» Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Anti-Terror Legislation

Asked how the Prime Minister had made the oft repeated judgement at Prime Minister’s Questions over the last few weeks that the threat from Islamic fundamentalist terrorists was a lot worse that any threat Britain had faced before and how he balanced that theoretical worst case scenario from Al Qaeda against the actual carnage of attacks carried out by IRA the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said it was a fair question and to address the point for the sake of clarity even though it was not implied the Prime Minister had not in any way underestimated either the carnage caused by the IRA, the threat from the IRA or the very real pain and suffering that the IRA had caused to actual victims and to their relatives. For the record he was in no way trying to downplay the nature and extent of the damage done by IRA terrorism in the past, or the very real threat it had posed to the stability of this country. What he was however trying to convey was that this was a different kind of terrorism. The IRA as completely unjustified and wrong as its terrorist activities were had not set out with the specific premise of causing as many deaths as possible. Al Qaeda on the other hand, when it attacked America, actually wanted to cause many more deaths than it had actually caused and god knows it had caused more than enough deaths. Equally in Madrid the same was true. It killed hundreds of people in Madrid but it was aiming to kill thousands. Therefore what the Prime Minister was trying to convey, based on information received from the police and security services, was the belief and the knowledge that what Al Qaeda was actually trying to cause was death and destruction on a scale we had not seen before. God forbid they ever will, but that was the nature of the threat, so as an argument this was an explanation of why the scale of this threat was so different from the one faced in the past.

Asked following his and the Prime Minister’s comments and following PMQs today whether there no longer appeared to be any doubt that the Prime Minister was prepared to see this Bill lost in the Lords and then left to the public to decide, the PMOS said that what the Prime Minister wanted was for this Bill to succeed and after PMQs today there could be no doubt about why he wanted to the measures in this Bill passed. That was because he was acting on the advice of the police and security services based on what they believed to be necessary to counter the threat we faced. That was what he wanted. What he did not believe was right however, was to send a signal to either the terrorists or the police and security services that we were in anyway half-hearted about these measures. This was what he believed the sunset clause would result in. Neither should it be that we imposed a burden of proof, which we believed firstly to be disproportionate to the restrictions people faced and secondly, and perhaps more importantly given the subject, it would make it impossible for the police and security services to use these powers in a way that would be effective. The key was that these powers were not being asked for just for the sake of them. They were being asked for to fight the threat from international terrorism.

Asked following the debate at PMQs about whether the control orders could be used to frustrate G8 protestors and whether they could they be used to deal with the Provisional IRA, the PMOS said that they could be used to deal with terrorists who could not be dealt with by other means and where there was intelligence about a live threat that could not be dealt with by other means. Despite the problems we faced at the present moment, the IRA remained on ceasefire and it was the view, as expressed by the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, that the ceasefire was not under threat. In response to the suggestion that as the police service knew who these people were why might they not use these orders against them, the PMOS said these orders were designed to deal with a situation where you had intelligence of a threat in terms of terrorism. He would not get into a hypothetical about a "what if" in relation to the IRA statement, but the House of Lord’s original ruling was that it was not right to have a legal weapon that you could only use against foreign nationals. It had to be applied equally to domestic cases as well.

Asked in relation to the talk about sending a message to the police and security services that we backed them whether the Prime Minister recognised historically that one of the dangers of sending such a message was that they felt the pressure to arrest people and this was why people were worried about innocent people being locked up and losing their fundamental rights, the PMOS said the security services and police had invested in lots of training and work to minimise that risk to as large a degree as possible. The whole point of the judicial input, including what was proposed before the moves announced today, was to have a back up safeguard to ensure that happened. However, when put the other way you also had to address the risk that if you had not take action then you could knowingly be taking a risk with the lives of many people in this country. Therefore if you were asked to apply that logic you ended up recognising that if the security services and police said you needed these measures then you had to act.

Asked when the Prime Minister said in PMQs that he had no recollection of saying to a Scottish Sunday newspaper that these powers could be used against G8 protestors whether the transcript had turned up, the PMOS said that he was not aware that it had. He thought, frankly, that this misunderstanding was the result of shorthand, if you like, on both sides. What the Prime Minister had meant was that when you were Prime Minister you could not rule out anything in circumstances where if someone was planning a terrorist outrage around the G8 then you equally had to act. This was what he had been getting at. If you looked at the detail of this legislation it could not be used against ordinary protestors. It could only be used against those for whom there was reason to believe they were planning some sort of terrorist action and that would then have to be scrutinised by the judiciary.

Asked what would happen to the Belmarsh detainees if the part four was returned or if legislation was not passed the PMOS said that we obviously hoped, and were to determined to get the legislation passed and to deal with the matter through that. However, if you had to renew part four then that would apply and the difficulty with that situation would be that it would then be open to lawyers representing detainees to challenge their continued detention in court and to apply for bail whilst that court proceeding went forward. One factor that a court might well consider then when considering such a bail application was that the Government was no longer trying to rectify the House of Lords ruling but was in actual open defiance of that judgement. Therefore under that scenario there was a real risk that the court would free these people. Asked when they were due to be let out the PMOS said that his understanding was that Friday was the deciding day, but he should check with the Home Office for exact details. Asked whether Charles Clarke had tabled some statutory instruments to delay their release the PMOS said that the sensible thing to do if you were in this kind of situation was to make parliamentary precautions, but that did not mean that you necessarily wanted to, hoped to or even envisaged going down that road.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news


  1. Blair is lying – yet again.

    He claims "he had no recollection of saying to a Scottish Sunday newspaper that these [anti-terror] powers could be used against G8 protestors".

    Well he better have a word –

    1 – with his doctor, because he must suffer from amnesia, or is it compulsive liar syndrome?

    2 – with former Labour minister Frank Dobson, who noted –

    "Yesterday Tony Blair said he couldn’t rule out using it against people protesting against the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland later this year.

    Well, if he wants my support he had better rule that idea out".

    <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/allnews/tm_objectid=15264882&method=full&siteid=50143&headline=even-if-thousands-of-terror-suspects-are-in-our-country—-this-law-is-wrong-name_page.html">http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/allnews/tm_objectid=15264882&method=full&siteid=50143&headline=even-if-thousands-of-terror-suspects-are-in-our-country—-this-law-is-wrong-name_page.html</a&gt;

    Comment by Ron F — 15 Mar 2005 on 7:09 pm | Link
  2. Alan Clark’s memoirs portray Bernard Ingham saying ‘What Mr Clark meant to say was………..’ something entirely different to what was actually said.

    This is standard dissimulation by a (Public?) servant. They’re probably trained to do this, although some (the more successful) have a natural ability for lying and deception.

    Blair has always had a very selective memory and has a genetically inbuilt capability of instantly forgetting the details of anything which is remotely embarrassing or contradictory. This memory loss is highly contagious. For ‘I can’t recall’ read ‘I don’t want to answer’. Remember David Kelly, David Blunkett, Goldsmith, Falconer etc etc. The list is endless.

    These people do not read or understand history, but they do understand the necessity of rewriting history to ‘move on’ from their failures. News Management is the term.

    Comment by Chuck Unsworth — 16 Mar 2005 on 10:10 am | Link

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