Put to him that the Prime Minister had signalled possible "compromises" on Friday, and was it now correct that today was not seen by the Government as a day to alter its proposals, but rather to explain them further, the PMOS said that what was important was, first, to set out why we believed we needed these range of measures to protect this country. Second, why the Home Secretary had such an important role. But, thirdly, it was also vital that we acted speedily if the circumstances required. The PMOS said he did not want to pre-empt what the Home Secretary had to say this afternoon in the House of Commons.
Asked if it was a principle for the Government’s position that the only way to defend national security was for the Home Secretary to act first and then put it to a judge, the PMOS said the Prime Minister had addressed the issue last week in PMQs. The Prime Minister had said that the important thing was that we were able to act quickly, and that if the security services and the police judged there was an emergency situation, then people had to act to safeguard national security. The PMOS said again that in terms of precise details, people should wait for the Home Secretary’s speech later this afternoon.
Asked why it was not "just as quick to get a High Court judge out of bed as it would be to get Charles Clarke out of bed", the PMOS replied the important thing was that whatever happened, people could act quickly. The country must not be put in a position where people knew of a potential risk, but were not able to act on that risk.
Put to him again that the balance of the argument appeared to have shifted with regards to the need to act quickly, the PMOS said that the argument had always been that if there was a threat to security, then people should be able to act quickly, and to be able to do so without in any way jeopardising national security. In terms of judicial input, as the Prime Minister and Charles Clarke both said last week, people had raised concerns about it, especially when someone’s liberty was in question. Those were issues that the Government said it would discuss. Therefore it was better that people waited for the debate.
Asked why the current Prevention of Terrorism Act could not be used, the PMOS said that he was not a lawyer, but his "non-lawyer" explanation was the difference was between arresting somebody with a view to charging them on specific evidence, and the situation where there may be intelligence, but not intelligence that could be used as evidence.
Put to the PMOS that the Prime Minister had said in a "Woman’s Hour" interview that there were "several hundred people plotting" a terrorist attack, and did that therefore mean there would be several hundred house arrests imposed, the PMOS replied: no. The Prime Minister had used the same phraseology last week in PMQs, and he made clear that with regards to the extreme end of the control orders, we envisaged that it would only be used against a very few people. However, in extreme circumstances, extreme powers were needed, and we had always made it clear we would only use those powers in a few exceptions. The PMOS emphasized that the whole point about the control orders was that they were a more sophisticated range of powers than were available at the moment. Therefore, people would have the power to vary the restriction according to the individual, and according to the threat level that the intelligence services believed the individual posed.
Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news
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