JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first the government
is in some trouble with its new legislation to counter terrorism. The problem
is that so many people (especially in the House of Lords) think the new
legislation goes too far - that it's a ragbag of proposals that go well
beyond the declared objective of stopping the terrorists. That's why the
Lords voted to change so many of its clauses this past week. They're threatening
to do it again this coming week. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has
made a couple of concessions, but not enough to satisfy his opponents.
One of whom, is the Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, and he's in our
Cambridge studio. The Home Office Minister, Lord Rooker, is with me here
in the studio.
Let me turn to you first
though, Mr Letwin, if I may. David Blunkett, he's written a piece in one
of the papers this morning, says that you are actually putting the country
in danger by sabotaging this Bill?
Can you hear me Mr Letwin?
- oh, I don't think he can. I think we have a bit of a problem in that
case, we'll try and get back to him if he can hear me - no he obviously
So, let me put that to
you, Lord Rooker, it's an extraordinary serious accusation to make this
- "you are putting the country in danger" because in effect you are doing
your job, which is to scrutinise a Bill.
LORD ROOKER: I've got no problems about
scrutinising and revising legislation. The fact of the matter is though,
last week's series of defeats went to the heart of trying to wreck the
legislation. I mean, I'll give you one example, there's an attempt in
the Bill to give the police some powers in advance of a criminal proceedings,
to make enquiries of public authorities. To decide if you like, whether
or not, to investigate fully, it may or may not come to a prosecution.
So, it's an extension of police powers, not even a new police power. That
was taken out. There are one or two other areas of the Bill, where they
have just taken them out in a very crude fashion and I think what we will
try to do, we'll make the case in the Commons, we'll certainly make the
case in the House of Lords this week. I'm fairly convinced myself, we
can get royal assent before the end of the week. We have given some fairly
substantial concessions by the way, contrary to your introduction with
solid sunset clause on the detention powers after five years.
HUMPHRYS: Sunset meaning that it
will get through even after a certain period of time..
ROOKER: ..well it means the legislation
finishes, it can't be renewed by a minister or secondary legislation.
It has to be started all over again.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, but let me come
back to that. But the principle point that I'm making here is that the
Lords have a responsibility, a duty, you are one of them yourself obviously,
to look at legislation that they don't like, for whatever reason, rightly
or wrongly and say we don't like this, we want to see it changed. Now,
to say that because they are doing their job, they are putting the country
in danger, is surely so far over the top, he almost needs to apologise
ROOKER: No, it went well beyond
revising, to remove some of the powers that we are trying to give to the
police as to the way they can carry on investigations in advance of a criminal
proceedings. This is the issue about terrorist activities, redefining in
the law and I know it's difficult for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. The
most innocuous, narrow, minor crimes, a traffic offence, could actually
lead to the discovery of a terrorist offence. Now, we can't separate out
some terrorist activities from the major terrorists offences, it's extremely
difficult and I think we have to allow the police, whether it's the MoD
police, the British Transport Police, or the ordinary Home Office police,
to have the powers, as it were, to look in the round, to try to put the
jigsaw together, to make the big picture. That's what we are seeking to
do. But to...
HUMPHRYS: ....in such a hurry,
they had three days to discuss it in the Commons, three hours in the Lords....next
week they'll have in the Commons to discuss when it comes back from the
Lords. I mean this is...
ROOKER: ..no, the Lords will have
had eight days. I agree - that's longer than the Commons and the real
HUMPHRYS: Three days in the Commons?
- I mean..
ROOKER: It's had three days in
the Commons, I accept that, that is short...
HUMPHRYS: And this is profoundly
ROOKER: ..the Lords have had eight
days on the Bill, the real problem for the Lords is that there's no gap
between the stages and we want to meet that and address that and we've
offered to consider some kind of arrangement for a review of the Act of
Parliament, after say fifteen months or a couple of years, by a group of
people to report back to the Commons and the Lords...
HUMPHRYS: But these are privy councillors
in effect, aren't they?
ROOKER: Well it would be because
they could have total access to all the security information. It can't
be done in any other way...
HUMPHRYS: Well, it's not the same
as the House of Commons. I mean what you are doing, is you are saying
to the House of Commons, in effect take this on trust, we want you to do
all these things, including things like - also on incitement on..to religious
hatred, which a lot of people think shouldn't be in here anyway and if
it is going to be there, deserves a huge amount of discussion on itself.
