» Thursday, November 3, 2005

Terror Bill

Asked for further clarification about the unequivocal view from the police, the PMOS said that if people were aware of the briefing given by Andy Hayman earlier this week, he expressed that view. Mr. Hayman said that the belief that 90 days was right was not a bartering tool or negotiating ploy. The PMOS reiterated why the police believed that 90 days was correct, and this was a case that had been looked at, and supported by Lord Alex Carlisle, who was an independent figure. The reason was that the police and the CPS said that change was necessary because of the greater use of encrypted computers by terrorists, for example. In one case, the material on a computer’s hard-drive disc was equal to 60,000 feet when printed out. Equally, the increasingly international nature of terrorist networks posed a greater language difficulty, and a greater need to gather evidence from abroad. Terrorist networks were increasingly complicated, and also, the police had said they needed six to eight weeks to analyse material found in a rubbish dump in Dewsbury. The comparison would have filled eight Olympic sized swimming pools. This was a graphic illustration of the kind of complexities the police now faced when trying to investigate these cases. The PMOS said that as the Home Secretary said yesterday, we were willing to listen to other people’s views, but the questions that people had to address were given those problems and complexities, how would they then meet the needs of the police in trying to meet the new kind of terrorism that we faced.

Asked if the Prime Minister still agreed it should still be 90 days, and if so, how was that squared with what Charles Clarke had said about a figure above 40 days, the PMOS replied that it was not just the Prime Minister, but also the Home Secretary who said that he still strongly supported the police’s view. It was their view, and not the Government’s view that 90 days was necessary. As we had said all the way through, we wanted as big a consensus as possible, but it had to be a consensus that addressed the needs outlined by the police. Those needs were real, and this was not about a negotiating ploy, but rather, this was the police’s estimate of the time they needed to address those problems mentioned earlier.

Put to the PMOS that it sounded as if we were not going to go below 90 days, the PMOS told the journalist not to put words in his mouth. What he had said was that we wanted consensus; what the Home Secretary had said was that he was willing to hold discussions. What the PMOS was trying to outline, without pre-empting those discussions, was the nature of the problems as defined by the police, not the Government that we had to address. That definition of the problems was one that had been shared by Lord Carlisle.

Put to the PMOS that following yesterday’s events in Parliament, the media he thought the 90 days figure was "now off" and in what sense did the Home Secretary back the bill, the PMOS replied that people should stand back and address the facts. They were that the police believed that the increasingly complex nature of the threat that we faced was a real issue that we had to address.
Interrupted, the PMOS was asked was it not the case that Charles Clarke "abandoned" the agreement on 90 days, the PMOS said again, the journalist was talking rhetoric, not reality by using the word abandoned. The PMOS said that the Home Secretary did not stand up in the House and say he was abandoning the case. Therefore, it was rhetoric. The reality was that Charles Clarke had said he was prepared to talk to people about how we addressed the needs of the police and how we could reach a consensus. However, again, we found the case compelling, and it was for others to tell us why they did not find the case for 90 days compelling, and how would they then meet the need as set out by the police. That was what we needed to do, and take the rhetoric out of this discussion, and instead, deal with the facts as set out by the police.

Asked if there was a plan for the Government to table a vote on 90 days, the PMOS replied that we needed first to have a discussion. This was not a Westminster game, but rather, was about reality. That reality was that the police had said this was not a negotiating ploy, and Andy Hayman had said that on the record. The police, as supported by Lord Carlisle had said this was a real need, and we should address that real need. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary had acknowledged the difficulties in getting the legislation through, but that was precisely why the Home Secretary was suggesting that MPs themselves talked to their local police commanders. As Sir Ian Blair had said, his view was that the police were united across the country in saying that this was necessary. The PMOS said people should get away from the Westminster game, and instead, deal with reality.

Asked if Charles Clarke was paid to talk to people as long as they agreed with him, the PMOS said again, that was a question from within the Westminster bubble. The PMOS said people should not try and get a prejudice before addressing the facts. The police had said that in their experience, they needed the extra time in order to deal with encrypted computers, for example, and the vast amount of evidence that they had to work with. They needed to translate their evidence, and they needed to investigate properly at international level. If people had other ideas about how they dealt with those facts, they should come forward, and we could have a discussion. What was not needed, as Lord Carlisle said this morning, was a "Dutch Auction" based on a theoretical discussion about days.
Asked if the Prime Minister was convinced that the MPs who returned to their constituencies to discuss with their local police would be won over by these arguments, the PMOS replied that again, it was a matter for the local police and the MPs. What the Prime Minister believed was that what the country expected was that we dealt with this in terms of reality, and not rhetoric.

Put to the PMOS that 90 days was "not on" in terms of civil liberties, the PMOS said that as always, there was a balance to be struck between on the one hand, doing what was necessary to protect people from a new kind of terrorism, and on the other, civil liberties. Equally, however, people had to consider the civil liberties of those who were potentially at risk from future attacks. This was the balance that we had to strike, and what we had to take on board was that the nature of the terrorists’ threat had changed. That was why there was the problem of encrypted computers, international terrorist networks and a vast hoard of material that had to be investigated. The PMOS said that again, it was not a matter of rhetoric, but rather a matter of hard reality.

