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David Blunkett MP, Home Secretary
David Blunkett MP, Home Secretary

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID BLUNKETT, Home Secretary

NOVEMBER 18TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And live now to Sheffield, where we're joined by the Home Secretary David Blunkett. - David good morning.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: And may I say first of all, congratulations.

DAVID BLUNKETT: And what would I be congratulated on this morning?

DAVID FROST: Well there is always something isn't it - this morning it is-

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well thank you very much and happy birthday even though it's not your birthday.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very, thank you very much - not this morning it's the front page of the Sunday Times, you are now seen as the favourite to succeed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is miffed about that.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I think those who have good lunches and good dinners and speak on behalf of other people should reflect a little before they open their mouths. We're not in a contest for anything, we haven't got a vacancy, we've got a leader that's respected from Spain and the Balkans through to the United States and we're working together to deliver to those people who worked for us and elected us.

DAVID FROST: Well I thought you might say something like that but I knew you'd say it well.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you, what a star you are, this is not doing us any good at all - it's bad for you and it's definitely bad for me.

DAVID FROST: All right, well then let's get down to the nitty gritty then, because you are in the middle of probably the most controversial legislation you've ever taken through parliament - the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill - and key to that, we ought to start with, is this idea of detention without trial for six months, repeatable for another six months and so on, when the Home Secretary suspects someone from abroad of being a terrorist. And, as we heard today, people see that as internment, people see that as unfair - how do you defend that particular clause?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well firstly I think I've made a mistake, I think I presumed that those either from the civil liberties lobby or from those who have been writing the think pieces actually knew what the law was now. And I'm afraid it is very clear to me that they don't. We already have a Special Immigrations Appeals Commission, it was set up unanimously in 1997 by parliament to improve on what existed before and the Home Secretary already possesses powers, in terms of designating someone as not being conducive to the public good and therefore removable from the country. The difficulty that I face is not implementing those policies and using that appeals commission, which is empowered to take evidence from the anti-terrorist and security services, in camera, out of the public eye, but what I do in circumstances where I want to remove someone but the country I would remove them to would execute or torture them without a fair trial. And it's on that basis that I have the choice of either detaining them, with rights of appeal, with legal representation, or I let them go in the community even though the same evidence from the security services, the anti-terrorist services, which would have led them to be expelled from the country in the first place is available but I can't remove them. So do I just let them go in the community on the grounds that we couldn't find a third safe country?

DAVID FROST: But - you say with lawyers and so on, a lot of the writings about this say that in fact when they appeal after six months or whatever, that in fact the hearings will be in private and neither the public nor the detainee will ever hear the evidence. Is that right?

DAVID BLUNKETT: ... the advocate on behalf of the detainee will have the evidence, and that is exactly the situation that exists at the moment in those cases where I can remove people and we have this confirmed five, just over five weeks ago by the House of Lords, where Mullah Rehmon had been fighting for five years, saying that the system was unfair that the thresh-hold of evidence was not sufficient, that the process through the Immigration Appeals Commission was unacceptable, the House of Lords affirmed five weeks ago that it was, that the way it operated was perfectly reasonable and that parliament knew what it was doing in 1997 when it unanimously agreed to put that bill through. So I'm afraid, you know I've read all of the - well I haven't read them all - but I've read a number of the quite vitriolic comments from the very far right and the very far libertarian left, I've read abuse from the Observer leader and from Nick Cohen's signed piece in the Observer, these are the same people who said that we shouldn't take action in Afghanistan, they're the same people who said that we should leave Milosevic alone in Serbia, I think time will only tell.

DAVID FROST: And in terms, though of this thing, you had to make this a technical state of emergency in order to get round the Human Rights Act, how long will we have a state of emergency, because after all nobody would really feel that the nation's future is at stake this week, or whatever? How long - how long would that state of emergency last David?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well just let me say this, a wounded and a cornered tiger is more dangerous than ever, so the fact that we hold two-thirds of Afghanistan has not made the terrorist threat disappear. And I think that those who suggest it has, particularly those who were against the action we took in the first place, need to reflect rather more before they write or speak on these matters. Secondly, we will not keep this in being any longer than is necessary, we will have annual renewal in any case, but no one, no one is going macho, no one is trying to do this for the sake of promoting some sort of vitriolic or anti human rights agenda. We're doing this precisely because the security anti-terrorist services say that there are people in the circumstances I described earlier who we would normally be able to remove from the country, but at the moment they would be able to claim habeas corpus and stop me being able to remove them. I could remove them if they didn't, if they had a safe country to go to, I could of course extradite them where extradition has been agreed with a particular country and if people bear that in mind I think they'll come back down with their feet well and truly firmly on the earth again.

