Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Smith attacked over 42-day speech

Jacqui Smith
Ms Smith had accused critics of crossing their fingers and hoping for the best

Jacqui Smith has come in for furious criticism for "offensive" comments made after her plans to extend detention of terror suspects was defeated by peers.

The home secretary was repeatedly criticised by peers and MPs on the joint human rights committee earlier.

She had accused critics of plans for 42 day detentions of being prepared to "ignore the terrorist threat".

Conservative MP Richard Shepherd said it was "incredible" while Lib Dem peer Lord Lester called it "disappointing".

The committee's Labour chairman Andrew Dismore said Ms Smith's "trenchant comments" had "offended quite a few people" and asked her for an explanation.

'Barbaric scourge'

She said she had not intended to upset people and accepted people held different points of view, particularly those with a "significant record of countering terrorism".

"My comments specifically were aimed at opposition parties who despite having numerous attempts to engage in a process of bringing us to a consensus has failed to move one jot throughout the whole of the process," she said.

Conservative peer the Earl of Onslow accused her of confusing "consensus" with people not agreeing with her.

It is an incredible position for a very new home secretary to launch into an attack on people who have been protecting our liberties for a very long time
Richard Shepherd
Conservative MP

He said D-Day veteran and former defence minister Lord Carrington had been among those who voted against the plan, adding: "Are you seriously saying that he was someone who was taking security lightly?"

Lord Lester said it was a "disappointing response from a home secretary".

He said all parties wished "to defeat the barbaric scourge of terrorism" but lots of people, including the director of public prosecutions (DPP), had opposed the plan.

Feathers 'ruffled'

Mr Shepherd quoted Ms Smith's speech in which she said she regretted that "some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat" and listed the DPP and former MI5 head Lady Manningham Buller as opponents of the plan. He said the language "angers and irritates people".

"Why are you as home secretary making assertions like this in an important speech? ... It is an incredible position for a very new home secretary to launch into an attack on people who have been protecting our liberties for a very long time".

If people are offended by what I said well in some cases I'm sorry, in other cases I'm not
Jacqui Smith

Ms Smith said she was sorry if "some feathers had been ruffled because of the language I used" but that was not her priority. She said she had to be sure Britain had the necessary potential legislation to cope with terrorist threats.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris suggested it was "particularly stupid" to make "party political" comments when failing to achieve a consensus.

He asked whether those opposed other controversial plans - such as for a database of all phone calls, emails and internet usage could expect the "same lambasting" as those who opposed extending pre-charge detention limits.

Ms Smith replied: "If people are offended by what I said well in some cases I'm sorry - in other cases I'm not - but I think actually the process that I went through was one that was aimed at building consensus, my criticism is about those who failed to engage."

Pressed on the plans for a database she said it was the "how, the where, the when and the who" - not the content of conversations, texts and emails which would remain "tightly controlled" under law.

She said communications data was "fundamentally important" in serious organised crime convictions and security operations but there were major changes in communications and the way records were kept of data.

She said they had to consider how to deal with it technologically and put in the necessary legal safeguards - the options would be in a consultation paper in the new year. Critics have described the plan as "Orwellian".

Asked if any work was being done before the consultation began, Ms Smith: "We have brought together a team to look at some of the technical solutions around what might be necessary to do, precisely in order to be able to inform the consultation, so that work of course is ongoing.

"But one of the reasons why we need legislation would be to put in place any necessary safeguards to enable that work to come to any sort of fruition.

"It is right... that there is legislation to provide both the legal underpinning for the work that is happening and the necessary legal safeguards as well."

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