New powers to fight terror threat

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The Government today highlighted the need to combat the threat posed by international terrorism as it laid out its forthcoming legislative programme.

The Government today highlighted the need to combat the threat posed by international terrorism as it laid out its forthcoming legislative programme.

Ministers flagged up plans for a draft Counter-Terrorism Bill.

Although the Speech did not identify specific proposals, the Bill is likely to include controversial measures such as no-jury trials for terrorist cases and the use of phone-tapping evidence in court for the first time.

The Government stressed that as well as making available new powers, it will also channel additional resources to the security services - with their capacity to double over the next three years.

The Queen said in her address: "My Government recognises that we live in a time of global uncertainty with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime."

The draft Bill will be the product of a process already under way.

In February the Government published a discussion paper - Counter-terrorism powers: Reconciling Security and Liberty in an Open Society - as a means of launching a public consultation on counter-terrorism issues. The results of that consultation exercise are still being considered.

Today the Home Office also stressed the links between terrorism and organised crime.

It said: "Terrorists share many characteristics with organised criminals and in many parts of the world the boundary between the two is increasingly blurred.

"Many terrorist groups use organised crime to fund their activities, so a successful approach to organised crime is inseparable from our wider efforts to maintain national security."

The Government also sought to highlight its contribution to international efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

The Foreign Office said the Government would be seeking to strengthen the implementation of existing multi-lateral efforts to combat proliferation, and champion new initiatives to respond to new threats, particularly those posed by "non-state actors" - terrorists and procurement networks.

"We aim to deter, check and roll back programmes for the development of WMD and related delivery systems in countries of concern, and to reduce the supply of and demand for such weapons worldwide," the Foreign Office said.

Speaking ahead of the Speech, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the Government is seeking to strike a balance between combating terrorism effectively and maintaining civil liberties.

Mr Prescott told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the public is ready to accept restrictions on individual freedom for the sake of improved safety.

"If we went to the public and said 'This is modern terrorism, these are the global problems we have got, but we are not going to do anything - but don't worry, you will feel free', would they feel free if they are facing these threats?" asked Mr Prescott.

"Doesn't the Government have a responsibility to act and justify its actions to Parliament and the public?"

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten accused the Government of creating a "climate of fear" over terrorism and crime in the hope of reaping political advantage in the election.