» Thursday, November 3, 2005

Terror Bill

Asked what the Prime Minister felt after Cabinet this morning about the state of the Government, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister had acknowledged this morning that times were tough, but they were tough because the Government was trying to do the right thing. That was on the public reform agenda and on counter-terrorism. Both he and the Home Secretary had repeated their full support for the police’s view that the case for 90 days was compelling. Asked why times were tough, the PMOS said times were tough because the Government was doing things which were radical, which therefore stirred controversy, but which the Prime Minister believed were both the right thing to do and also what the Government had been elected to do. The Prime Minister had always thought that it would be tough getting these measures through but he believed they were the right thing to do. Put to him that it was Labour MPs who were standing against the Prime Minister and presumably had claim to the same mandate as him, the PMOS said that he did not want to get involved in discussing party matters.

Asked if the case for 90 days was so compelling then why had the Government "wimped out" of a vote on it, the PMOS said that he was glad to see that we were in the same entirely non-rhetorical place that we had been this morning on the issue. To answer in a more objective fashion, Parliamentary debates were about trying to test legislation, that was right, trying to find consensus about the way forward, that was right too and therefore it was right to have discussions about whether a consensus could be reached, particularly about a matter as important as the fight against terrorism. What was good about the opportunity we now had, was that it gave us a further opportunity to explain why it was not the Government who were saying that police needed 90 days but the police themselves. The police were asking for it because of the complexity of the terrorist threat they faced. Because of the need to de-encrypt computers in a way that they hadn’t had to do before and download masses of material Also as in Jewsbury they had to go through a mass of physical evidence. That was why the Prime Minister, having received that operational advice from the police, believed the case to be compelling. What he hoped was, as the Home Secretary had put it in Cabinet this morning, that MPs went back and spoke to local police commanders and tested the case themselves, and talk to local constituents as well, and test the views of the public, because this was a very important matter. Put to him that if the police and the public were not convinced of the need for 90 day detention, then that would be the collapse of the Government’s compelling argument, the PMOS said that as he was sure journalists would have taken note of, Ian Blair had said earlier this week that it was the unified view of the police, at the level he operated at, that these powers were necessary. It was the view of the commander of the Metropolitan police anti-terrorist unit that 90 days was not a negotiating ploy but what he, as head of the counter-terrorist operation, assessed as necessary. That view was re-enforced by the independent advisor in this area, Lord Carlyle. He hoped that would all be reflected in the reporting of this discussion.

Put to him that the seven day judicial renewal covered everything that the police were talking about, the PMOS said that was not the view of the police. Put to him that they were just policemen, the PMOS said that it was entirely wrong to dismiss the police in that way. In any case Lord Carlyle was not a policeman.

Asked if the Prime Minister was suggesting that MPs had not consulted with their constituents, the PMOS said no. What he believed was that people who were opposed to this on civil liberties grounds, had to equally take into account the civil liberties of those who were potential victims of terrorism. They also had to address the need as identified by the police, who despite what some people might be suggesting were in the front line against terrorism. Therefore you had to address the needs and answer the question of if you had a shorter period than 90 days how therefore did you meet the needs of the police for a longer period to examine evidence.

Asked if there had been assessment of the consequences to the fight against terrorism if they police were give for instance 28 days, the PMOS said that if you looked at Lord Carlyle’s report he had stated that he believed that people who should have been taken to the courts in terrorist cases had been set free because the police had not had this longer period. As Andy Hayman had said, ’90 days was not a negotiating ploy, this was our objective assessment of what we need’. Asked if he was saying that there was real concern that people who should be detained were not being detained, the PMOS said that was the whole basis on which the police had put forward their view and we believed the case was compelling. That was the view of the Prime Minister and it was the view of the Home Secretary as repeated at Cabinet this morning.

Asked if by insisting on this particular point the Prime Minister was leaving himself dangerously isolated from the views not just of the back benches but also, privately, many of his Cabinet colleagues, the PMOS said that firstly the Home Secretary had said at Cabinet that he fully supported the 90 days and remained convinced that it was the right thing to do. He said he was strongly of the view that 90 days was the right solution. The Prime Minister was not isolated on this issue since the views he expressed, were the same as those charged with counter-terrorism in this country as well as the independent advisor Lord Carlyle. As the PMOS had said this morning, we could either play this as a Westminster political game or we could deal with the reality. The reality was that there were real identifiable needs, as identified by the police, for measures which they could use in the fight against terrorism. We could decide whether we addressed those needs or we didn’t address those needs. That was the key question.

Put to him that it wasn’t the first time we had used internment in recent history and when used previously it had turned out to be a bad idea, the PMOS said that in terms of internment firstly it was not time limited as this was, secondly hadn’t had a weekly judicial oversight as this would have and thirdly had none of the checks and balances of what we were proposing. When responding to a new kind of terrorism there was always a balance to be struck between civil liberties on the one hand and protecting the security, not just of the country but individual citizens who might become the victims of terrorism. Therefore what you had to do was try and strike that balance. If however you got operational advice from the police, who were charged with protecting this country from terrorism, that these measures were necessary to allow them to not just bring those they believed to be guilty of terrorist offences to justice, but also to stop those people carrying out further terrorist offences. That was something the Prime Minister believed you had to take very very seriously. That was why he found the case put forward by the police and supported by the independent advisor Lord Carlyle to be a compelling one.

Asked how he responded to those who pointed out that the police were perhaps not the best people to solely trust such decisions given recent lapses in judgment, the PMOS said that the public recognised that the police had done and extremely solid job in response to 7/7 in terms of countering the terrorist threat. They had also recognised as Ian Blair had said earlier this week that they had stopped several potential terrorist attacks in recent times. The terrorist threat remained very real which was why the police deserved our full support. To answer the question in a different way, if people believed that these measures were not necessary to meet the specific problems identified by the police in terms of dealing with evidence in terrorist investigations and dealing with the multi-national nature of the terrorist threat then they should spell out the alternatives and let them be evaluated by the police and others to see whether they met that need. Put to him that 28 days had been offered as an alternative, the PMOS said that Andy Hayman had said that 90 days was what he believed to be necessary.

Put to him that in fact the figure of 90 days was a political judgment based on what the police thought they could get, the PMOS said it was not a political judgement, it was a practical operational decision and this, if he may say so, is where mistakes had been made in the coverage of this. This was a policy matter, taking into account how long it took to de-encrypt computers, how long it took to go through a rubbish dump which took 6-8 weeks to search, how long did it take to deal with the multi-national nature of terrorism, how long did it take to translate materials from many different languages. Those were not political matters, those were practical matters. You could either address it in a political way and have what Lord Carlyle said this morning was not desirable, which was a Dutch auction on the issue, or you could deal with it in a practical way. If people had practical answers to the practical problems identified by the police then let them bring them forward. Put to him that these were subjective matters, the PMOS said that it came down to whether you trusted the experience of the police in these matters or you didn’t. In terms of the people who were experts in these matters they were the counter-terrorist police. They had stated, as the Prime Minister had said this morning, their unequivocal view that 90 days was necessary. Put to him that good, hardworking policemen could make terrible mistakes and that was why we limited their powers, the PMOS said that what Lord Carlyle had suggested was that mistakes had also been made in releasing people who should have been held for longer because of the time limits currently imposed. That was how Lord Carlyle came to the conclusion that in a very few cases, which was what we were saying, there should be the maximum capacity of 90 days. Asked if left to their own devices the police wouldn’t want something even more draconian and thus in some ways they had taken a political judgement, the PMOS said no. The police’s judgment, as summed up by Andy Hayman in the briefing they gave earlier this week, was that this wasn’t approached in the spirit of a negotiating ploy. It was a practical exercise in trying to work out how long they needed to complete these kinds of enquiries. Given the new nature of the terrorist threat they faced.

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


  1. So, what’s wrong with issuing Green and White Papers on the matter, rather than constantly reiterating the ‘Andy’ Hayman claptrap as a justification for railroading controversial legislation.

    It’s not up to ‘people’ to resolve the police’s ‘problems’. It’s up to the coppers to get their act together, rather than sitting in their ‘offices’ and canteens bemoaning their lot and waiting to be told what to do.

    Does anyone seriously believe a copper these days?

    Comment by Chuck Unsworth — 4 Nov 2005 on 12:21 pm | Link
  2. Unfortunately, after serving in the police force in the dim & distant past, I have nothing but contempt for today’s force. As much as I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, I find I just can’t; their blunders and mistakes are too numerous, too widespread. It’s the corruption that gets to me and (I know) a lot of other ex-force members. Sadly, the police are too close, and too similar, to the people they’re supposed to be nicking, most of the time.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 4 Nov 2005 on 7:36 pm | Link
  3. That’s an excellent point. I recall discussions I had some years ago with people responsible for recruitment. They always said that the villains and the coppers usually came from very similar (if not the same) backgrounds. So it was often a matter of chance and fortune as to which side of the fence they ended up.

    To be fair, maybe this is a symptom of the more general lowering of society’s standards. Mind you, yet more legislation and ASBOs are certainly not going to change attitudes. It will just lead to further criminalisation and alienation.

    Blair etc need to learn that leadership is not the same as governance. There’s been far too much of the latter and almost none of the former.

    Comment by Chuck Unsworth — 4 Nov 2005 on 8:04 pm | Link
  4. Since the morning of his appointment Lady Sir Ian Blair has been calling for more powers; this appointment pre-dated the most recent London bombimg (-recent because everybody goes on about this last lot as though London had never been bombed before.) Instead of this bumptious prick grandstanding about what powers he needs and how, disgracefully, the shooting oh innocents by psyched-up machosweety bobbies, was and is absolutely justifiable, he should reflect that people of his caste and self-importance have been bringing hot sharp death and evisceration to brown people all over the world for longer than we should be able to bear and his claimed interest in law and order and public protection are worthles.

    For all his braid and ribbons and cheesy soundbites Lady Sir Ian is, like his namesake and mentor, an enemy of the people, abroad and at home; that instead of resigning and taking up charity work he demands further powers to mistreat citizens is an absolute scandal. For all his vileness and municipal thuggery Lord Blunkett was brought down by an unstoppable torrent of loathing from almost everyone outside his patronage. Can we do the same with this strutting policeman? If we let them away with any more abuses they will soon be shutting down sites like this.

    Comment by john the revelator — 4 Nov 2005 on 10:20 pm | Link
  5. Just remember who you’ll call first when you find an intruder in your house, get mugged, raped, attacked, have a riot outside your door etc etc.

    Police=Crooks – a tired, cheap cliche.

    90 days is absurdly long and will amount to a crude form of internment. Give them power and they’ll use it willy nilly. What’s needed? More resources eg. manpower and computer power to crack the codes the suspects might have on their machines. 90 days will allow the police to do what they do best – plod along. Before long they’ll need even more time… Of course Gordon Brown will resist this, he’s spent out and maxed out the cards too. Last thing he wants is more taxes before he gets in – afterwards, well, hide your wallets…

    Comment by Mr Pooter — 6 Nov 2005 on 7:10 am | Link
  6. Believe me – I would do almost anything to avoid having to deal with the Plod over any of the issues mentioned. They are just about the last people I would call. The fact is that they can’t or won’t take action in nearly all cases.

    Even when they think it’s safe to become involved or there’s a fair chance of an easy conviction, speed of reaction is not their forte. It takes them two days to attend most crime scenes – if they can be bothered at all. It’s no good making futile calls to a ‘call centre’. These days one just has to take individual action and precautions.

    As to yet more money and resources, well why? I would like to see proper usage of those that they already have. Although terrorist crimes make headlines, they directly affect a minimal number of people. Most people however are affected by constant low level criminality in our various communities. Read the comments about that ex South African copper if you need an example………..

    Comment by Chuck Unsworth — 6 Nov 2005 on 3:58 pm | Link
  7. I’ve put up a history of the extentions of this "arrest without charge" period in the comment at:


    Comment by Julian Todd — 8 Nov 2005 on 10:34 am | Link

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