Blunkett warns of attack at Christmas

War on terrorism
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David Blunkett suggested that Britain could face an attack over Christmas as he criticised opponents of his emergency anti-terrorism legislation.

The Home Secretary cited secret reports from the security and intelligence services as he warned peers threatening to delay his measures they would deprive the police of the powers they needed.

A day after the House of Lords inflicted seven heavy defeats on the Government, Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4: "God willing there won't be an attack on us over Christmas and New Year, because all those who tell me we are not [under threat] are the ones who do not have the security and intelligence information which for my sins I carry."

He added: "That information tells us that because of our alliance – quite rightly – with the United States and because of our vulnerability we are at risk. And it is on those grounds we act to secure ourselves."

Later the Home Office launched a damage limitation exercise because it appeared Mr Blunkett had departed from the Government line that there was no specific terrorist threat to Britain. A spokesman insisted Mr Blunkett was not warning of attacks over the Christmas and New Year period. "He was expressing a general hope that we would not see more attacks in view of aiming to get the Bill through by Christmas," he said.

Last night Mr Blunkett handed two concessions to the critics of his controversial Bill in an attempt to head off further defeats when peers discuss it on Monday. He will water down his proposal to create an offence of inciting religious hatred. His second change to the Bill means a provision for Europe-wide anti-terrorist measures will expire next June and be included in separate legislation so it can be fully debated by Parliament.

Mr Blunkett said: "I have always said that where sensible proposals are put to improve the Bill, we will listen and respond. That is what I am doing today."

But he vowed to overturn the seven defeats inflicted by the Lords when the Bill returns to the Commons. "The amendments made last night would tie my hands in tackling terrorists effectively," said Mr Blunkett. "The attempt to separate crime from terrorism is naive and impractical."

The Lords defeated proposals to allow the detention without trial of terrorist suspects and the opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights which would make that possible. They also voted to allow a judicial review for those detained and to restrict the disclosure of personal and financial information to the police and security services.

MPs may sit through the night to overturn the defeats inflicted by Tory, Liberal Democrat, independent and some Labour peers. The Lords would then have to decide whether to seek further concessions, which could provoke a full-scale constitutional clash.

Ministers had hoped to see the Bill, introduced after the September 11 attacks in America, become law by next Thursday, but it may now fail to reach the statute book by the Christ-mas recess.

Mr Blunkett accused the Lords of "deliberate sabotage." He said: "They are naive if they believe that the terrorists simply declare themselves as terrorists not as organised international criminals."

Downing Street made a veiled attack on Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, saying the police wanted the practical support offered by the Bill – "not just warm words".