BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 12:08 UK

New Terror Laws

On Sunday 30 March Andrew Marr interviewed Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary

'I am doing everything I can to keep this country as safe as possible', insists the Home Secretary.

Jacqui Smith MP
Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary ...Jeff Overs/BBC

ANDREW MARR: Now, if you're worried about the terrorist threat you may also be a trifle confused at the moment about the Government's strategy.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith wants powers to hold suspects for up to 42 days without charge.

Today there's news of protests around the world about that, and yet convicted terrorists have been let out of jail early. So what's going on? Well to talk about that and about her plans for local policing I'm joined by the Home Secretary, thank you for coming in.

Let's start with this. There are protests now around the world, people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the American Civil Liberties Union and all sorts of groups around the world are focusing on the 42 day proposal as something they regard as seriously hostile to the cause of liberty in the western world. Does that make you pause for thought? JACQUI SMITH: Well I hope that they've looked in detail at the way in which we've actually changed our proposals since we started.

I'm sure, like me, they share a concern about the growing and severe threat that we face in this country, and in fact across the world, from terrorism.

And I hope as the case I'll make this week they share my view, that if we're going to ask the police, the prosecutors, our courts, our intelligence agencies, to help us tackle that and in the short term to bring terrorist suspects to justice through our criminal justice system, we need to give them the tools to do it. And that's what this Bill is about, and that's what the period of pre-charge detention is about as well.

ANDREW MARR: And you say you would use this under extraordinary and exceptional circumstances. What kind of thing are you talking about?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, what we're talking about is, it seems clear and senior police officers have advised me very recently, that the growing scale and complexity of terrorist plots means that if we want to be able to get to a point where we are able to charge people - and let's remind ourselves what we're talking about here is not indeterminate detention, its holding people whilst you investigate and question them about an alleged terrorist attack or plot - and if we want to be able to ensure that we do that we need to have enough time to do it at a time when, one, plots are getting more complex, they're more technically complex, they involve more international links and therefore senior police officers tell me take longer to investigate.

And secondly, where because of the scale of what's being threatened , mass casualties, suicide bombings, actually for public safety quite often police have to step in early before a crime has been committed, and before evidence has actually been gathered.

ANDREW MARR: I understand what you're saying, but that is not an exceptional or unusual circumstance. That is life as it's being lived now and therefore I come back to this question, actually once you get these powers they're going to be there, they're going to be used again and again, its not going to depend upon an extraordinary event to trigger them?

JACQUI SMITH: No, they're not going to be used again and again, you know that's an argument as to why we need to find a way through this.

What we have, so what we have said, we've said we don't think that at this point in time there is a justification for extending that maximum period which is at the moment 28 days. But there is a consensus that we might in certain circumstances in the future need that, for example, if you had a series of multiple plots which you had to investigate, if you had an extremely complex plot that involved a lot of international investigation that was necessary as well.

If you had to intervene very, very early to prevent a serious plot from happening before you'd been able to get the evidence that you needed. If, for example, you'd had to, you'd had as we've seen the trend, extremely complex set of computer discs, for example, that you needed to de-code alongside some of those other complexities.

ANDREW MARR: That's about five ifs in a row. Is this a good way to legislate about something so hypothetical?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, firstly of course when we legislated to extend the period of pre-charge detention from 14 days to 28 days which many people opposed, which they said we wouldn't need, actually since the we have needed it in eleven cases where we've held people for longer than 14 days. Secondly, actually I think you know, is it right to legislate hypothetically, well I would say is it right to leave a risk uncovered? I don't believe it is. You know, we could of course, we could all sit on our hands here and say this is terribly difficult, we don't think we should do anything about it.

If we were then faced with the circumstance where we had to release a terrorist suspect because we couldn't carry out the investigation long enough people I think we would quite rightly turn round, not just to me, but to parliamentarians, and say "you had the opportunity to put in place a reserve power that could have been used if those circumstances arose and you didn't do it." And I think we need to take seriously what senior police officers and others are telling us about the trend of investigation.

ANDREW MARR: But it's really difficult this, isn't it? Because if you're always covering the hypothetical and the possible, you just get more and more and more security.

There was a great row about fingerprinting at Terminal 5, there'll be fingerprinting and there'll be special security checks on buses and trains next, it goes on and on and on, and it grinds down daily life for a lot of people. It just makes life that much harder, and there seems to be not end to it, it's just going to get worse.

JACQUI SMITH Well, it is really difficult, that's why we've taken an approach in this Bill to consulting, to changing the position that we started with. It's why we're now proposing actually NOT unless the circumstances arise, to extend that maximum period of pre-charge detention.

But we are proposing to do something that is proportionate and that covers off that risk. In some ways, OK, this is a win, win situation, If these circumstances never arise, if I am proved wrong and senior police officers are proved wrong and we don't need them, the will never have been brought into force. We will never have extended that period of pre-charge detention.

If, however, circumstance arise where we do need them then we have the power through this Bill to be able to bring them into force with considerable parliamentary safeguards and for any given individual with the safeguard of a judge having to make the decision in their circumstances.

ANDREW MARR: It sounds a bit as if you're stockpiling laws, rather than stockpiling guns?

JACQUI SMITH: No, what we're doing is we're covering off a risk that senior police officers have told me recently exists about which there is actually a consensus now, even across political parties, that there may come a time in the future when we would need to hold people longer.

ANDREW MARR Sorry, I beg your pardon. On the politics of this are you really going to get this through the Commons, because there is a big Labour party rebellion about it? senior Labour Party figures have been protesting about it.

JACQUI SMITH And I've been talking to people individually and I think we're getting a good response for the way in which we've gone about dealing with this. I need to make the argument to Parliament, as Home Secretary my responsibility is to do what I believe an what senior police officers, the independence reviewer of terrorism and others believe is necessary in order to protect this country form the serious, sustained and in some ways growing threat from international terrorism. That's my responsibility, that's what I'll do. I'll hope parliamentarians will take their responsibility serious to give those that we task with keeping us safe from terrorism, the tools to do it.

ANDREW MARR And will you win that argument?

JACQUI SMITH I believe and hope that I will.

ANDREW MARR While you're looking for more powers, at the same time convicted terrorists who've been through the process are being released halfway through their sentence. Does that worry you?

JACQUI SMITH They're not being released halfway through their sentence, I think what you may be talking about is the two who've been released up to 18 days early, 18 days, as part of the early release scheme. That I don't think should happen, that's why yesterday we changed the rules in order to make sure it wouldn't happen any more.

And of course one of the things we're going to do in the Bill I'm bringing forward this week is we will have aggravated sentences for those convicted of terrorist-related offences. And we'll make sure that convicted terrorists once released have to be subject to notification requirements, and will have restrictions on their ability to travel abroad.

ANDREW MARR But the law as it stands says that convicted terrorists are due for release halfway through their sentence.

JACQUI SMITH There isn't a difference of course with convicted terrorists¿

ANDREW MARR So there is a problem?

JACQUI SMITH From others¿ well no, what I think's important is the sentences for terrorism reflect the seriousness of terrorism.

That's why in this Bill we will be bringing forward proposals for enhanced sentences for offences related to terrorism. And it's while we make sure that when terrorists do complete their sentences and come out of prison we've got ways in which we can actually ensure that they notify the police about where they are¿

ANDREW MARR So you don't think the law needs to be changed to ensure that they stay there for the full term of their sentence?

JACQUI SMITH Well I do believe that the law needs to be changed as I've proposed. I don't think that there is the sort of fundamental sentencing problem that you're suggesting.

ANDREW MARR And if 42 days fails will you resign?

JACQUI SMITH I will take my responsibility seriously to make the case to Parliament. I believe that we'll be successful because I think parliamentarians, as I do, know that we face a serious threat here, know that we have a problem that we have to address. And if¿

ANDREW MARR But it, I'm using the if word now.

JACQUI SMITH I tell you what, shall I cross that bridge when I come to it Andrew? And at the moment I will focus on making the argument and doing everything that I can, not just only through legislation but through increased resources, through the way in which we in the longer term prevent people turning to terrorism and violence extremism in the first place to keep this country as safe as I possibly can. And that's what's, that's my job and that's what I'm intent on doing.

ANDREW MARR Did you know that so many illegal immigrants, some of them having been sentenced for very serious offences, were working in old people's homes up and down the country, and does that worry you?

JACQUI SMITH Andrew I think what you're talking about is the story on the front page of the Sunday Times¿


JACQUI SMITH Which relates to a report that was produced I think more than two years ago in the Borders and Immigration Agency.

ANDREW MARR Was it still true?

JACQUI SMITH We recognise that there is a problem, that's why since the report was produced we have undertaken some of the biggest reforms the immigration system has ever seen. We've introduced fingerprinting¿

ANDREW MARR So this is not still going on now?

JACQUI SMITH Well we've introduced fingerprint visas for anybody coming from abroad, we've introduced penalties on employers who employ people who don't have a right to work here. From the end of this year we'll be introducing ID cards for foreign nationals, we're doubling the amount of activity we spend on enforcement. There is an issue¿

ANDREW MARR What I'm trying to get to is, people will be very disturbed by this story, it's a very disturbing story indeed, and they'll be wondering is it happening now, around me, and homes around my part of the country, is this still happening?

JACQUI SMITH Well I think what people will want to know is that we responded to that report two years ago and that we are making the changes in the system that will minimise the ability for people to come here illegally, to stay here illegally, and to work illegally. And that's what we are doing, through the way in which we're tightening the¿

ANDREW MARR But you can't know what the situation is like everywhere, is what you're saying.

JACQUI SMITH Well by definition you do not know if somebody is here illegally. But what we do know is we are making the reforms to tackle that including, for example, this week when we make further announcements about how we are strengthening our border by bringing together in one UK borders agency the immigration staff, the customs staff, the visa staff, to strengthen our ability to protect our borders.

ANDREW MARR "The government is losing touch with what fairness means to the majority, to the mainstream majority," - Ivan Lewis your Health Minister. Now is that a rebellious act or is that a fair reflection of what other ministers think and fair comment.

JACQUI SMITH I don't, I mean you'll have to ask Ivan what he meant by that. I believe it is our responsibility as a government, and one incidentally which I think we are fulfilling to listen to the concerns of the British people.

ANDREW MARR Do you think there's a danger you've been in power so long that you're no longer doing that?

JACQUI SMITH Well its always inevitable that when you're in government you have to find ways to renew, to listen, to respond. That's certainly something that I think we have been working very hard on in the Home Office. That's why we are tightening the provisions around immigration, for example, that's why we have now proposed and I know that Ivan talks about some of these things, that's why we have now proposed¿

ANDREW MARR Ten years in prison for people carrying guns and he wants tougher policies on crime and immigration and so on.

JACQUI SMITH Well tougher policies on crime and immigration he's right about, and that's what we've been listening to the British public and delivering. That's why, you know, only a month ago we introduced the citizenship green paper, having listened to what the British people had said to us about the responsibilities that people really need to fulfil if they're going to stay in this country and move to citizenship, to play by the rules, to abide by the law, to speak English. Those things are important and we're now making them an integral part of our system.

ANDREW MARR: Do you agree with him that there is a problem¿ in terms of your core constituency?

JACQUI SMITH I don't agree with him that we're out of touch. I do agree with him that it is fundamentally important that we listen to what the British people are saying.

We've done that on immigration and that's the basis of the reforms that we're making, We've done it on crime and that's why as from tomorrow there will be everywhere across this country a neighbourhood policing team, police officers whose name you know, who you know how to contact, who are there on your street, who you can talk to when you take your children to school, who will have to listen to and respond to local people's concerns about what the priorities are at a local level, a good example of the way we've responded to the way people want to see the police reform.

We've already increased sentences in the areas of violent crime and we'll do more there as well.

ANDREW MARR Michael Martin, colleague and friend of yours. 1.7 million pounds he's claimed in expenses over the last few years. Is it appropriate that he's the person in charge of MPs determination to keep their expenses private?

JACQUI SMITH Michael Martin was chosen by MPs


JACQUI SMITH I think he does an important and good job as a Speaker. I think it's pretty tough when you have to do ceremonial events as he does in apartments which are effectively like state apartments to have the expenditure on those conflated with your own personal expenditure.

He's working hard, as are the other MPs on that committee, to make sure that we are straightforward, clear and transparent about our expenses and I have no doubt that they will come forward with proposals to make that happen.

ANDREW MARR And are you one of those who wants MPs to keep their expenses private?

JACQUI SMITH Well that is a decision for Parliament to take as far as the way in which they're appealing - I think you're talking about the freedom of information¿

ANDREW MARR But as an MP what's your view?

JACQUI SMITH Well as an MP I always have and I want to fulfil the requirements. I want them to be as transparent as possible. I have always made information about my expenses available and I've always complied with everything that I'm expected to do.

ANDREW MARR And would you be happy for your expenses to be made public?

JACQUI SMITH I will follow whatever rules are put in place for me, Andrew, as I think will the vast majority of MPs.

ANDREW MARR That's not a yes or a no, but for now, thank you very much indeed. Don't go away Jacqui Smith.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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