» Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Terror Bill

Asked why the Chancellor had dramatically changed his mind upon arriving in Israel and decided to return for this afternoon’s vote on the Terror bill, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he understood why journalists were eager to get into the processology but he was not going to go there. The Chancellor had set out his reasons why, having conferred with colleagues, he was returning. The Foreign Secretary was doing the same. All he would say was that it simply underlined the commitment of the Cabinet and the commitment of the Government to get this measure through the House of Commons. That commitment was because they believed it was right to back the judgment of the police.

The PMOS went on to say that he had noticed that there had been various suggestions throughout this period that in some way this was the Government imposing policy on the police. It wasn’t. He reminded journalists that the first time the 90 day figure became public was on the 21st July which was when police officers, including ACPO met the Prime Minister in the first major meeting after 7/7. The 21st July also happened to be the day of the second attempted bombings in London. After that meeting ACPO had said the following: "The complexity and scale of current counter-terrorist operations leave the current 14 day maximum detention period often insufficient. The complexities and timescales surrounding forensic examination of crime scenes etc merely added to the burden of immense time pressures on investigating officers.

A judicially supervised process to allow detention to be authorised from 14 days up to 3 months would assist in the efficiency and preparation of evidence to sustain charging." There had been a lot of words since then but ultimately it kept coming back to that basic statement. The view of the police, supported by ACPO, supported by the Metropolitan police, who were charged with counter-terrorism, and supported also by Lord Carlile, with the caveats that he had put, was that extra time, up to 90 days was needed to allow the police to complete their investigation. Asked if, prior to that statement, the Prime Minister has asked them to look at that period of detention, the PMOS said no. it was from the police, we did not know that they were going to put this press release out on the 21st July.

Asked why neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Chancellor had made any pairing arrangements for the vote if they knew they wee going to be abroad, the PMOS said that these were matters for the party whips and he was not going to get into them. Put to him that some cynics might see this as an attempt by the Chancellor to make a dramatic return at the taxpayers expense, the PMOS said that he would never accuse any journalist in the lobby of being cynical so that could be left to one side. Equally the Chancellor made his decision following discussions with colleagues and the Treasury would brief on the reasons why he did so. The important thing was not to get diverted onto processology. The important thing was that we concentrated on the core issue, which was whether MPs supported the assessment of the police or not. That was the simple core issue. That had been supported by ACPO, the Met. and Lord Carlile and if the public opinion surveys were correct it was supported by the public.

Asked if the Prime Minister had requested the Chancellor to return, the PMOS said that journalists could ask the question in as many different ways as they liked but he was not going to get involved in what was essentially a matter for the party whips. The important point for the Prime Ministerthis week was that the case put by the police was one that no one had come up with a coherent alternative to. That was the key issue. The key issue was whether you supported the police assessment or not.

Asked if the return of these ministers was an indication that the Government thought the bill would be really tight, the PMOS said that the Government believed that any decision other than 90 days would be second best for national security. Therefore the Government knew that it had to do everything to try and get the measure passed. We believed that we were winning the argument but we accepted that this was going to be a very tight fight.

Questioned further by ITN as to what exactly had changed the Chancellor’s mind given that the Chancellor’s aides had said last night that he was not needed for the vote because he was paired, the PMOS said that in terms of the detail people should speak to the Treasury. In terms of the overall position, the Government wasn’t going to apologise for making every effort to try and get this legislation through. The Prime Minister had set out the reasons very very clearly on Monday. He had also accepted on Monday that this was going to be a very tight fight but as he said anything less than 90 days was second best for national security, therefore we believed it was in the interests of national security that we made every effort, including bringing ministers back, to win this vote. There was a long standing convention about bringing ministers back for votes.

Asked if the Prime Minister was prepared to make this a confidence issue given that he thought it was so vital, the PMOS said that the question had come up at the Prime Minister’s press conference, he had said that he believed that would distract from the main issue. Asked how, the PMOS said that the issue was not about the Prime Minister or his authority but about whether Parliament supported the view of the police.

Asked why the Prime Minister wouldn’t use the one thing he could rely on to guarantee the bill was passed, the PMOS said that the one thing you could always rely on was that you kept putting the case. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, they had to compromise on counter-terrorist legislation before the election but you kept putting the case as to why you believed the measures were necessary. To be completely frank about this, if we did not get the 90 days then that was second best for the security of the country. Put to him that the Prime Minister had taken ownership of this policy and thus couldn’t be separated from his authority, he couldn’t just say it was nothing to do with him, the PMOS said he had had not done that. He had used all available words to support this, as have Cabinet colleagues. The key question therefore was whether Parliament supported the police. This was not something which the Government had initiated, it was something the Government strongly supported because it believed that the case was compelling.

Asked where the Government drew the line in terms of the power they were prepared to grant the police given that Sir Ian Blair had said yesterday that he would have 4 months if he could get it, the PMOS said that, with respect, was a misquote. Sir Ian Blair had not said that he wanted 4 months. What he had said was that you could argue the case but what the police had settled on was 90 days. That was different from saying that he wanted 4 months. Put to him that Sir Ian Blair had said that he would take all the powers he could get, the PMOS said what the police had settled on because they believed it was the rational case, was 90 days. We believed that where there was a rational case put forward we should support the police.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had given his support to the police’s proposals pretty soon after the police had announced it, the PMOS said that our initial response was that we would consider the matter. That was our initial response, and the right thing to do. We had considered these matters and Andy Hayman amongst others had presented the case for why they wanted the 90 days. We had said that we found the case compelling and we had re-examined their case. The Prime Minister just last week re-examined the case again. He felt that everyone could agree that it was almost unprecedented for the police to argue a case as explicitly as they had done for this. For the Chief of the Metropolitan police to use the kind of language that he used yesterday to describe the chilling nature of the threat that we faced. That underlined the reality of threat and the reality of the reasons for why the police had asked for 90 days.

