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Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Sunday, 8 June 2008 12:17 UK

The right thing for the country

On Sunday 08 June Andrew Marr interviewed the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith MP

The Home Secretary defends the 42-day detention plans, ahead of the crucial Commons vote.

Jacqui Smith MP

ANDREW MARR: Are you winning the battle Jacqui Smith?

JACQUI SMITH: Well I hope we are because I do believe that this is something very important that we need to do to provide the people that we're asking to investigate terrorism on our behalf to have the tools that they need.

ANDREW MARR: Where did forty two come from?

JACQUI SMITH: Well firstly what we realised was given the way in which the threat is developing, given both the scale of the threat, the ruthlessness of it, the fact that it's becoming much more complex both technologically and in terms of the international links, that as senior police officers have made clear to us it is highly probable - one of them said undoubtedly the case - that in the future in order to do a proper investigation into a large and exceptional terrorist event it may well be necessary to hold people for longer than twenty eight days in order to do that. So that's, what we're trying ..

ANDREW MARR: So that's longer than twenty eight days but where did forty two days come from?

JACQUI SMITH: Well I thought it was important that actually there was a safeguard, a maximum number of days that even in those exceptional circumstances it was possible to hold somebody for.

And that's why we determined that the maximum should be forty two.

ANDREW MARR: But ..

JACQUI SMITH: But frankly that is a safeguard. It's not a target.

ANDREW MARR: It's just, it's just people have said this is a number plucked at random.

JACQUI SMITH: No. It's a number ..

ANDREW MARR: So where did it come ..?

JACQUI SMITH: .. that I, along with senior police officers, judged to be a reasonable back stop, a reasonable maximum to hold people in order to carry out the investigation.

ANDREW MARR: So it wasn't just a case of, of saying well sixty, we're not going to get that through. Thirty five.

JACQUI SMITH: No it wasn't, no it wasn't Andrew. But you know what I've always said throughout this process is the maximum number of days isn't the most important issue. It is important that there is a maximum as a safeguard. But that's not the most important issue.

The most important issue is do we believe that at some point in the future we might need to hold somebody for longer than twenty eight days in order to be able to charge them and bring them to justice. And all of the evidence suggests that we may well need to do that in the future. And I want to make sure ..

ANDREW MARR: If that is the case why does the DPP, the current DPP say that it's not necessary?

JACQUI SMITH: Well he's certainly said, as I have said, that we haven't need to hol... haven't needed to hold anybody for more than twenty eight days up until now.

But I also need to look at those people we tasked to investigate the people who'll actually be getting the evidence ..

ANDREW MARR: So ..

JACQUI SMITH: .. getting to the point where we charge ..

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask directly, have MI5 asked for this?

JACQUI SMITH: MI5 have been very clear, as Jonathan Evans said, about the growing scale of the threat. That there are two thousand individuals ..

ANDREW MARR: Sure but have they asked for this?

JACQUI SMITH: Well nor did they - no, not directly but nor did they ask for the extension from fourteen to twenty eight, nor did they ..

ANDREW MARR: But surely if they ..

JACQUI SMITH: .. ask for the extension from seven to fourteen.

ANDREW MARR: They're the people who know ..

JACQUI SMITH: No but just a minute Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: .. but if they haven't asked for it.

JACQUI SMITH: No they, they have been extremely clear about the growing scale of the threat. Jonathan Evans said ..

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

JACQUI SMITH: .. last ..

ANDREW MARR: But that's different.

JACQUI SMITH: .. but that's .. no.

ANDREW MARR: But that's different from saying that we need forty two days of detention without people being charged.

JACQUI SMITH: No that isn't different. That is fundamentally the argument for what it is that we're doing.

The nature of the way in which the threat is developing. The challenge that that gives to investigators.

You know just let me give you an example. In 2001 when we investigated the last IRA terror plot the police seized one computer. They questioned people all of whose identities that they were clear about.

And who were based either in the Republic of, of Ireland, or in England. In two thousand and four that had gone up to two hundred and seventy ..

ANDREW MARR: Yeah.

JACQUI SMITH: .. computers. Eight different countries that they had to visit. In two thousand and six that had gone up to four hundred computers, lots of different countries where the investigation had to be carried out.

And the other point of course that's significant here Andrew is because of the, the ruthlessness of what it is that we're facing, because this is a suicide attack with mass casualties, police do have to now intervene much earlier in the period of the investigation ..

