» Thursday, November 10, 2005

Terror Bill

Asked if the Prime Minister intended to take the same attitude with other White Papers and Bills that were coming up soon, i.e, uncompromising, and also was the Prime Minister going to let Charles Clarke "take the rap", the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister in no way could be seen to say that he was letting the Home Secretary "take the rap". The Prime Minister was very clear on Monday why he was putting forward the measure, and was also very clear yesterday in his view that sometimes it was the right thing to put a vote and lose, rather than compromise.

The PMOS also stressed that Charles Clarke had said this morning on radio and television which he underlined at Cabinet that "there was no division between himself and the Prime Minister, either on strategy and tactics at any point during these events", and he wanted to "underline that as strongly as I possibly can". The Home Secretary also said that at no point did anyone put forward any rationale for any time limit between fourteen (14) days and ninety (90) days, and that if such a compromise had been put up, it was Charles Clarke’s view that the result would still have been the same. The idea that some compromise figure was put forward was described as a "myth".

Put to the PMOS that there had been a suggestion that the Prime Minister was "cross" with the Home Secretary, the PMOS replied that he was not aware of any such comments. There was no division between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister specifically paid tribute to the way in which Charles Clarke handled the matter, and that reflected the consistent view in Downing Street. The Home Secretary had put the argument, held discussions to try and reach a compromise, but unfortunately, that was not possible.

Asked how the idea of a compromise be a myth when Charles Clarke went on television on Monday that he intended to aim for somewhere between 14 and 90 days, the PMOS said as the Home Secretary had made clear at the time, that was always seen as a fall-back position, and was not something which the Government in any case ever believed was the right thing to do, as both he and the Prime Minister underlined.

Asked if the Prime Minister had learnt any lessons from last night’s defeat, the PMOS said that in terms of the other proposals in the Government’s programme, the Cabinet were absolutely united in their view that they carry through the manifesto commitments on which the Government stood at the election. Equally, there was a recognition of the need to explain to Parliament and to the country why they were doing so.

Put to the PMOS that the Prime Minister had talked about some people who had recently been arrested for terrorism, and was there any more information on it, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was referring to three people who were charged on Friday night.

Asked if any Ministers suggested that Prime Minister was losing his judgment or that the Government should change its approach, the PMOS said categorically not.

Asked if at Cabinet, a need to find a consensus had been discussed with critics, the PMOS said that clearly, we had to explain the rationale behind why the Government put forward proposals. Equally, the Cabinet was determined and united in its view that it needed to stick to its manifesto commitment.

Asked how the Prime Minister would respond to people who said there might be further defeats ahead of him if he continued on like he had done last night, the PMOS replied that firstly, as was underlined at Cabinet by the Home Secretary, no-one actually put forward a rationale for any other period other than 90 days. Therefore, that was why the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister both believed that 90 days was right. Secondly, that seemed to be from every opinion survey taken between last weekend and now, a position that the public fully understood and supported. They understood the reality of the nature of the terrorist threat, and the need to give the police the ability to tackle the complex issues involved. As the Prime Minister had said at Cabinet, there did seem to be a worrying gap between parts of Parliament and both the nature of the threat, and public opinion.

Asked would it not be an idea if some of this information were made available, especially to MPs, the PMOS said that there was some discussion of the problems that were faced, not just by this Government, but also by every government around the world who faced this kind of threat. The discussion was how to educate people into the nature of the threat, but to do so without compromising the sources of information. That was a genuine difficulty, and was one that anyone who had operated in this area, understood. The PMOS pointed out that it was not the case that MPs did not have any information in front of them, as they had received an assessment from the Head of the Anti-Terrorist police.

