Ministers set to extend laws on terrorism

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Michael Howard is expected today to underline Britain's readiness to extend anti-terrorist legislation following the review called for yesterday by the Prime Minister at the Middle East peace conference in Egypt.

A Private Members' Bill which would allow those accused of "sex tourism" crimes abroad to be prosecuted in this country is already going through the Commons, and ministers support the extension of the law to cover terrorism.

The Home Secretary will also rule out any lowering of the anti-terrorism guard in Britain unless a lasting peace is restored in Northern Ireland, when MPs renew the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the Commons.

Lord Lloyd, a High Court judge, was appointed in January to review the anti-terrorism legislation to see which parts of the law could be dropped in the light of the reduced threat from Ulster following the ceasefire.

However, Mr Howard will make it clear that the bomb in Docklands, east London, last month has set back the hopes of any significant reduction in such legislation, unless there is a lasting cessation of violence.

In his speech to the summit the Prime Minister said that Britain was already co-operating with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities on counter-terrorism and was urgently looking at what further practical help Britain might offer.

He called for a follow-up meeting to look at those who actively conspired to commit terrorist acts and those who abused the hospitality and protection available in some countries to create a climate in which terrorism could flourish.

Meanwhile, the Government appeared ready to give in to demands by the Ulster Unionists, led by David Trimble, for the next stage in the peace process.

The Ulster Unionists, whose votes in the Commons could be crucial to Mr Major's hopes of avoiding a general election until May 1997, have insisted that the elections in Northern Ireland to appoint negotiating teams should be held in the 18 parliamentary constituencies.

Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and the nationalist SDLP led by John Hume feared that basing the elections on 18 constituencies would hand a majority to the Ulster Unionists and united in calling for the elections to be based on a single constituency for the whole of Northern Ireland.

Ministers failed to reach agreement with the parties by the end of the consultation period yesterday. Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is expected will announce the Government's conclusions early next week, broadly accepting Mr Trimble's case.