» Thursday, February 1, 2007


The PMOS reported that there was a discussion led by John Reid at Cabinet, which first updated colleagues on Birmingham and then moved on to an overview of terrorism and counter-terrorism. As part of this, the Home Secretary had been discussing the issue of limits on pre-charge detention in terrorist cases with leaders of the police service and others. The police service had now concluded that it was right and proper for Government to address this issue and wanted the Home Secretary to discuss it with colleagues in Government and more widely, with a view to seeing whether a consensus could be achieved. The Home Secretary raised this issue with colleagues this morning, and Cabinet had agreed to try and establish a national consensus on this. The Home Secretary outlined that although there had not yet been a case where 28 days had been inadequate, all 28 days were needed for the August airline case. It was quite possible to envisage cases where the police would need more than 28 days, because the terrorist threat is coming larger and more complex, because the scale of the operation was increasing, and the amount of evidence was growing fast. The sequential nature of an investigation could mean charging decisions taking longer than 28 days.

The Home Secretary reminded Cabinet that in 2005 he had been convinced, as was the Government, that we needed to go further than 28 days. Given the continuing trend and experience from last year, the Home Secretary now believed that it was worth trying once again to convince parliament and the nation that going further would be a useful tool in the counter-terrorism effort. He told Cabinet that he was mindful of the need for balancing measures to reassure the public when introducing any move that could be perceived as an increase in the arbitrary use of State power. Precise options would be developed after further discussions with colleagues. The Home Secretary was mindful of the need to consider cross party consensus.

Asked what sort of time scale the Home Secretary wanted in terms of a national debate, the PMOS said that first of all what he wanted to do was talk to the relevant people, in this case obviously continuing to talk to the police, secondly the opposition, thirdly the Home Affairs select committee and fourthly the ISC as well. He would want to discuss with them why they thought that the police wanted a broad discussion of this issue. And that essentially came down to the complexity of the cases. There were two alternatives here. One was allowing the point to be reached where there was a case where it would take longer than 28 days and something like this was rushed through, or you try and get to the position where we have thought through the issues in advance. The Home Secretary would much prefer to have thought through the issues in advance. But we do believe it is quite likely that we are going to get to the point where, simply because of the large number of cases we are dealing with, and the complexity of those cases, 28 days at some point will not be enough.

Asked what would be done this time that was not done previously to get a consensus, John Reid had spoken about giving reassurance to people about the way it was operating, and the Chancellor had in the past talked about Parliamentary scrutiny of the process rather than just the Carlile outline as before, and was that decided, PMOS said no, the kind of reassurance would be part of the discussions. He reminded the reporters that even now there was judicial oversight of this on a weekly basis, so there was already an oversight law. To answer the basic question, what is it that we think has changed, well what had changed was that we now had a further body of experience since the discussion last time. What that further body suggested, was that we were hitting the buffers already in terms of the timescale, for example in the August case they took every single day of the 28 days.

Asked how many of the suspects were held for the full 28 days, the PMOS said that this would be getting into dangerous territory.

Asked why now, as some people might look at this given the context of what was said today and accuse the Government of wanting to get out of potential headlines, the PMOS said that the initiative to raise the subject for discussion again had come from the police, not the Government.

Asked if part of the discussions in Cabinet were about the structure of the Home Office, the PMOS said there was no discussion about structures at today’s Cabinet and this was a distinct issue in its own right. Asked if he had a view where the consensus might lie, the PMOS said the important things were, first and foremost, that we got an understanding of what the pressures were on the police at this point.

Put to him that last time the police released a document outlining their argument, and asked if John Reid had received something similar this time, the PMOS replied that there was not a document saying we want so many days. What there was, was communications between the police and the Home Secretary about why they believed there was a case for raising this discussion again. John Reid was not saying that so far there had been a case where 28 days had been inadequate. What he was saying was that the August case took every single day.

Asked whether it was the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister’s view that the status quo was not the option, the PMOs replied that it was the Home Secretary’s view, the Prime Minister’s view and the Government’s view at the time this was first debated that 28 days was not enough. That remained our view, but we accepted that Parliament did not agree and therefore we accepted that we had to try and persuade people otherwise.

Asked whether it was now a case of finding a compromise, the PMOS replied that first and foremost it was a case of persuading people why 28 days may well not be enough. Then the process would start to ask what number of days would be enough.

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

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