ANDREW MARR: Right.

JACQUI SMITH: .. than would be in the case in ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

JACQUI SMITH: .. any other type of criminal investigation.

ANDREW MARR: You've used the words I think "grave and exceptional terrorist threat". Now that's about the size and the lethal nature of a threat. But it's not necessarily about the complexity of a threat. You can have lots of complicated challenges and they might not - I mean you can call anything terrorist grave and exceptional.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it's got to be something that would have blown up the House of Commons or whatever. People are conf... people feel that you've confused two very different things. A complicated case and an exceptional and particularly lethal case ..

JACQUI SMITH: No.

ANDREW MARR: .. and fused them together.

JACQUI SMITH: Let's be clear in this, all of, what all of us want if there is a terrorist threat is to be able to arrest those people who we have a suspicion have done it, bring them to charge as quickly as possible, take them through the criminal justice system in the most effective way.

But, but it may be, because of the nature of what we're facing now, that the period of time for that investigation is extended. The reason incidentally for introducing the idea of grave and exceptional terrorist threat is because people said to us look, we don't want this to be something that is used routinely, nor do we. We want this to be something that is wholly exceptional and in order to ...

ANDREW MARR: But legally, it's such a loose term that it's almost useless.

JACQUI SMITH: Well interestingly enough it's a term that we took very almost word for word from the wording in the Civil Contingencies Act that very many people have said should be the sort of scale of, of emergency of threat that we're actually looking at here.

And we did it and put it on the face of the legislation, in amendments that I put down last week so that we could provide reassurance to people, that what we were talking about was something that would be wholly exceptional, that would support the fact that of course what we're proposing is not an extension of pre-charge detention now but something that would only even be brought into being in the future ..

ANDREW MARR: Well it could be brought in again and again and again by future home secretaries. Can I ask about the politics of it however.

Have you done a deal - not you personally. Has the government done a deal with the DUP and Stormont to allow two hundred million pounds or thereabouts of extra spending in return for supporting you in the House of Commons?

JACQUI SMITH: No. This is not about doing deals. This is about doing the right thing by the country and this country's security. And that's ..

ANDREW MARR: You say it's not about doing deals. I'm saying have you done a deal?

JACQUI SMITH: No. No. We have not.

ANDREW MARR: So the ans.., so that money is going to Stormont come what may however the DUP vote next week?

JACQUI SMITH: No. I don't know what's happening to that money because what I've been focusing on and what I've been talking to the DUP about is the danger that we face, the need to address it now, the proportionate way that we're going about doing it ..

ANDREW MARR: And in your conversations with the DUP ..

JACQUI SMITH: .. and I've been asking them for ..

ANDREW MARR: .. there's been no quid pro quo conversation at all?

JACQUI SMITH: Absolutely not.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think any of your colleagues have had quid pro quo conversations with the DUP?

JACQUI SMITH: I don't think so no. But what I've been ..

ANDREW MARR: So you don't think there's been a deal done?

JACQUI SMITH: No. What we've been concentrating on, as I say, is doing the right thing for the country, doing the right thing to mitigate the threat that we face, doing it I believe in an extremely proportionate way. And that's why I'm asking people to support this on Wednesday.

ANDREW MARR: And you've been sitting there looking at the numbers. Do you think this is going to get through?

JACQUI SMITH: I certainly hope it does because I believe it is the right thing to do. I think it is important. As I said to my colleagues ..

ANDREW MARR: And if it gets - sorry, if it gets through the Commons is it going to get through the House of Lords where Charles Falconer, you know former Lord Chancellor all the rest of it is likely to be leading the Opposition on the Labour benches?

JACQUI SMITH: Well we will continue to make the arguments as we have done that this is the right thing. As I said to my colleagues last week, this is the sort of decision frankly that isn't a choice about the sort of government you want, it's about what it means to govern at all.

It's the sort of decision that oppositions can avoid but which governments need to take. We have moved a very long way from where we started in order to reassure people about the exceptional nature of what we're proposing in order to ..

ANDREW MARR: So ..

JACQUI SMITH: .. put in place the safeguards. But in the end the threat ..

ANDREW MARR: Despite what a lot of lawyers and civil liberties and others, people say, this would be, it would be better for you politically to fight this and lose it with public opinion as far as you're concerned on your side than to make further concessions?