Asked why Lord Goldsmith had yet to lend his support to the legislation, the PMOS said that he did not disclose the views of the Attorney General.

Asked if, given that ministers were rushing back from all over the world in order to try and secure enough voted for the bill, perhaps this issue had been misjudged politically, the PMOS said no. The Prime Minister had said on Monday afternoon that any figure below 90 days was less than what the police judged to be necessary. Therefore was not in the best interests of the country’s security. Therefore any figure below 90 days was always going to be second best.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be voting, the PMOS said yes. Asked if the Prime Minister was confident that the bill would be passed, the PMOS said that we recognised that we faced a very tough fight, but we were confident that no one had put forward a better argument.

Asked why we couldn’t just use control orders to hold suspects, the PMOS said that earlier this week Andy Hayman had spoken about the problem with anything less than detention. He talked about how one suspect had jumped bail and gone overseas and was just gone. That was the problem. Another idea was charging people on lesser charges but they would then be released on bail. This was the only way in which the police think they could deal with the very few number of people who would be the target of this measure. That was one reason why it was wrong to describe this measure as internment. Internment was a general sweep, with no time limit and no High Court judicial oversight. This was none of those things and was not internment.

Asked why the Prime Minister thought that a sunset clause was appropriate for this legislation given that it hadn’t been appropriate for control orders, the PMOS said that in terms of control orders, they were a response to the House of Lords ruling and the context at the time was that that had been seen as a weakening in the country’s response to terrorism. A sunset Clause at that stage would have been seen as a further weakening of the country’s resolve. In terms of this measure, if the 90 days was passed he didn’t think that anyone would say that that was a weakening of the countries response. It was clearly a strengthening of our ability to combat terrorism. Because there were concerns about how the system operated it was right that parliament should have the ability to look at his on an annual basis. That was why a sunset clause was deemed to be appropriate. It all depended on the context.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news


  1. message for tony blair, i have never voted labour, in the past four years i havent voted for anyone, what i would like you to know though, is you are completely right. your interests for the welfare of our country are paramount. this situation you find yourself in, is shamefull. unfortunatly when a tragedy does show itself. and we all know it will. all you can say is, we had the chance on the 9th of november, well , you are right, and people out here know that, dont let them grind you down, your a good man who speaks from his heart, thats why your popular, keep your chin up. regards ken.

    Comment by ken lee — 9 Nov 2005 on 7:09 pm | Link
  2. "The 21st July also happened to be the day of the second attempted bombings in London. "

    How bloody convenient…!!!

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 9 Nov 2005 on 8:36 pm | Link
  3. "the PMOS said that he did not disclose the views of the Attorney General."

    Unless the PM is REALLY getting a hard time…

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 9 Nov 2005 on 8:40 pm | Link
  4. "It all depended on the context."

    Doesn’t it always?! I mean, the Yanks didn’t really use white phosphorous in Fallujah, they only used XV1C-BAD-666 or whatever they renamed it to.

    Please! We’re talking about locking people up for a quarter of a year, for God’s sake; you can’t just "depend on the context". They have either done something wrong or they haven’t, it really is that simple. Locking someone up on suspicion of something they might do in the future is not only undemocratic and on the slippery slope to a police state, it’s also so laughable I’m only surprised it didn’t actually get passed today.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 9 Nov 2005 on 8:48 pm | Link
  5. I suspect that reason why "Ken" hasn’t voted before is because he can’t spell "X".

    Comment by Will Hall — 10 Nov 2005 on 12:43 pm | Link
  6. One thing that’s really starting to get my goat is Blair’s predictable attempts at emotional blackmail and political mileage over his defeat. He keeps stating the ludicrous position that every MP that voted against the government is somehow soft on terrorism. Technically, this is bollocks. The police have absolutely no responsibility towards protecting civil liberties and democracy in this country – that is the job of politicians. The MPs listened to the advice given and made a judgement that 90 days was totally incompatible with our democracy. That’s why the bill was defeated and not because of petty party politics or leadership conspiracies. The MPs have done their job and should be applauded for finally standing up to this authoritarian, egotistical, arrogant bafoon that we have as Prime Minister.

    Comment by Will Hall — 10 Nov 2005 on 12:56 pm | Link
  7. No-one was going to see 90 days as anything but internment, despite any pussyfooting on technicalities – least of all the Muslim community. Has he no memory of Ireland and the effect such measures had there – creating martyr heroes and aggravating the whole mess? Could he not for once look squarely at the problems of this country and not see them as American?

    Comment by Elizabeth B Patrick — 10 Nov 2005 on 2:55 pm | Link
  8. I think Ken is probably the freeloading Sharon Blair QC , she, too, can neither spell nor reason.

    Comment by tasty macfadden — 13 Nov 2005 on 8:47 pm | Link

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Post a public comment

(You must give an email address, but it will not be displayed to the public.)
(You may give your website, and it will be displayed to the public.)


This is not a way of contacting the Prime Minister. If you would like to contact the Prime Minister, go to the 10 Downing Street official site.

Privacy note: Shortly after posting, your name and comment will be displayed on the site. This means that people searching for your name on the Internet will be able to find and read your comment.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


November 2005
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Oct   Dec »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh