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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 6 Dec 2007


Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Pre-charge Detention, Economy, Eu Treaty And Misc.

Morning press briefing from 6 December 2007

Pre-charge Detention

Asked why the figure 42 was plucked out of the ether, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) replied that we were not plucking anything out of the ether as suggested. We were putting in place stronger safeguards around circumstances where an extension beyond 28 days might be necessary, that was the key point to focus on in relation to today's proposals. The Government had always said that there should be a maximum limit, so obviously a view needed to be taken at some point as to what that maximum limit should be, and people would have different views on that. But the key point in relation to today's proposals was not to get too fixated on the number, but to focus more on the safeguards around the circumstances where it may be necessary to detain people for more that 28 days.

Asked again why 42 days, the PMS replied that if there was an acceptance of the principle that there had to be a maximum limit, then you had to accept at some point you have to take a view as to what that number should be. At the moment that number was 28 days. We have said that in the circumstances set out by the Home Secretary today, it may be necessary to detain people beyond that. There would be 7 day extensions with judicial oversights, and the Home Secretary had taken the view that two 7 day extensions seemed appropriate.

Asked if it was just because 42 was halfway between 28 and 56, the PMS replied that we had always looked at this on the basis of extensions a week at a time, and this was two 7 day extensions. But again, if you accepted that there needed to be a maximum figure, and most people did accept that, then obviously we could go round and round in circles discussing what that figure is. The key thing in relation to today's announcement was the additional safeguards that the Home Secretary was putting in place.

Asked if this meant that the figure was still up in the air, the PMS replied that the Government had always said that 56 was the maximum of what the maximum might be. We had listened to the concerns that had been raised, but again if you accepted that there should be a maximum, you had to take a view as to what that maximum might be.

Asked if it was fair to accept that one of the considerations was the simple politics of what we could get through, the PMS replied that obviously we had to listen to people's concerns. We had always said that we wanted to do this in a consensual way. But again, it was best not to get too fixated about the number in respect to this proposal today, the key thing was the additional safeguards that we were putting in place, and the reassurances that we were putting in place that a strong case would have to be made in exceptional circumstances, for time limited periods, in order to hold people beyond 28 days.

Asked that if those political pressures were not there, would the Government have preferred to go higher than 42 days, the PMS replied that it was the Government's position that you had to get public and parliamentary support for what we were trying to do in relation to an issue like this. The public would want to be reassured that where the Government was taking exceptional powers in exceptional circumstances, there were the appropriate safeguards in place. That was why we had always said that we wanted to do this in as consensual way as possible.

Asked how this fitted in with the Emergency Powers that allowed the extension beyond 28 days, the PMS replied that there had been support in some quarters for using the Emergency Powers Act, but the Government happened to think that declaring a state of emergency may be a rather extreme step in order to deal with what may be a handful of cases. We were trying to take on some of the features of that proposal, essentially that the Home Secretary on the basis of a report from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the police, would have to declare that circumstances were such that it was permissible for someone to be held for more than 28 days. So in some sense, we were trying to take on some of the key features of that proposal, but do it in a way without having to take the extreme step of declaring a national state of emergency in order to deal with what might be a small number of terror suspects.

Asked if in the hypothetical situation where you reached that 42 day limit, would the emergency powers still be available, the PMS replied that journalists should check that point with the Home Office, but nobody was suggesting that this was being proposed here.

Asked which was the most important safeguard, the PMS replied that there were a number of important safeguards. The first was that should it be felt necessary that people would need to be held for more than 28 days, the Home Secretary would act only on the basis of a joint report from the DPP and the police, so clearly there would need to be strong and compelling evidence for that. Secondly the Home Secretary would then have to provide a statement to Parliament within two days, and there would subsequently be a vote in Parliament. In addition in relation to individual cases, a judge would have to approve each seven day extension. So it was the combination of the role of the DPP and the police in setting out the case for moving beyond 28 days, the stronger role for Parliament, and the judicial oversight.

Put that the vote in Parliament was just window dressing as theoretically the vote could be held more than two weeks after the deadline for charging or releasing someone, the PMS replied that there would have to be statement to Parliament within two days, and there would then have to be a vote in Parliament in order to approval the emergency situation that we would be in.

Put that someone could be held for 28 days, before we said we wanted the powers, then hold the vote, the PMS replied that what we were talking about here was a situation that was potentially fast moving and unpredictable. Clearly Parliament had to approve this overall framework, so there had to be parliamentary approval before we got to the circumstances whereby the Home Secretary could make those decisions.

