» Friday, August 5, 2005

Prime Minister’s Press Conference

[This is the transcript of one of the Prime Minister’s occasional press conferences; these
are the words of the Prime Minister giving a statement and answering the
questions of journalists. Unlike the PMOS’s briefings, this is a more-or-less
verbatim transcript of the Prime Minister’s words. Such press conferences
happen about once a month, and occasionally more often.]

Read the text of the briefing below:

Prime Minister:

Good morning and welcome to the August press conference. I’m going to read something to you and talk about certain measures where we are going to propose, and if you’ll bear with me, the statement’s a little longer than normal, but I hope you’ll find it’s got the necessary substance for you.

Since the 7th of July the response of the British people has been unified and dignified and remarkable. Of course there is anxiety and worry, but the country knows the purpose of terrorism is to intimidate, and it’s not inclined to be intimidated. Of course too, there have been isolated and unacceptable acts of racial or religious hatred. But they have been isolated, by and large Britain knows it is a tolerant and good natured nation, it’s rather proud of it, and it’s responded to this terrorism with tolerance and good nature in a way that’s won the admiration of people and nations the world over. However, I’m acutely aware that alongside these feelings is also a determination that this very tolerance and good nature should not be abused by a small but fanatical minority, and an anger that it has been.

Time and again over the past few weeks I’ve been asked to deal firmly with those prepared to engage in such extremism, and most particularly with those who incite it or proselytise for it. The Muslim community, I should emphasise, have been and are our partners in this endeavour. Much of the insistence on strong action to weed out extremism is coming most vigorously from Muslims themselves, deeply concerned lest the activities of the fanatical fringe contaminate the good reputation of the mainstream Muslim community in this country. The action I am talking about has in the past been controversial, each tightening of the law has met fierce opposition, regularly we have a defeat in parliament or in the courts. The anti-terrorism legislation of course passed in 2002 after September 11th was declared partially invalid, the successor legislation hotly contested. But for obvious reasons, the mood now is different, people do not talk of scare-mongering, and to be fair the Conservative leadership has responded with a genuine desire to work together for the good of the country, as have the Liberal Democrats.

Over the past two weeks there have been intensive meetings and discussions across government to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain, and today I want to give our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine. In the meantime, in so far as administrative measures not requiring legislation can be taken, we will act with immediate effect.

In looking both at the law and administrative measures we have surveyed extensively practice in other countries, including in particular other European countries, and to assist this process there will be a series of consultation papers over the coming weeks starting with a research paper that will detail experience in other countries. There will also be a cross government unit staffed by senior hand-picked officials to drive this forward under the guidance of Bill Jeffrey the Intelligence and Security Co-ordinator, and the Cabinet Committee on Counter Terrorism, which I chair. The Home Secretary, with whom I’ve been talking closely in the past week will have the Cabinet responsibility for co-ordinating this.
Here are the measures either being taken now, immediately, or under urgent examination.

First, the Home Secretary today publishes new grounds for deportation and exclusion. Deportation is a decision taken by the Home Secretary under statute. The new grounds will include fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person’s beliefs, or justifying or validating such violence. These grounds will be subject to a short consultation period which will finish this month. Even under existing grounds, however, we are today signalling a new approach to deportation orders. Let no-one be in any doubt, the rules of the game are changing. These issues will of course be tested in the courts, up to now the concern has been that orders for deportation will be struck down as contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court in the Chahal case in 1996, and indeed we have had such cases struck down.

However, the circumstances of our national security have self evidently changed, and we believe we can get the necessary assurances from the countries to which we will return the deportees, against their being subject to torture or ill treatment contrary to Article 3. We have now concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan, and we are close to getting necessary assurances from other relevant countries. For example, just yesterday I had very constructive conversations with the leaders of Algeria and Lebanon. There are around 10 such countries with whom we are seeking such assurances. France and Spain, to name just two other European countries, do deport by administrative decision. The effect is often immediate and in some cases the appeal is non-suspensive, in other words it takes place outside of their country. The assurances given by the receiving nation are adequate for their courts, and these countries are also of course subject to the European Convention on Human Rights and apply it directly in their own law. So it is important to test this anew now in view of the changed conditions in Britain. Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further including, if necessary, amending the Human Rights Act in respect of the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In any event we will consult on legislating specifically for a non-suspensive appeal process in respect of deportations. One other point on deportations, once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, networks, centres and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the Home Secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national.

Secondly, as has already been stated, there will be new anti-terrorism legislation in the Autumn. This will include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the United Kingdom.

Thirdly, anyone who has participated in terrorism, or has anything to do with it anywhere will be automatically refused asylum in our country.

Fourth, we already have powers to strip citizenship from those individuals with British or dual nationality who act in a way that is contrary to the interests of this country. We will now consult on extending these powers, applying them to naturalised citizens engaged in extremism, and making the procedures simpler and more effective.

Fifth, cases such as Rashid Ramda, wanted for the Paris Metro bombings ten years ago, and who is still in the UK whilst France seeks extradition are completely unacceptable. We will begin consultation on setting a maximum time limit for all future extradition cases involving terrorism.

Sixth, we are already examining a new court procedure which would allow a pretrial process. We will also examine whether the necessary procedure can be brought about to give us a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention, pre-charge of terrorist suspects, be significantly extended.

Seventh, for those who are British nationals and cannot be deported, we will extend the use of control orders, any breach of which can mean imprisonment.

Eight, to expand the court capacity necessary to deal with this and other related issues. The Lord Chancellor will increase the number of special judges hearing such cases.

Nine, we will proscribe Hizb-ut-Tahira and the successor organisation of Al Mujahiroun. We will also examine the grounds for proscription to widen them and put forward proposals in the new legislation.

Ten, it is now necessary in order to acquire British citizenship that people attend a citizenship ceremony, swear allegiance to this country, and have a rudimentary grasp of the English language. We will review the threshold for this to make sure it is adequate, and we will establish with the Muslim community a commission to advise on how, consistent with peoples complete freedom to worship in the way they want and to follow their own religion and culture, there is better integration of those parts of the community presently inadequately integrated. I have asked Hazel Blears to make this part of the work she is currently undertaking.

Eleven, we will consult on a new power to order closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism, and will consult with Muslim leaders in respect of those clerics who are not British citizens to draw up a list of those not suitable to preach and who will be excluded from our country in future.

Twelve, we will bring forward the proposed measures on the security of our borders with a series of countries specifically designated for biometric visas over the next year. Meanwhile the Home Office and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office are compiling an international database of those individuals whose activities or views pose a threat to Britain’s security. Anyone on the database will be excluded from entry with any appeal only taking place outside the country.

We will consult widely on these measures, including with the other political parties of course. It is evidently a heavy agenda to take forward, but it’s necessary, and let me also again repeat and make it clear, if legislation can be made ready in time, and the right consensus is achieved, we are ready to recall parliament in September, at least to begin the debate over these measures.

I want to make it clear yet again that this is not in any way whatever aimed at the decent law-abiding Muslim community of Great Britain. We know that this fringe of extremism does not truly represent Islam. We know British Muslims, in general, abhor the actions of the extremists. We acknowledge once again Muslim contribution to our country and welcome it. We welcome those who visit our country from abroad in peace, welcome those who know that in this country the respect and tolerance towards others which we believe in, is the surest guarantee of freedom and progress for people of all religious faiths.

But coming to Britain is not a right, and even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and it’s people have no place here. Over the coming months in the courts, in Parliament, in debate and engagement with all parts of our communities, we will work to turn these sentiments into reality, and that is my duty as Prime Minister.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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