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Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Sunday, 30 November 2008

Into conspiracy theory territory

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

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

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith answers claims that the Conservative MP Damian Green was bugged.

Jacqui Smith MP - Home Secretary

ANDREW MARR: We've already spoken this morning about the horrific evidence in Mumbai and we've talked as well just now of course about that controversy over the arrest of the Conservative front bencher Damian Green.

Now these are both matters for the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who also has a raft of new measures from binge drinking to prostitution coming up in the next session of Parliament and she's with me now.

Thank you indeed for coming in. Could we start with the terrorist issue because it's been widely said that this was a new kind of attack in Mumbai.

This was not a long planned bombing, but this was a widespread raid of people who ran amuck with machine guns. Does that mean that we have to in this country revise the way that we've been thinking about potential attacks?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, I mean the first thing to say is that you know this is clearly a very serious event in India. Our condolences of course go to those who've been killed and injured as part of it. Our first priority is to support both the Indian authorities and our nationals who have been involved in it.

But yes, of course, we do need to look in terms of our own work on terrorism at whether or not and what lessons need to be learnt. We of course need to revise the very important work that we do on protecting our crowded places, our country as a whole from terrorism, to bear in mind any lessons that we learn from this and we will do that.

But what it also of course identifies is what we have said, which is: We face a serious and sustained threat from terrorism, that is an international threat, it impacts potentially both on British nationals overseas and also on our interests and our country as well.

ANDREW MARR: Now we don't think at this stage, do we, that there were British nationals involved in the terrorist group despite some earlier reports?

JACQUI SMITH: Some of the earlier suggestions about this have actually been retracted. But we will of course need to look in detail...

ANDREW MARR: Early days.

JACQUI SMITH: what actually happened, yeah.

ANDREW MARR: We have very close contacts with Pakistan. If it turns out that this was a Pakistani based group, does that make Britain more vulnerable than we thought even before?

JACQUI SMITH: Well the first priority I think is that we are clear about, and the Indian authorities are clear in their investigations, about what happened. Incidentally, I think it does create a test for what has been a warming of relations between India and Pakistan, which is fundamental to us in helping to protect us and them from terrorism. It's important that that is maintained and it's carried forward on a calm basis.

But you know I mean actually we have always argued that we face a serious and sustained threat from terrorism in this country and that it has international links. That's part of the reason why our work, for example our longer term work to prevent people from turning to terrorism in the first place needs to operate both within the UK and internationally in third countries that we have important links with.

ANDREW MARR: We have never seen an attack quite like this before though. I mean it must presumably mean quite a serious review of how we, you know we think about terrorist attacks because this is unlike anything else; it could happen here?

JACQUI SMITH: Well what we do know is that international terrorism is able to develop, to evolve its threat and that therefore we need to evolve our response. We will look very carefully at the implications of this type of attack for our ability to be able to respond.

It's in order that we're able to do that, that we have of course significantly increased the resource that we're devoting to terrorism. It's why we're in the process now of reviewing our counter-terrorism strategy. It's why we will look and we have already started to look at potential implications for our ability to be able to protect our infrastructure, our people in this country as well.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to the other issue that sort of follows from that, I suppose, which is ID cards because you have made the case again and again that we need ID cards to help us against terrorism and that has been widely contested. At the moment the trials of ID cards seem, to put it politely, pretty thin.

There's a very small number of people involved, there aren't government scanners which would allow proper information to be taken. Isn't this the moment - we're facing a huge economic problem, everybody presumably in government has been asked to look again at their budgets - to actually say okay, hands up, it's time to put this on ice, save a lot of money and turn to more traditional ways of combating terrorism?

JACQUI SMITH: No. I mean first of all, Andrew, we have started just this week issuing ID cards to foreign nationals, you know so there is progress and this is a programme that is delivering. Secondly...

ANDREW MARR: And you're going to carry on with it?

JACQUI SMITH: Yes, we are going to carry on with it. Secondly, we have always said not that ID cards are the answer to terrorism, but frankly when the Al Qaeda training manual tells people; potential terrorists, that one of the things they should try and do is to get multiple identities, I think there is a link between actually enabling people to tie their identity to themselves and our battle against terrorism - secondly.

And, thirdly, on the cost, you know let's be quite clear about this. Firstly, we've been extremely open about the ten year cost of ID cards. Secondly, that cost has come down as we've developed the scheme. And, thirdly, anybody - opposition politician or otherwise - who suggests that there is a large amount of money to be found in this scheme is frankly wrong. 70% of the money is actually required anyway to develop biometric passports.

I hope there's nobody suggesting that we should be completely out of step with the rest of the world by not developing those. And the rest of it - one, will bring considerable benefits; and, two, will be covered by fees, as of course passport costs frequently are.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's turn to the other big story in today's papers. Damian Green, an honourable opposition politician doing his job, holding your government to account finds nine anti-terrorist officers inside his house, ransacking every aspect of his private life - letters between his wife and himself.

His daughter comes home in floods of tears to see this going on. Do you think before we start on any of the details that you owe Mr Green an apology?

