JOHN HUMPHRYS: The government is rushing
through parliament David Blunkett's Bill to give it much greater powers
to deal with terrorism at home. Its critics (and there are plenty of them)
say it will destroy some of our most important civil liberties. But Mr
Blunkett says the most important liberty of all is to live free of the
threat of being murdered by a terrorist. Well, the Liberal Democrats are
appalled by the measures proposed. Their leader is Charles Kennedy and
he's with me now and I must start by wishing you a happy birthday because
it's your birthday today!
CHARLES KENNEDY MP: Well we don't want to dwell
on it, I think forty-two is not something to write home about!
HUMPHRYS: Forty-two! Lucky man.
Now then, the Bill. Let me quote you something you'll of heard of course
"there is a plethora of Draconian measures that are eroding our civil liberties
without justification" and that's one of your MPs, Norman Baker. Surely
the justification is that we do not want to be bombed by terrorists and
that justifies what is now being proposed.
KENNEDY: Well the right to life
and the right to the civil liberties that you and I enjoy as we speak,
broadcasting our views, our opinions, asking questions and so on, that
is fundamental and of course that must be defended. But you know you've
got to bear in mind in all of this that the terrorist, the kind of person
that commits the willful acts that took place in the United States a couple
of months ago, they're not interested in our civil rights. They're not
interested in free speech. I mean their idea of free speech is telling
innocent civilians on a jumbo jet on an internal in the United States,
you can go to the back of the plane with your mobile phone and phone up
people, your loved ones and say "I'm going to be dead in ten minutes' time".
So we have to get the balance right, that if we allow ourselves to get
into a situation where in fact we are suppressing our own individual rights
in the wake of these dreadful atrocities, actually the terrorist begins
to win, and that's the balance that I don't think is properly judged by
HUMPHRYS: But the greatest threat
of all is the threat to our life and if the government judges that, or
lives, if the government judges that the way to deal with these terrorists
who threaten our lives is to bring in this sort of legislation, then who
are you to say, who are we to say they shouldn't be doing that?
KENNEDY: Well there's a number
of things you have to bear in mind here. First of all, too often in history
and it's much easier to look at the history book than it is to gaze into
the crystal ball, rushed legislation has tended to remain on the Statute
Book and it's not been very good legislation. That's the first thing. The
second thing that you've got to bear in mind is that when the government
are proceeding as I think they should, and I think that we agree with quite
a lot they're doing, there is a sense that the Home Office has dusted down
from the shelves, one or two items that really don't belong in this legislation
at all and think, this is an opportunity to push something through that
we would otherwise have done. The religious aspects for example being a
good case in point. Now...
HUMPHRYS: ...incitement to religious
KENNEDY: ...that is something that
I think both Houses of Parliament have got to be very very careful about
in weighing in the balance.
HUMPHRYS: But what the polls seem
to tell us is that two thirds of the people are happy with this legislation
because they take the view that they are far more concerned about their
right to live than the right to these particular civil liberties that may
or may not be eroded.
KENNEDY: Yes and I think that most
people are troubled, quite properly so, by what's been developing internationally
over the last couple of months, to say the least and that they are right
to look to the government, to the state to protect them. But the job of
legislators, both in the Commons and the Lords is to make sure that it
is a judicious approach that you take to these matters and that you don't
allow yourself to get too far down a track which maybe suits the interests
of the state but longer term doesn't in fact serve the interests of the
HUMPHRYS: We'll look at how the
individual citizen might say my interest is going to be served by this
legislation. Take the question of people with 'proven' and I have to put
the word in quotes because it hasn't been proven in a court of law obvious
but enough to satisfy our intelligence people and all the rest of it...
HUMPHRYS: ...and people who don't
deny it anyway that they have had terrorist links, links with this appalling
al-Qaeda network, roaming the streets of this land at liberty. Now if what
this legislation means is that those people can be picked up and locked
up and may be deported or whatever, then that has to be the right thing
to do at this time, doesn't it?