DAVID FROST: And in fact you were quoted this week as having said to a group of journalists that you in fact regard this Human Rights Act into British law as the biggest mistake of the first Labour term.

DAVID BLUNKETT: No I didn't say that, I've never said that and I think what the journalists were referring to was the fact that it was very important indeed that parliament actually has the primacy, in terms of being able to respond to people's wishes. In other words, that we can make a difference to people's lives, if there is a problem we as a parliament should respond to it, we shouldn't abrogate that responsibility to the judiciary. And I think that's important to get people to take politics seriously , to see that the political process can change their lives, can respond in times of trouble. And that's why of course Article 15 of the European Convention was invented in the first place, which is the article I'm using in order to be able to delegate to take these powers.

DAVID FROST: But you were saying there that these powers, the detention without trial, no judicial review and so on, that they will be reviewed in one year's time and so there's, are you saying - there's no danger, because one thinks back to Gladstone introducing for one year the idea of income tax and it tends to still be around today - you're not going to get tempted to do something like that, are you?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I'm not tempted at all, and in fact I'm amazed to read, including from one of my backbenchers who is a barrister, that he doesn't understand that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission is a judicial review - it's a review of the certificate of the Home Secretary and there is a right of appeal to the Appeal Court or the House of Lords if leave is given on a point of law. I just wish people would go back to square one and take a look at the acts we've already passed and how I'm trying to build on them.

DAVID FROST: Hugo Young said this week in his column that the effect of all this is that he alone - meaning yourself - will strike the balance for the country between security and liberty but who will hold him to account?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well the House of Commons will hold, and the electorate will hold me to account, which is more than can be said for columnists. And he also said that I'd stated there were 16 people, a precise figure - I never said anything of the sort, he has no proof of that whatsoever. So I, I ask people to take with a pinch of salt some of the material that's been written because people really do need, firstly to be good enough to address the issue as it remains and secondly to allow us over the next two or three weeks to debate these matters through parliament sensibly, and of course if I get it wrong to come at me, to criticise me, that's the great strength of our democracy, that we are debating these issues openly and transparently and if I get it wrong my head, as I once said about literacy and numeracy, is on the block.

DAVID FROST: And when the Labour Lord Robin Corbett says that your measures amount to internment and that whenever and wherever we have introduced internment, it has failed, is that a fair point?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we had internment, we then had the courts, we then had three wise men and women and they, that was overturned by a judgement the Shahal judgement in the Strasbourg Court and that's why in 1997 the Special Immigration Appeals Commission was set up and we had a new system and it's the new system I'm working, adding to it but if I can't actually remove somebody because they would be tortured or murdered, I will detain them instead. It seems to me eminently reasonable but it would wouldn't, because this is the middle road that I've chosen to go down.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the war, David, as a member of the War Cabinet, the front page of the Observer said Britain last night signalled its grave concern about a dangerous face in coalition forces in Afghanistan, of heavily-armed warring factions demanding that foreign troops get off our sovereign soil. In a series of developments which showed that the war in Afghanistan was in danger of slipping into diplomatic and military chaos, Geoff Hoon the Secretary of State for Defence told The Observer the situation on the ground was pretty grim and that a contingent of 6,000 British troops may not now be deployed in Kabul. True or false?

DAVID BLUNKETT: No, it's speculation. The bulk of those who are leading the various factions and welcomed the limited intervention made so far, all of us want a rapid diplomatic input and solution but we are dealing with warring tribes and I think those who immediately after having condemned us in the first place, then acknowledged that we'd made enormous progress then have to find, God help us, reasons for doom and gloom. Let us be cautious but optimistic, but let us move quickly to feed people and to put together a government that can actually bring stability to this war-torn region.

DAVID FROST: Thank you David, we'll just get the news headlines, we'll come back to you if we have time.

NEWS BREAK

Just time to thank you, first of all David, David Blunkett thank you very much indeed.

DAVID BLUNKETT: And thank you to you my dear friend, next time we'll have a cheerful subject to talk about.

DAVID FROST: All right, we'll find it - it's up to you to find it though. Our thanks to David Blunkett.


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