JACQUI SMITH: It would be better for us to put through now with the scrutiny that we've put in place, with the safeguards that we've put in place the measure necessary to keep this country safe. That's what I've been focussing on¿.

ANDREW MARR: Let me try and clear up one, one other issue that's been much discussed lately. Do you think that anybody caught with a knife should be automatically prosecuted?

JACQUI SMITH: I think if you're over sixteen you should expect to be prosecuted if you're caught with a knife. And that's the change that we made for the whole of the country last, last Thursday. We're building on the work that the Metropolitan Police have actually led along with prosecutors in London.

But I do think it's time to send out a very clear message to people that carrying a knife will not keep you safe. It will put other people in jeopardy, in danger and actually it will probably put you in danger as well. And this is one way that I believe that we can do that and we should do.

ANDREW MARR: You've suggested these, you've put down these deterrent sentences, exemplary four year sentences. Hardly anybody has had the maximum sentence up to now.

Been a very small number of people. Are you saying that in the future people caught with knives in particular dangerous or difficult circumstances will face four years in jail, will actually be sent to jail for four years?

JACQUI SMITH: The first thing to say is that that was a, that was brought in at the end of last year, at the end of 2007. We have already seen an increase in the average length of sentences for knives. We've also seen an increase in those coming in, or the proportion of those coming in front of the courts who get a custodial sentence.

It is of course a decision for judges to make about the detail of the sentence that they give. But I was very encouraged to hear Sir Igor Judge who, you know the senior criminal judge, being very clear both to the public and with his colleagues about the seriousness of knife crime and the need for sentencing to act as a deterrent.

ANDREW MARR: Do you agree with Boris Johnson about the boot camps?

JACQUI SMITH: I do agree with, with Boris Johnson that we need to find other ways that we can encourage young people to do positive things. That's why you know I was very pleased last week that Richard Cable the last sports minister along with the Amateur Boxing Association, I think were looking at how we can do more boxing academies.

It's why we'll be investing large amounts of money and have done in other positive activities for young people. But we also need to be clear about how we enforce where people have knives the law is now and make sure that is used as a deterrent.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you a general question about, about your role and how you see things? Home Affairs Select Committee has argued that Britain is now a surveillance society, that the level of surveillance, some people would say snooping by local government officials as well as national officials has reached a stage where it is changing the nature, the fabric of this country. John Major's used a similar phrase about the forty two days issue.

Do you think that we have been argument by argument, law by law, moving towards a society which may not be the kind of Britain that we were brought up to expect that we were going to enjoy for the rest of our lives, that really something deep down has changed in this country? We have become a surveillance society.

JACQUI SMITH: No I don't. I mean I certainly accept the points and will look very carefully at what the Home Affairs Select Committee have said about the need to safeguard privacy, to safeguard liberty but I'm a bit more ..

ANDREW MARR: Do you think we ... perhaps we ..

JACQUI SMITH: Well ..

ANDREW MARR: .. need more safeguards. They say that we do. Do you think we do?

JACQUI SMITH: Well let's look at what they say about the safeguards that we need. But actually I am sort of reasonably practical about this. I know that in my constituency people argue to have CCTV cameras.

I know that when, as it was then, the Labour controlled council in my constituency funded CCTV cameras in the town centre to help to protect people when they wanted to go out and have a, have a night out without being blighted by antisocial behaviour.

People supported it. So I know for example with the DNA database that tens of thousands of crimes have been solved because of the use of the DNA database. I know that ID cards will help me to prove more easily who I am and that somebody else ..

ANDREW MARR: It's just the other side¿the safeguards, the safeguards like you say ... they have to be ..

JACQUI SMITH: There is a balance ..

ANDREW MARR: Just before we finish ..

JACQUI SMITH: .. of course there's a balance Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Before we finish, another ghastly poll for the Labour Party in the papers today. Jacqui Smith potential Labour leader I read in at least one of the papers.

JACQUI SMITH: You can't believe everything you read in the newspapers Andrew. I'm getting on with the job, more importantly Gordon Brown is getting on with leading this country and this government.

ANDREW MARR: Must, must make you feel good though that kind of thing.

JACQUI SMITH: Well I'd rather people were saying nice things about me than horrible things about me but really I'm getting on with the, with the job and most importantly this Wednesday making sure that we do the right thing for this country's security.

ANDREW MARR: I think I remember Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Alan Johnson, various other people saying exactly the same thing but anyway Home Secretary for now thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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