Straw pledges Labour support for renewal of anti-terror laws

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The Independent Online
JOHN RENTOUL

and WILL BENNETT

Labour's spokesman on home affairs, Jack Straw, moved to close the gap further with the Tories on law and order yesterday by revealing that the party would end its 15-year opposition to anti-terrorist laws.

Mr Straw, speaking on LWT's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, said he was recommending that Labour abstain in a vote on a renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act for the first time since 1981.

His announcement came as security around possible IRA targets was increased in London after an alert from Scotland Yard that terrorists may begin a wave of bomb attacks without issuing warnings.

Dozens of police officers guarded the perimeter of Buckingham Palace amid fears that the Royal Family could now be seen as a legitimate target.

The emergency provisions of the terrorism act - which has to be renewed in an annual Commons vote next month - were introduced by Labour in 1974 in response to an IRA campaign. But they have opposed the act on civil liberties grounds since the provisions were tightened up by Margaret Thatcher in 1981. Mr Straw told Jonathan Dimbleby: "I shall be recommending to the shadow cabinet that we do not vote against the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act."

He and Tony Blair, the Labour leader, agreed that the end of the ceasefire and the IRA's new terror campaign, meant they could not vote against. "We do not want any message going out to them (the IRA) that they could glean any idea from our position that there could be any kind of excuse for the renewal of bombing by them," said Mr Straw.

The move will be bitterly opposed by Labour's left, but a Conservative spokeswoman said: "We welcome it. It's a pity it's taken so long. It follows a great catalogue of U-turns."

Meanwhile, increased tension outside military bases was illustrated when soldiers guarding barracks at Aldershot, Hampshire, fired a shot when teenage joyriders drove at them on Saturday night. An army spokesman said: "The approach made was exactly the same used during car bomb attacks."

Security has also been increased at London's Canary Wharf complex, home of Europe's tallest building, which houses several newspapers, including The Independent. It is close to South Quay in Docklands, where a bomb killed two people and signalled the end of the ceasefire on 9 February.

Scotland Yard officers spoke of the "no warning" threat on Saturday after bomb-making equipment and papers, believed to detail IRA plans, were found at the south-east London home of Edward O'Brien, the terrorist blown up on a London bus last Sunday.

Today at Stormont, Sinn Fein spokesman Martin McGuinness will meet Government officials at his party's request to "examine how the peace process can be rebuilt".

n Mr Straw also said Labour would not oppose plans announced at last October's Tory conference backing automatic life sentences for repeat rapists and other violent offenders.

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