JACQUI SMITH: Well now let me be clear. Any police investigation that involves an investigation of a senior political figure or an elected representative, as incidentally we've seen in other investigations in recent years, is highly sensitive and decisions need to be taken very carefully about it. But let's just, I think, also take a step back and remind ourselves where this investigation started.

It is not an investigation into whether or not opposition politicians use information that they receive to embarrass or hold to account the Government. That is a complete legitimate activity - it has gone on, it should go on, it will go on. This is an investigation, it started as an investigation of a systematic series of leaks from a department that deals with some of the most sensitive and confidential information in government.

A systematic series of breaches of security, effectively. And the idea that my Permanent Secretary or the Cabinet Secretary would not have been concerned about this, I think is frankly unbelievable.

ANDREW MARR: And yet given what happened to Mr Green - I come back to it - and given what happened to his family, do you not think you owe him an apology?

JACQUI SMITH: Well you know what we appear to be being asked...

ANDREW MARR: The answer seems to be no.

JACQUI SMITH: Well what we appear to be being asked to do by former home secretaries, by the Leader of the Opposition is to intervene in a specific investigation being carried out by the police who you know actually I...

ANDREW MARR: So this kind of stuff's alright?

JACQUI SMITH: No, wait a minute. Who I do believe, when they start an investigation should, as they have said they need to, follow the evidence where it takes them.

Now I started, Andrew, by saying that I think when it's an investigation that involves senior politicians and elected representatives, as others have, that it's extremely sensitive and decisions need to be taken very carefully. But frankly...

ANDREW MARR: So the four leaks that were being discussed, which one of those was to do with national security?

JACQUI SMITH: Wait a minute, Andrew. There are four leaks that are in the public arena. The point is that this started as an investigation into a systematic series of leaks about which of course it wasn't clear what had been leaked and what may not have been leaked. So the fact that something is in the public domain doesn't mean that those are the only leaks that have gone on.

ANDREW MARR: Well a leak tends to be... That's the definition of a leak, I would have thought, that it's in the public domain.

JACQUI SMITH: Well actually...

ANDREW MARR: But moving on from that, when did you know... Let's start right at the beginning. Who initiated the original leak inquiry?

JACQUI SMITH: Well that was initiated by the Cabinet Office alongside my Permanent Secretary because, as I say, you know actually breaches of security from a department that deals with some of the most confidential and sensitive information in government...

ANDREW MARR: And you knew right from the beginning?

JACQUI SMITH: ...are important.

ANDREW MARR: You knew right from the beginning?

JACQUI SMITH: I knew that there was a leak inquiry. I knew that there was an investigation.

ANDREW MARR: And did you yourself ask for a leak inquiry?

JACQUI SMITH: I did not ask for it myself.

ANDREW MARR: Did any other minister ask for it that you're aware of?


ANDREW MARR: Right. When your civil servant was arrested on 11th, you presumably knew about that?


ANDREW MARR: Did you know about that in advance?

JACQUI SMITH: I knew that there was an investigation going on in advance and I knew that there was likely to be action taken against one of our officials in advance, yes.

ANDREW MARR: Right. That was on 11th November. When did you, when you were told that Damian, or indeed a Conservative front bencher, was the subject of a police investigation?

JACQUI SMITH: I was told about the search and about the arrest after it had happened.

ANDREW MARR: What about my original question, which is when did you know that he was the subject of the investigation?

JACQUI SMITH: Well I didn't know specifically who was the subject of the investigation. And incidentally, Andrew...

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, did you know...

JACQUI SMITH: ...nor do I... No, I'm saying I didn't...

ANDREW MARR: It's quite important. I know, but did you know that a Conservative MP was being investigated before the arrest of Damian Green?

JACQUI SMITH: No because what I think is important here is that actually the police are able to use their professional judgement to pursue an investigation.

And, frankly, you know there have been a lot of charges thrown around here - the idea that you know this is Stalinism, this is a police state. In my book, Stalinism and a police state happens where ministers direct and interfere with specific investigations that the police are carrying out.

And I have been very clear that in my view the police should have operational independence, they should be able to pursue investigations in the way in which their professional judgement suggests. I don't know what evidence they are looking at.


JACQUI SMITH: Incidentally, neither do any of the other people that are commenting. And I do think it is important that if you believe in the principle of operational independence for policing, you believe in that even when they are difficult and sensitive investigations.

ANDREW MARR: So you knew nothing about an opposition front bencher going to be arrested by counter-terrorism police and it's right that as Home Secretary you knew nothing?

JACQUI SMITH: No, I think it is right that I knew that there was an investigation going on. I did not know before the arrest that that particular front bench spokesman or any front bench spokesman was about to be searched and arrested.

But actually what I think is right is that once the investigation is underway and the police are pursuing and gathering detailed evidence and using their professional judgement as to where that goes, that politicians shouldn't interfere in that detailed operation.

ANDREW MARR: Damian Green...

JACQUI SMITH: That's the view that I take.