Asked to clarify that the Prime Minister believed he had strict manifesto commitments that he was not going to compromise on, the PMOS said that it was the Cabinet that said it believed that, not only the Prime Minister.
Put to the PMOS that on the one hand, the Prime Minister had said there was a gap in reality and on the other, MPs appeared not to have the right information in order to make a correct judgment, the PMOS said that in terms of the reality of the threat, this morning’s meeting underlined the seriousness very starkly. That was why the police sought the extra time that they did, and that was why the Government tried to deliver that extra time to the police. That seemed to be a position which the public understood, but Parliament reached a different conclusion.

Asked if we would see senior members of Parliament lobbying in future and other issues, the PMOS said he was not going to get into hypotheticals. There was a recognition of the need to explain the case very carefully to Parliament and to let people understand the central issues.

Put to the PMOS that a "bunch of quite unlikely backbenchers" had been seen going into Downing Street today, and were they having a meeting with the Prime Minister, the PMOS said he was not aware of any meetings with backbenchers.

Put to the PMOS that many MPS had said that they felt that the Government had not argued its case for 90 days fully enough, the PMOS replied that Andy Hayman had set out the case and Sir Ian Blair, Andy Hayman and other did speak to MPs and others to make to the case. As the Home Secretary had said, no-one else had set out a rationale for any other time limit, including 28 days. It was the gap between a clear rationale, set out in detail by the police, and an absence of a rationale for any other time limit.

Put to the PMOS again that John Denham had said that he believed that 90 days was the right period but that the case had not yet been set out, the PMOS said he could not answer for John Denham. He said that in terms of the detail of Andy Hayman’s report, it did set out the complexities the police were dealing with, which included the use of encrypted computers, increasingly complex nature of terrorists’ networks, the greater language difficulties, and the need to analyse large amounts of material. The PMOS said that all of those were detailed reasons, and which part of them did the critics believe did not apply.

Asked if it was thought that MPs did not read their reports, didn’t listen, or were "too thick to understand it", as the case seems to have been made, so what went wrong, the PMOS replied that it was for the MPs to speak about why they had voted the way they had. We should firstly not let people believe, however, that the case was not put; it was. Secondly, that there was a compromise to be had but that we did not take it; there was not. Thirdly, there was a rationale put forward for some other time period; there was not.

Asked if the Prime Minister was baffled", the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister recognised that on this occasion, we did not convince people. Unfortunately, terrorism was not an issue that was going to go away, therefore the discussion would have to continue.

Put to the PMOS that the suggestion last night was that the "crunch" votes would now go on in the New Year, and did that mean the Health White Paper and Incapacity White Paper would get delayed as a result, the PMOS replied that Incapacity benefit would come sometime before the end of this year, but the Health White Paper probably was always intended for next year.

Asked if the Government had any involvement in dictating the terms in which the police put their case, the PMOS said that the police came up with this initiative, argued for this case to the Prime Minister, and they had been vocal in arguing this case publicly. That was their right to do, whenever they believed that matters were of sufficient seriousness. Therefore, any suggestion that in same way we had been putting up the police was wrong.

Asked about a timing for the reshuffle, the PMOS said it would be when it would be.

Asked if the Prime Minister still had confidence in Hilary Armstrong, the PMOS said: absolutely. The Prime Minister took the opportunity at Cabinet this morning to praise the efforts of her and her team, and that was echoed unanimously around the room.

Asked if the Prime Minister associated with the Whips tactics and language used before the vote, the PMOS said that in terms of how the Whips talked to MPs, that was entirely a matter that he could not talk on! As people knew!

Briefing took place at 10:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. PMOS: "…in his view that sometimes it was the right thing to put a vote and lose, rather than compromise."

    So, he must have decided that the combination of a commons defeat and 28 days was better than a commons victory and, say, 60 days.

    But if he felt so "passionately" about this bill, why did he choose political martyrdom over the maximum possible detention period?

    Why? Because he’s the one trying to score cheap political points with this cause celebre that appeals to anyone with a "lock ’em all up" mentality (ie Sun readers).

    Comment by Will Hall — 11 Nov 2005 on 11:21 am | Link

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