KENNEDY: Well I think that, I mean,
I've discussed this with the Prime Minister and there is no doubt that
there are people as we speak, in our country who have got more than proven
terrorist links, no doubt about that whatsoever and that the law of the
land does not serve us well in that first of all, they should be picked
up, to use that phrase. Secondly, if possible, put before a court of law,
thirdly, there should be access for them to be deported to a country...
HUMPHRYS: ...might not be able
to deport them...
KENNEDY: ...well there is...
HUMPHRYS: ...because there might
not be a country that can accept them because they wouldn't...
KENNEDY: ...indeed. I mean there
is a real practical and philosophical problem here, but we should be going
down those routes before we actually find ourselves in the position that
certain people who may or may not have links with disreputable organisations
internationally are finding themselves falling foul of the law.
HUMPHRYS: Look I'm sure everybody
would agree that in the ideal world you arrest them, you put them on trial,
they are convicted and they are locked up. Fine, absolutely fine. But it
may well be that the evidence that would convict them cannot be presented
to an open court of law because of the kind of intelligence and expert...
HUMPHRYS: ...knowledge that is
KENNEDY: Very true and in that
respect you probably have to have some kind of judicial procedure which
allows such evidence to be presented but in private, or in camera, which
is always a rather confusing phrase...
HUMPHRYS: ...but either way not
for public consumption.
HUMPHRYS: ...but even then, you're
nibbling in to our civil liberties?
KENNEDY: Well I think you have
to get the balance right and I think the whole issue here is that you begin
with the starting point, which is the interests of the individual citizen
and you then move to what is the legitimate protection of that citizen
in terms of state power. And I do feel that David Blunkett is going rather
too far, too fast, in terms of what is now being presented before Parliament.
HUMPHRYS: A Select Committee of
MPs have looked at this and have decided for themselves that he's not going
to far, they're happy with it. Happy - I mean, who's happy with it? Nobody's
delighted that we have to do it, but they believe it's justified.
KENNEDY: Well I think that there
are strong elements of justification involved of course but I do think
that some of the aspects of this legislation are pushing the boat out just
too much where civil liberties are concerned. Now I hope and I don't know
yet as we speak, but I hope that over the course of the next twenty-four
hours, the Home Secretary will perhaps retreat in some aspects of this
and if that's the case, good and well. But if he doesn't I have to say
that the Liberal Democrats will certainly vote against the Third Reading
of this Bill in the House of Commons...
HUMPHRYS: ...you would do that?
KENNEDY: Yes, yes we will do that
tomorrow night if necessary. I don't want that to be the position but
the way things are looking at the moment, I fear it is going to be the
HUMPHRYS: But people will then
see that you're voting against such things as obviously detention without
trial which is a crucial part of the Bill and one that I.. that you've
made quite clear is unacceptable to you. If there is no other way of dealing
with those people than holding them without trial and there isn't, at least
that's what the Home Secretary tells us, that's what the police say, that's
what everybody seems to say, then the alternative is to leave them out
there on the streets where they are a threat to us?
KENNEDY: Yes but again what does
experience breed in terms of this?
HUMPHRYS: Have we've been quite
here before, have we had this experience before?
KENNEDY: Yes we have. We've had
everything from the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland...
HUMPHRYS: ...that's Northern Ireland,
KENNEDY: Well, you say that's Northern
Ireland if somehow that's a different thing. Those are citizens of the
United Kingdom, just like us.
HUMPHRYS: Indeed they are.
KENNEDY: And what did we learn
from that. I think we learned that it is not good to make martyrdom of
certain individuals if you can deal with it in a more properly processed
legal way, which recognises the individual rights of the citizen.
HUMPHRYS: So the upshot of that
is that you would be happy. Happy is not maybe the perfect word, but nonetheless
you would be prepared to see these people who are threats to us, to our
lives, roaming the streets in effect.
KENNEDY: No, I'm not in favour
of these people roaming the streets. Of course I'm not.
