Prime Minister Blair made it clear yesterday he will use last Thursday’s bomb attacks in London to give the police and intelligence services sweeping new powers.
During questions after his statement to MPs in the House of Commons he also refused to assure Holborn and St Pancras Labour MP Frank Dobson that he would intervene to reverse fire cuts at Euston, Clerkenwell and Islington fire stations, all of which face losing an appliance.
Following Blair’s earlier indication that he intends to bring forward from September, the attempt to introduce new anti-terror measures, Islington Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn urged Blair to ‘consider with caution any new anti-terror legislation’. Blair replied that ‘it would be a lot easier if we could achieve some form of consensus.’ He added: ‘My own view is that just using the normal processes of law will not be enough.’
In his statement on last Thursday’s attacks, Blair said: ‘The number confirmed dead currently stands at 52, the number still in hospital, 56, some severely injured.’
He said he would like ‘to record our heartfelt thanks and admiration for our emergency services, police, those working on our underground, buses and trains, paramedics, doctors and nurses, ambulance staff, firefighters and the disaster recovery teams, all of them can be truly proud of the part they played.’ But all Blair could say to Frank Dobson’s appeal that he intervene to stop the fire cuts was he would ‘give the matter consideration’.
Blair said ‘it seems probable that the attack was carried out by ‘Islamic extremist terrorists’, a theme he reiterated several times, but to a later question he could not say whether they were foreign or ‘home grown’. He said the police investigation now underway is ‘among the most vigorous and intensive this country has ever seen. We will pursue those responsible, not just the perpetrators but the planners of this outrage’.
Referring to the police and intelligence services, he claimed ‘there was no intelligence specific enough to have allowed them to prevent last Thursday’s attacks’.
Turning to ‘the issue of further anti-terrorist legislation’, Blair said that the government had pledged to introduce further legislation and it intended to keep to that. He also said this ‘will give us the opportunity’ to consult with the police and intelligence agencies ‘to see if there are additional powers which they might need’.
He revealed draft legislation is due to be published for consideration by MPs in September with the aim of its introduction as a Bill in Spring 2006. However, he added that ‘if it becomes clear that there are powers that the police and intelligence agencies need immediately to combat terrorism, it is plainly sensible to reserve the right to return to parliament with an accelerated timetable’.
Tory leader Michael Howard was gushing in his praise for Blair as ‘resolute and statesmanlike’ and he did not produce the threatened demand for a full inquiry into how the attacks were allowed to take place. Instead, he called for a ‘sober assessment of events in the weeks to come’ and a ‘limited inquiry’ with the aim of ‘identifying how best we can supply our police and security services the support they need’.
Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy also praised Blair, and after expressing concern about attacks on Muslims in the past few days, went on to remind Blair that ‘we’ve argued for a new offence of acts preparatory to terrorism’.