» Thursday, May 24, 2007

Control Orders

Asked what the Prime Minister’s view was on control orders, and what was he going to do about their apparent flaws, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he did not accept that description – there were not flaws, but control orders were our forth best option. The PMOS explained that first and foremost, where appropriate, we wanted to be able to deport people, but the courts would not allow us to do that in certain circumstances. Secondly, we wanted to detain people indefinitely, but a combination of the courts and Parliament decided that was not allowed. Thirdly, we wanted to have control orders for 24 hours, but the courts decided that was impossible. Therefore, we had ended up with partial control orders, which meant that they were partial. That was why we wanted to come back and try and put further measures to try and tighten the system.

Asked was it not down to the Government’s Human Rights Act that the courts were able to do this, the PMOS replied that we believed that the interpretation of the Human Rights Act was not as it should be. Indeed, we were involved with the Dutch Government in trying to look again at the interpretation of the "Ramzy" case. Therefore, it was down to Parliament not backing us in the first place in terms of the length of detention period that we wanted which was 90 days, not 28, and in limiting the effects of control orders.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that control orders in their current form were useable, the PMOS said that they were a forth best option, as we made clear at the time of the debates in Parliament. We had said again and again that this was not the preferred option.

Asked whose fault it was, and who was the Government blaming for saddling them with the forth best option, the PMOS said that he did not want to get into a blame game. Rather, he wanted to get into an explanation, which was that we wanted stronger powers, and we were prevented from having those powers.

Put that the Home Secretary was quite happy to get involved in a blame game, as he basically said that the judges were compromising national security, the PMOS replied that that was not what the Home Secretary had actually said. The Home Secretary said that we had put forward a series of proposals, but unfortunately, those were diluted by a combination of Parliament and court judgements.

Put that the Government nonetheless were opposed to allowing other things like phone taps which might have been used to "bang these people up", the PMOS said that again, people should be very clear. We had said that if there was a consensus amongst the police and the security services that phone tap evidence could be used without compromising security sources, then we would be in favour of that. However, what we were not in favour of was railroading through phone tap evidence when there were serious concerns in the security services that that could compromise sources of information. We had to take those concerns very seriously, and we did.

Asked to amplify the meaning of further measures, given the difficulties the Government had in getting these measures through, the PMOS replied that we were in the process of reviewing where we were. We were also discussing with the Opposition parties where we wanted to go to. For example, there had been a suggestion today that people could be questioned further after charging, so that was an idea which we were looking at in a positive light. The Prime Minister had made it clear that he wanted to come forward with further proposals before he left office.

Asked if the Prime Minister would consider derogating, the PMOS said that derogation was a matter which should only be contemplated as a last resort because of the message that it sent out to the rest of the world. There were others things such as joining in the Ramzy appeal which could be done first.

Asked if this case strengthened the Government’s case for tougher measures, the PMOS said that it showed the limitations of the system we had ended up with. We had warned about this.

Put that the argument was that the system had failed and no matter how the control orders were policed or managed, nothing could have stopped this happened as the system was fundamentally flawed, the PMOS replied that we had warned that this could be where we ended up. Therefore, it was definitely not a surprise. If there could not be 24 hour surveillance, how were the police supposed to do their jobs?

Put that this was where there was a crazy impasse, where we seemed to be blaming others and it was out of our control, yet we were the Government, the PMOS replied that the journalist kept coming back to blaming others. Put that someone or thing was to blame, the PMOS said that we had explained what the consequences would be of the limitations that were being imposed on the Government, so people should not try to put the buck back on the Government whenever those limitations came into effect.

Put that it was a majority Government, the PMOS said that it was also, however, a matter where the courts came into the equation. We had to go back and say that the problems that we advertised had come to pass, and what were we going to do about it.

Asked by a journalist who "did not want to get into a blame game specifically", but if it was not the Government’s fault, where did the blame lie, so that those responsible could change their attitude, the PMOS said that he had explained why we arrived where we had. It was up to the journalists to sit on their thrones and decide who was to blame; that was not the PMOS’ job.

Asked again if we were saying there was nothing we could do, the PMOS replied that as John Reid had said this morning, we could come back with further legislation, and we could make a case and illustrate the need through cases such as this one for tougher legislation. It was then up to Parliament to decide about how it responded.

Asked when the Home Secretary said he was fighting with one hand tied behind his back, who had tied him, the PMOS said that it was better the John Reid answered that in the House of Commons later today.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the Home Secretary was still fully engaged in his post, the PMOS replied that he did, and the Home Secretary’s frustration levels this morning were all too evident.

Put that returning to the judges saying we needed to have legislation because we had been proved right was not the way the judiciary worked, so what did we have in mind, the PMOS replied that we had tried in the past to get through Parliament tougher legislation. We had to try again.

Put that questioning people after they had been tried was something that had been discussed for at least four years, and why did it not come into play earlier, the PMOS said that there were those who had reservations about it as well and the legal implications had to be talked throug.

Asked if one of the real problems with this case was that there was no evidence, the PMOS said that that was the other answer to the previous point. In this case, questioning people after they had been charged did not arise because there were cases where the only evidence was evidence, which because of the concerns about revealing security sources, could not be used in court. This was precisely why we wanted to have the ability to detain people indefinitely.

Asked why it was deemed necessary to urgently release the names of the people, the PMS replied that the police asked us to. They had decided that in order to aid the search for these people, they needed to lift anonymity. That was why the Home Office went to the courts yesterday.

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

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