ANDREW MARR: Damian Green clearly believes that he was bugged - that his BlackBerry was bugged, his phone was bugged. Now if that was the case, you would have had to have approved that, wouldn't you?

JACQUI SMITH: If that were the case, I would have signed a warrant.

ANDREW MARR: Did you sign any such warrant?

JACQUI SMITH: Andrew... No. Andrew...

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, I just... these are quite important questions.

JACQUI SMITH: Well because I'm sorry, Andrew, home secretaries don't confirm or deny which warrants they have or have not signed. But, frankly, you know let me be clear about this, we are getting totally into conspiracy theory territory here.

ANDREW MARR: So you didn't sign such a warrant?

JACQUI SMITH: Totally into conspiracy theory territory.

ANDREW MARR: You didn't sign such a warrant. As a politician, do you think it is appropriate that on a matter like this, which is about leaks, embarrassing leaks - they may be to do with public security but so far they've just been embarrassing leaks - that a politician, senior politician doing his job has his house invaded by nine anti-terrorist police who then hold him for hours and hours, who then go into the House of Commons, breaking parliamentary privilege and do the same thing there - surely as a politician, you can't approve of this?

JACQUI SMITH: Andrew, you have made a series of assertions about what this investigation is about. Now frankly, Andrew, you don't have the evidence that the police are looking at at the moment. Neither do I. Let me...

ANDREW MARR: So it's a lot more serious than we know, is it?

JACQUI SMITH: Well let me... Well you know the point is that let me remind us where we started. This was about a series of breaches of security in a department that deals with some of the most confidential and sensitive information across government - a systematic series of leaks.

I think it is right that investigation should happen there. What I've also said, and I started by saying this, is that you know this is not about politicians being able to use information that they come across to hold the Government to account, even to embarrass the Government.

That is and should always be able to happen. But you know to return to where this investigation started, the idea that the senior Civil Service or myself as Home Secretary would not be concerned about the operation of our department given the series of leaks that we face, I think would have been wrong.

ANDREW MARR: Alright. One last go. I think a lot of people watching will be very, very surprised, given what has happened to Mr Green and his family, that you do not feel able to apologise to him.

JACQUI SMITH: Well what I've said to you, Andrew, is that if you believe in the operational independence of policing, if you believe that the professional judgement of police officers during the course of an investigation should be able to take its course, well you believe that even when things are tricky and sensitive.

The idea that you charge into impact on operational independence when things get a bit hot is not a principled position. I believe in the principle of the operational independence of policing and that's what I'm carrying out.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about binge drinking, which is going to be probably the centrepiece of some of what you're announcing in the Queen's Speech. We've had lots and lots of initiatives about binge drinking over the years. This is another one. Why is this one going to work when the others haven't?

JACQUI SMITH: Well can I just say first of all on the Queen's speech, there will be a series of measures that are about actually ensuring that the rules we live by in this country are fair, that we're on the side of those people who are law abiding.

There is a particular issue about drinking that we will want to take action on and that's to say whilst we've seen crime linked to alcohol actually coming down by a third over the last ten years, there is still concern about alcohol-linked crime and disorder. You know I don't think any of us want to have our city centres with people you know lying on the pavements and being sick. All of us have a responsibility, therefore, to take action on that. That is additional support for the police, which we will provide, and it's also saying that industry has to take a responsibility alongside that as well.

Which is why what we'll be looking at is how we can strengthen the standards that we expect, particularly around irresponsible promotion of alcohol. We've consulted on whether or not that should be in the form of a mandatory code. I think it should be mandatory in terms of certain conditions around licensing that focus on the most irresponsible forms of promotion of drink.

ANDREW MARR: Do you not think that this government in relaxing the licensing laws in the first place is partly responsible for what's happened?

JACQUI SMITH: Well actually the evidence doesn't suggest that. It suggests actually that since the Licensing Act, there have been effectively an unchanged level of incidents related to alcohol. But I think what we do know is that people are concerned about both irresponsible promotions of drink and the impact of that, yes, on people's health, also on crime and disorder, and that's why... And also as well they're concerned about the impact on young people. So those are the areas that we want to focus our efforts on.

ANDREW MARR: So to be clear, can you stop for instance two for one drink promotions, women drink free - all of those kind of things that people have been talking about?

JACQUI SMITH: I think those are the things that we should be saying, you know, are unreasonable. Incidentally, the industry had a set of voluntary standards that should have helped us to make progress on those.

We asked for an independent review of those voluntary standards, which suggested that really they weren't being implemented in the way in which they should do. That's why we will now bring forward proposals for mandatory conditions on everybody, whether on the on trade or the off trade off-licences or pubs and bars, supermarkets who sell alcohol to stop some of those most irresponsible promotions.

You know and I think you've identified some of them - the idea that you pay a set price and drink as much as you can for the evening; the idea that if you're a woman and you go into a bar, you get to drink free; the idea that you might be running sort of games or promotions that actually encourage people drinking. And incidentally other things like you know making sure smaller glasses are available alongside larger glasses.

ANDREW MARR: Alongside the big ones. Alright. For now, Jacqui Smith, thank you very much indeed for joining us.


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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