Asked what would happen if it was 1st August during recess, and would Parliament be recalled, the PMS replied that Jacqui Smith answered this point this morning in her briefing. Obviously it would depend on the circumstances. If it was necessary for Parliament to be recalled, then Parliament would be recalled.

Put that Parliament would therefore have to be recalled before the powers could be used, as you couldn't make a statement to Parliament or have a vote, and asked would Parliament be recalled before the powers were used, or could they be used without any Parliamentary involved until they returned, the PMS replied that what we were proposing was pretty clear in the document. There would have to be a vote in Parliament within 30 days of the powers being authorised.

Asked if Parliament would therefore be recalled to deal with any terrorist held in detention, the PMS replied that the alternative proposal would be to declare a state of emergency, which would also require the recall of Parliament among other things. So clearly we were only talking about exceptional circumstances. The norm would be where we were now, but if the situation were to arise, and the evidence suggested that there was increasing trends towards greater complexity in these cases that suggested that it was a situation that could well arise, then it was right that we had provisions in place to enable us to deal with that if necessary.

Asked if anyone in the Cabinet or the Attorney General had raised any protests about this, the PMS replied that there was a general discussion of the broad principles of this issue at Cabinet last week.

Asked if everyone was signed up, the PMS replied that this was the Government's position.

Put that the previous Attorney General has said he would have resigned from the last Government had their proposals gone through, the PMS replied that this was the Government's position and was supported by members of the Government. And it was his understanding that the Attorney General had been involved in the policy development process.

Asked why there was this potential delay before Parliament got the vote, why not just say the statement had to be followed by a vote within two days, the PMS replied that what we would be dealing with would be exceptional and fast moving circumstances. We were saying that he vote would have to be up to 30 days, not necessarily at 30 days, so there was scope for it to happen sooner. But clearly when dealing with complex terrorist cases some degree of flexibility may be necessary.

Asked how it would be possible to have a debate during an ongoing police inquiry, the PMS replied that the debate would be had around the general circumstances that enabled the Home Secretary to reach the decision that it was necessary to hold people for more than 28 days.

Put that the Home Secretary would surely say that it was an individual case and therefore would be unable to go into details, the PMS replied that all of this was hypothetical. The key thing was that we were putting in place additional parliamentary safeguards that were not there at the moment.

Asked if proposals related to individual cases, so if there were 14 arrests for example would there have to be 14 parliamentary votes, or could these be all taken at once, the PMS replied that the position was as set out in the document. We were talking about a strictly limited period of time, and in response to a specific operational situation.

Asked if that meant they would all be lumped together, the PMS replied that the Home Secretary would say that we were now in circumstances whereby it may be necessary to detain people for more than 28 days, on the basis of a report. Individual cases would then be subject to judicial oversight and approval from a judge on each seven day extension.

Put that under the same invocation of powers, more people could be arrested later on, the PMS replied that we were trying to incorporate some aspects of the state of emergency proposal which would operate in the way suggested. But in a way that did not involve declaring a national state of emergency with everything that was associated with that. In a sense we thought there was merit in the Liberty proposal, but we were trying to do it in a way that was more finely tuned, and did not mean that we needed to take sweeping emergency powers to deal with a handful of cases. This could only be done on the basis of a joint report from the DPP and the police setting out the case. The Home Secretary could not just decide that this is what we were going to do. There had to be a compelling case made by the DPP and the police as to why it was necessary to invoke the powers that enabled people to be held for more than 28 days. We were not going to get into a discussion about exactly what those circumstances might be, because we did not know.

Asked if we would want to use these powers against Al Qaeda, the PMS replied again that this would depend entirely on what the circumstances were at the time. It was difficult to get into hypotheticals. The key thing was that we could only act once we had a report from the DPP and the police setting out why it was necessary.

Asked if this report would only be instigated when we reached somewhere near 28 days, or could the report come earlier, the PMS replied that it would obviously depend on the circumstances. What we were talking about was the necessary powers in order to extend 28 days, so you would not need to do this up to 28 days, but we could not describe every possible circumstance that may arise in the future. We were only talking about what was necessary in order to hold people beyond 28 days.

Asked if the Government was confident that a debate in Parliament would not be used by lawyers to claim that their client's case had been prejudiced in some way, and had we received assurances from our legal officers, the PMS replied that he was sure the Home Office would have consulted and taken legal advice on whatever they considered to be necessary. The specifics would be best raised with them.

Asked if the current DPP now back these proposals, the PMS replied that this was a matter for the current DPP.

Put that the current DPP had said that he was opposed to going beyond 28 days, the PMS replied that the current DPP had said that up to now it was not necessary to hold people beyond 28 days, and that was the case. But the DPP had a central role in this, and the DPP would have to be persuaded of the case for moving beyond 28 days.

