attacks in London,” he said. “Fighting terrorism overseas is not enough to ensure that terrorists will not strike American soil again.”

Mr Reid called for more spending on rail security, protection of chemical plants and emergency response services.

In London, police continued their search for the bombers. Progress is understood to have been made in identifying an individual suspected of being directly responsible for the explosion on the bus near the capital's Tavistock Square. “I think we are going to see photographs of one or more suspects being posted within days,” said one European security official who has been involved in the close international co-operation behind the hunt for the terrorists.

Gordon Brown, Britain's finance minister, on Monday made his first comments on the bombings, saying the government could increase expenditure to beef up counter-terrorism policy.

“I promise we will do whatever it takes and spend whatever is necessary to protect the people of this country to ensure that terrorism is defeated,” he said. The mood of unity in the UK was underlined when Michael Howard, the centre-right Conservative opposition leader, softened his demand for an immediate inquiry into last week's terrorist attacks in London.

“Now is not the time for a discussion on detail,” he said.

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2005.