HUMPHRYS: ...so what's the alternative?
KENNEDY: Well, you know, the alternative
here as often in life can only be worse and the alternative is that you
and me and anyone watching this programme suffers a subjugation of individual
civil rights which are central to our country.
HUMPHRYS: And they might say "rather
that than lose my life"
KENNEDY: Well they might say that,
but I think...
HUMPHRYS: ...they very surely would.
You would. Come on, you would?
KENNEDY: Yes I certainly would,
but the, as an individual I would. But I think the point is, that you can
take effective action against people without the majority of law abiding,
peace-keeping individual people in this country actually having to suffer
a diminution of their individual civil rights. Now that is very important
and if Parliament is there for anything, it is there to defend, to promote
and to maintain those very principles.
HUMPHRYS: Nobody would argue that
it's very important, the question is where your priority lies, and at a
time like this when we're seeing an international terrorist organisation
capable of doing the kind of things it did in the United States threatening
this country, then you have to decide on your priorities, and isn't it
the case that what you're doing is you're saying .....and a lot of people
say this is typical Liberal wishy-washiness, we don't want...
KENNEDY: ...it's a very offensive
phrase that the Home Secretary used incidentally.
HUMPHRYS: ...well he did...
KENNEDY: ...any thinking reflective
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm sure that he is...
KENNEDY: ...should in fact...
HUMPHRYS: ...he talked about airy...
KENNEDY: ...should in fact have
a liberal sentiment when it comes to individual rights unto the rule of
law. Any sensible person has that. And for the Home Secretary of the day
to dismiss it as Liberal wishy-washiness I think is really arrogant and
HUMPHRYS: I think he went a bit
beyond that as well. I'm trying to find what he said...
KENNEDY: ...he probably did...
HUMPHRYS: ...airy-fairy libertarians
- it's only airy-fairy libertarians who want to stop this happening.
KENNEDY: ...airy-fairy libertarians?
Lord Donaldson, former Master of the Rolls, one of the most senior judicial
figures in the land, he's actually writing letters to The Times saying
that this constitutes something of a constitutional crisis. These are not
airy-fairy Liberals, come on?
HUMPHRYS: You've also accused the
government of tagging other things on to this Bill. You mentioned that
in your first answer, some criminal measure for instance. The problem here
is that terrorists often use criminal measures in order to get the funds
that they need. They rob banks or whatever it is they happen to be doing
and you can't always distinguish between the two, we found that in Northern
Ireland certainly, so again, isn't that an unfair criticism?
KENNEDY: No I don't think it's
unfair, I think that inevitably and you see this with private members legislation
in the House of Commons quite frequently, any government department and
the Home Office is probably one of the most active departments in legislative
terms, has always got stuff gathering dust on the walls that they would
like to do and maybe they'll find an acquiescent back-bencher that will
use his private members moment to bring it forward, maybe they might find
a piece of legislation like this, which is rushed legislation, emergency
legislation, to tag it on to. That is not, I don't think, a sufficient
or a compelling reason for bringing in some of the measures that are involved
in this particular set of Bills that both the Chancellor and the Home Secretary
are now promoting.
HUMPHRYS: Simon Hughes, your Home
Affairs spokesman, says that you'll try to delay the Bill in the Lords.
Isn't that actually being, at a time of emergency like this, given that
you accept that we face a sort of state of emergency, isn't that actually
KENNEDY: No, it's not. It's actually
highly responsible, in a Parliamentary sense because Parliament should
be there, and the House of Lords in fact in particular as the second guess
in Parliamentary terms should be there to make the Executive of the day
think twice. And the government do not have a majority in the House of
Lords and I think that when you look at what will happen in the next couple
of weeks when it goes before the House of Lords you will find that a combination
of Liberal Democrats, I hope the Conservatives, we're working with them
on this too and the cross-benchers will make them think again and that's
no bad thing.
HUMPHRYS: Charles Kennedy, many
KENNEDY: Thank you.