Asked if the DPP had been involved in discussions, the PMS replied that it was his understanding that the DPP had been involved in discussions, and he had a central role in determining whether or not it would be appropriate to move beyond 28 days.

Asked if there was anybody outside the Government who actually thought this was a good idea, the PMS gave examples of Lord Carlile the independent terrorist expert, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Ken Jones the Head of ACPO.

Asked why there was no statement on this given the sensitivities and the Prime Minister's emphasis on telling Parliament first, the PMS replied that it was put out in a written statement this morning. The news actually broke ahead of this, there were discussions with the opposition parties yesterday because we thought it was necessary to consult ahead of time. In those circumstances it is quite difficult to control the exact manner in which the news gets out. But Jacqui Smith had put out a written statement this morning, and he was not aware that the opposition parties had objected to that.

Economy

Asked if the Prime Minister was still confident that the economy was "tickety-boo", the PMS replied that the Prime Minister's position was that no country can insulate itself from the ups and downs of the world economy. The key thing was whether or not the framework and policies were in place to steer a course of stability through what are uncertain times for the world economy.

Asked if the Prime Minister had confidence in the Monetary Policy Committee decisions, the PMS replied that as Chancellor and as Prime Minister, he was always prepared to back whatever decisions the Monetary Policy Committee felt it appropriate to make. But those were decisions for them.

EU Treaty

Asked how the Prime Minister could be appearing before the Liaison Committee and go to Lisbon, the PMS replied since yesterday the Liaison Committee had announced that they will be bringing forward the start of the hearing. This was a sign that we were doing everything we could to enable the Prime Minister to be at Lisbon for some, if not all, of the ceremony and lunch. But journalists should not read anything into this whatsoever, there were lots of precedents where people other than the Prime Minister had signed these treaties. He was the Head of Government, he negotiated the treaty, and he took full responsibility for its content.

Put again that the Prime Minister would miss the signing ceremony, the PMS replied that there were still discussions with the Portuguese Presidency about the exact arrangements, so let's see how that developed.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be the only Head of Government not to attend the signing of the Treaty, the PMS replied that he only spoke on behalf of the British Prime Minister.

Asked how these frightening summonses from the Liaison Committee come about, the PMS replied that Liaison Committee was the senior parliamentary committee and therefore it had to be treated very seriously, and with a very high degree of respect. As he was explaining yesterday, there had been quite a lot of uncertainty about when exactly the Treaty would be signed, the possibility it could be signed at the EU-Africa Summit, but our attendance at that depended on whether Mr Mugabe was there, and there was the possibility that it could have been signed in Brussels rather than Lisbon. So we were trying to juggle a number of balls simultaneously.

Asked who suggested the date and time of the Liaison Committee, the PMS replied that he did not have that information to hand, but did not want to get into the discussion of who said what when. We were doing everything we could, as was shown by the fact that the Liaison Committee had agreed to change the timing of their hearing.

Asked if the Prime Minister did not attend, would his fellow European chums not think he was snubbing them, the PMS replied not at all. There were lots of precedents for people other than the Head of Government signing treaties - Robin Cook signed the Amsterdam Treaty, Douglas Henderson signed the Nice Treaty, Douglas Hurd and Francis Maude signed the Maastricht Treaty, and Baroness Chalker signed the Single European Act. So there had been instances where people who were not even Cabinet Ministers had signed these treaties. Nobody got too excited about it then.

Asked if we had not asked the Liaison Committee to move the date, the PMS replied again that there was a lot of uncertainty about when the Treaty signing was happening, we also had to agree a date with the Liaison Committee and had to do this simultaneously. It was not straight forward.

Asked if the Liaison Committee took precedent over Lisbon, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had to attend the Liaison Committee. The Liaison Committee was the senior UK parliamentary committee.

Put that it was entirely up to the Prime Minister whether he appeared before the Liaison Committee or not, the PMS replied that given the emphasis that he had placed on the importance of Parliament and parliamentary accountability, it would not send a particularly good signal for him not to respond to the Liaison Committee's summons.

Asked if we had taken any steps to ensure that our European partners were aware of the fundamental importance of the Liaison Committee, the PMS replied that our European partners were fully aware of the difficulties we were facing, and were a lot less bothered about it than the Lobby were.

Misc

Asked how many times the Prime Minister had spoken to Wendy Alexander this week, the PMS replied that this fell into the category of both private conversations and Labour Party matters, and therefore he would not comment.

Asked what the Prime Minister's take was on Dave Hartnett's assertion yesterday that the lost CDs were part of a system failures, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was asked this question yesterday.

ENDS

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