Put to the PMOS that rather than a Westminster game, it was more a case of Parliamentary scrutiny, and since the Prime Minister was having great difficulties getting through what he thought was a compelling case put forward by the police, was he not exposed to the charge that he was impotent in the fact of Parliamentary objection, the PMOS replied that the Parliamentary process was supreme, and the he explained that the rhetoric he mentioned earlier referred to some of the questions asked. Therefore, what was important was that at the heart of the Parliamentary process, there followed a real discussion about the reality, rather than simply discussing whether it was one period of confinement or another. With regards to the second part of the question, the Prime Minister had a duty to set out what his view was. Parliament equally had a duty to reach its conclusion, and it would do so. That was precisely why Charles Clarke had correctly offered to talk to the other parties, and he had encouraged MPs to go back to their constituencies to talk to their local police commanders and their communities. That would then achieve a balance based on a proper appreciation of the threat, as well as civil liberties. We of course accepted the case for civil liberties, but equally, we had to deal with the reality of the new kind of threat, and how that manifested itself, and the problems it caused for police.

Asked had Lord Carlisle not given a way out this morning, by suggesting that it should not be "haggling over" a certain amount of days, but rather put it to a full scrutiny committee within Parliament, and take it out of politics, the PMOS replied said that in his report, Mr. Carlisle had said that as the Government believed, in a relatively few number of cases, with proper judicial oversight, that the 90 days was justified. In terms of other proposals, we believed that there was an urgency about this, because of what happened in July. Therefore, that why we were dealing with it in the way we were. What was important was that there was a real debate, and that people had that debate based on the facts that the PMOS had already set out by Andy Hayman, Lord Carlisle, Sir Ian Blair and ACPO. This was not something the Government alone had put forward, but rather, it was a need as set out by the police.
Put to the PMOS that Alex Carlisle had said that 90 days could only be achieved if the judicial oversight was changed, the PMOS replied that we had said that we were prepared to look very seriously at what Lord Carlisle had said in the judicial oversight. The PMOS said he was not being selective in that at all.

Asked if there was unanimous backing in Cabinet today for the Prime Minister’s belief that the police should get 90 days, the PMOS replied that there was a discussion in which the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary both spoke, and the Cabinet had been very supportive.

Asked if the police did not already have authority to search computers under the Regulatory and Investigative Powers Act, the PMOS said it was better that the journalist spoke to the Metropolitan police who were the experts in this field.

Put to the PMOS that Charles Clarke had said on the radio this morning that he would bring forward the proposals in relation to the length of time suspects could be held sometime early next week, and in the light of that, could people expect that would include 90 days, the PMOS replied it was a matter for the Home Secretary to judge once he had held his discussions. The PMOS said it needed to be approached not on a bartering process, but on a real examination of facts. Those facts were what the police believed were needed. The discussions would be real, and they would be as Charles Clarke sets out, but equally, the Government still believed that the case for 90 days was compelling, as Charles Clarke said at Cabinet today. It was for others to say not only why they believed it was not, but also, how they would meet the needs as defined by the police. The PMOS emphasised again that the police had set this out, not as a negotiating ploy, but as their cool, objective analysis of what they needed.

Put to the PMOS that if the Government was unable to get legislation, would the Prime Minister regard this as a resigning matter, the PMOS replied that the question was part of the Westminster game, and people should try not to get into it. Rather, it was better that people dealt with reality.

Put to the PMOS that there had been a real debate for the past few weeks, and the Opposition party had already been in talks with the Home Secretary, and yesterday was the chance to bring the debate to an end, but Charles Clarke "bottled it", the PMOS said: no. He thought the question was a rhetorical one. The Parliamentary process went through its various stages, therefore it should be used to debate the matter properly. As it had not yet finished, therefore what was important was that people did not use words like "bottling it", but rather held a cool, objective discussion not only about why people did not want 90 days, but also about what they intended to do instead in order to meet the needs as set out by the police.

Put to the PMOS that it had already happened, the PMOS repeated that the Parliamentary process had not yet finished. Put that the Parliamentary process was not what was going to happen over the weekend, the PMOS said that equally, it was important that MPs informed themselves properly of the views of their local police commanders and community, and that discussions took place in the light of that awareness. That was what a democracy was about.

Asked what the Government might accept instead of 90 days, the PMOS replied that it was up to others to suggest an alternative. The police had set out why they believed 90 days was the right way to go, and the important thing was working out what met the needs of the police.

Put to the PMOS that there seemed to be no room for manoeuvre, the PMOS said people kept trying to put words into his mouth. What he had said was the Government’s view was the police’s case was compelling, and it was for others to come to say why they believed there should be an alternative.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought it acceptable to "put the ball in someone else’s court", the PMOS said: no. If an argument was put forward that said no, the entire process of decision making had to also be balance about what would be a better alternative. The terrorist threat was not going to go away. As Sir Ian Blair had said this week, the police believed they had stopped recent attacks, but they also believed the threat remained very real. There was a real need to meet that threat.

Asked again if it was the Government’s intention to go ahead with a vote on 90 days, the PMOS said it was better for Charles Clarke to have his discussions, then see where things stood afterwards.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. If the argument is about how many pages of printed A4 one can get from a hard drive of unspecified size then clearly we are not talking solely about a need to detain suspects for 90 days.

    This is a resource issue – clearly the police do not have analytical tools and sufficient computing power to tackle the task in hand.

    Without proper planning and resources the need to keep people locked up without charge for 90 days will escalate to 120 days as the police get more bogged down, disks get bigger and computers faster.

    So if the government were to put more money and resources into the ‘war on terror’ we wouldn’t need to extend the 14 days.

    BUT police funding comes from local rates and it would be embarrassing to force those up further.

    Cabinet discussion –
    Home Sec.
    "The police want more money or they will need to lock people up for 90 days without charge"

    "Lets just lock people up – after all the prisons aren’t full are they? and anyway it will look like we are doing something positive about the war on terror".

    Home Sec.
    "How about a bit of money and 28 days?"

    "F*** that we need the money for next year’s pay rise"

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 3 Nov 2005 on 6:32 pm | Link

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