British ministers may table new anti-terror powers

The British government is prepared to bring forward new emergency anti-terrorism powers if they are needed following the London Tube and bus bombs, Tony Blair said tonight.

The British Prime Minister told a sombre House of Commons that the police investigation into the attacks last Thursday was “among the most vigorous and intensive this country has ever seen”.

Earlier, Chancellor Gordon Brown pledged: “We will do whatever it takes and spend whatever is necessary to defend the people of this country.”

While Mr Blair said the British government would “analyse very carefully” what could be learned from the bombings, he stopped short of promising the inquiry called for by the Conservatives.

Despite suggestions at the weekend that demands for an inquiry would be given short shrift, the overwhelming mood in the chamber was for MPs across the political spectrum to rally behind the Government in the face of the terrorist threat.

Mr Blair, in turn, promised to seek cross-party consensus on any new anti-terrorism powers.

He said that, for the time being, the government was sticking to its plan to publish a bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn and to be tabled in Parliament the following spring.

However he said that ministers were ready to act more swiftly, if the police and the security services felt that they needed new powers.

“If, as the fuller picture about these incidents emerges and the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are powers which 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,” he said.

The British Prime Minister’s official spokesman later stressed ministers believed they had already identified where new powers were required but were ready to listen to any request from the security services for further measures.

The new counter-terrorism bill is expected to include the creation of a new offence of “acts preparatory to terrorism” as well as consolidating existing measures.

The current plan to wait until next year to legislate is so that MPs can consider a report on the operation of the government’s controversial new control orders, passed at the end of the last Parliament, by the independent reviewer Lord Carlile of Berriew.

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