Labour revolt over terror Bill

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The Independent Online
A GOVERNMENT concession to left-wing Labour MPs has failed to ease their concern about the anti-terrorist laws to be rushed this week through the Commons in the wake of the Omagh massacre.

The MPs were still threatening to table amendments to the legislation in spite of the assurance given yesterday by Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the Bill will have to be renewed every 12 months for it to stay on the statute book.

Kevin McNamara, Labour's former Northern Ireland spokesman, said he was concerned that MPs were being dragooned into rushing the Bill through, and warned it could damage the credibility of the peace process.

He said the support of the nationalist community could be undermined if there was even one mistake with convictions on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer.

MPs will not see the Bill until Wednesday morning, hours before it is due to be taken through all its Commons stages.

Home Office sources said telephone taps will not be made admissible evidence under the Bill, although ministers believe the security forces will use intercepted conversations to establish whether suspects belong to banned groups.

Courts will be able to convict people for being members of a banned group on the word of a single officer. Failure to answer questions will be taken into account by the courts.

The Bill will also have sweeping powers against international terrorists, making it an offence to plan to commit any criminal offence abroad - a measure which could catch paedophiles and bank robbers, as well as terrorists.

Ms Mowlam has tried to reassure the Labour MPs who are concerned about the civil rights issues raised by the emergency legislation.

She wrote in The Observer: "The legislation will not be a blunt instrument, but a precise tool to help the police in their efforts to bring those few individuals still engaged in violence to justice. The new legislation will be compatible with the European Convention on Human rights and needs to be renewed by Parliament for each further year it is in operation," she said.

Tony Blair will visit Omagh with President Clinton on Thursday, before the President goes to the Republic of Ireland to meet Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister. It is possible that their wives will also take part in the visit.

Mrs Clinton will be in Ulster for a conference hosted by Ms Mowlam before the President flies to Belfast from Moscow, where he is meeting Boris Yeltsin for a summit on the financial crisis facing Russia. The President is expected to underline American condemnation of the IRA breakaway group and make it clear they will not be allowed to raise funds in the United States.

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister, and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, yesterday denied a report that he was prepared to make a concession to the IRA by ending his demand for the decommissioning of all weapons.

It had earlier been suggested that Mr Trimble was prepared to allow them to keep handguns, providing they destroyed or abandon their explosives.