Asked if there was discussion at Cabinet of intercept issues, the PMS replied that Jack Straw updated the Cabinet, and there was a more wider discussion about some of the issues.
Asked if it was an illustration of joined-up government that the Secretary of State could make a statement to MPs without knowing the full facts, the PMS replied that there was an inquiry underway to establish what the full facts were.
Asked if it was not a problem that Jack Straw could make a statement to MPs and say that he first knew about it on Saturday afternoon, and not mention that his officials knew about it in December, the PMS replied that there was an inquiry underway to establish what the full facts and circumstances were surrounding this case. So it was best that we established what the full facts were rather than comment on partial information.
Put that Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials knew about this in December, and asked if anyone in Downing Street knew about it, the PMS replied that there was an inquiry under way and he did not want to get into the business of commenting on that, except to say that there was no reason to believe that that was the case.
Put that David Davis had just called the Prime Minister a liar on News24, the PMS replied that he had not seen that particular comment and therefore did not want to comment on it.
Put that in Jack Straw’s statement yesterday, there was a nuance in the difference of interpretation of the Wilsonian Code made by the present Prime Minister and that made of the previous Prime Minister, and asked whether the interpretation made by the current Prime Minister was based on the evidence before him, the PMS replied that he was not sure of the evolution of the language on the Wilson Doctrine. One of the issues was that there had been numerous parliamentary questions over many years on the Wilson Doctrine, that had evolved over time, so he was not sure that this interpretation was one that we recognised or accepted.
Asked if it was therefore not evolving on the basis of evidence before No10, the PMS replied that it was evolving over time as the issues changed over time. But he would need to check what was said in every PQ over the last 20 years in order to trace the exact evolution of the Wilson Doctrine.
Asked if a general view emerged from Cabinet on the rights and wrongs of MPs being bugged, the PMS replied that one of the issues that did come up for example was that there had been some confusion in some of the reporting this morning about the difference between intercept and communications data. It was not the case that people were having their phones tapped on the suspicion of fly-tipping, as was alleged this morning. Intercept, of which there were just over 1,000 cases or so in a year, had very strict statutory guidelines around its use. That was very different from the use of communications data (the 250,000 figure that was being reported), this was not about telephone tapping, it referred to issues such as the police checking peoples’ mobile phone bills to see what phone calls had been made, and it included (maybe where the confusion over fly-tipping had arisen from) issues such as looking at CCTV evidence. This was why one newspaper claimed that 1,000 people a day were having their phones tapped – this was not the case. It was more like 3 or 4 people a day. Of course we were only able to record this now as a result of the 2000 Act, so we did not have time series data on this, but of course there were other interventions by the police, but that was very different to listening into peoples’ telephone conversations or bugging conversations in prisons.
Asked if the Wilson Doctrine counted for MPs who had not taken the oath, the PMS replied that he could see where this was leading, and this was not something he would comment on.
Asked if the Wilson Doctrine should cover members of the Scottish Parliament, the PMS replied that the Wilson Doctrine had traditionally referred to members of the UK Parliament.
Put that Swinton Thomas, a former Commissioner, has said that he did not think that MPs should remain a special case, and asked if we were now going to look at the whole question of whether MPs should be protected more than the rest of us, the PMS replied that the Wilson Doctrine was a very long standing Doctrine. It had been reaffirmed by the previous Prime Minister and by this Prime Minister on separate occasions. So that was the long-standing position. We said yesterday that if in the light of the Christopher Rose investigation there was any specific issue that arose that were relevant to the Wilson Doctrine, then that would need to be looked at.
Asked if the Prime Minister was aware that the Wilson Doctrine contained a loophole that allowed police to put bugs in a room or in a car, the PMS replied that he would not describe it in those terms at all. There was a separate legal and statutory regime that governed police powers, one that was established in the 1997 Police Act, and strengthened in the 2000 Act.
Asked if he could confirm or deny that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, as MPs, had been under surveillance and had been eavesdropped, the PMS replied that this was a matter that he was not going to comment on.
Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the Wilson Doctrine should not cover eavesdropping by police, the PMS replied that as he had said, if there were any particular issues that arose in relation to this inquiry that were relevant to the Wilson Doctrine, then that would need to be looked at. But there was a separate statutory regime governing police surveillance, that had been legislated for and debated in Parliament at length, first in the 1997 Police Act, and then again in the 2000 Act.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that it was perfectly in order that Members of the Scottish Parliament telephones were bugged, the PMS replied that he did not know there was any evidence that substantiated this question. Secondly, the issue here was the Wilson Doctrine.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned by the reports that prisons were being bugged, the PMS replied that if the question was about Harry Roberts, then as the Ministry of Justice had been saying, the Justice Secretary was not previously aware of this matter, and would consider what further steps were need once we had more information. But as he had said, there was a statutory regime governing police surveillance that was strengthened by the 2000 Act.
Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news
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