But you are saying, let's rush it through and then, in a year or two years,
or whatever it may be, a small group of people will be able to have another
look at it and make recommendations. It's hardly reassuring it is.
ROOKER: It is in the sense that
the actual detention rules in the Bill will be reviewed in a statutory
basis by the person who reviews the Terrorism Act. There's a laid down
legal process for reviewing that part of the Bill and insofar as other
possibilities, let's be sensible about this, there's a lot of issues in
this Bill which are really moderate precautions, things like having the..the
police having the names and details of people who work with dangerous pathogens
HUMPHRYS: And a lot of people think
that's terribly sensible and a lot of people think there is a great deal
in this Bill that ought to be passed and passed quickly but....
ROOKER: They are precautionary,
sensible, moderate issues. It's true the Bill is long and it looks complicated
but the central issue is very simple. We are taking the most reasonable
precautions we can to protect ourselves from international terrorists who
re-wrote the rule book on September 11th ...
ROOKER: We are re-writing our rule
book and we need to do it as quickly as possible, let's face it it took
us eleven weeks to get the legislation, we didn't bring this in the week
after September 11th. We have actually thought about it. Every stage that
the Bill has gone through Parliament, it's been changed. It was changed
in the Commons, it was changed on the Lords Committee, it's been changed
in the Lords Report, it will change on Lords' Third Reading. It will change
again as it goes through this week. So, we are not setting our face against
HUMPHRYS: But let's look, if the
Bill is so important and if there is a need for urgency, as you convincingly
say, because of some terrible things happened on September 11th, we don't
want that to happen again. Of course, everybody would agree with that.
In that case, why did you make the Bill so comprehensive, why did you bring
in things that do not have to do with terrorism? Such as incitement to
racial hatred for instance and all sorts of other things that you must
have known would upset a great many people.
ROOKER: Ah, but there isn't, no
you may say that, there's two clauses on bribery and corruption, international..
which was nothing to do with terrorism. It may be the funding if you've
got overseas companies doing back handers. Nevertheless, there was a consensus
amongst the parties that that would be in the Bill anyway. On the incitement
to racial hatred, let's get this clear, the race relations legislation
covers two religions...
HUMPHRYS: ..religious hatred..
ROOKER: But the Race Relations
has the effect of covering two religions, the Sikhs and the Jews. Others
do feel let out on that, the Blasphemy Law, just covers the Church of England,
not even Roman Catholics. People were being attacked after September 11th,
because they wore a turban or a beard. There were physical attacks on people,
now if we can take action to prevent that, to say we are serious about
this, that people are not going to be discriminated against in this country
because of their religion or their race, then this Bill was a suitable
vehicle for that. Now, that's not to say it's intrinsically attached to
terrorism but this was something in terms of social cohesion in this country,
we took the view. Like, for example, other issues, whether it be data retention
which is not so intrusive, taping people's phone conversations...
HUMPHRYS: And which Elizabeth France,
the Data Protection person doesn't like.
ROOKER: Yeah, but the voluntary
code of practice won't occur unless the Information Commissioner agrees
or industry, because we want to do it voluntary...
HUMPHRYS: But it may not end up
ROOKER: We've had good voluntary
co-operation since September 11th, we're not looking for people's phone
conversations, we'll look for the details on the bill for the phone if
you like, the date, the time the call took place and the two phone numbers
that were inter-changing. That's what basically we're asking people to
retain. We are not asking for new information by telephone providers, it's
what they already use and retain at the moment. Voluntary as a first priority,
agreed with the industry, and Elizabeth France the Data Commissioner, because
if they don't agree it won't be a voluntary code in the first place.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, let me come
back to you in a moment. Because I'm told we can, Oliver Letwin can now
hear us, can you Mr Letwin.
OLIVER LETWIN: Indeed, yes.
HUMPHRYS: Oh good I'm sorry about
that problem there, that's one of those things that happen. Now look, you'll
have read what David Blunkett says about you this morning, you may have
heard what Lord Rooker said to me when I put it to him, he said Mr Blunkett
that you are putting the country in danger by sabotaging this Bill - a
very serious allegation against you.
OLIVER LETWIN: I must say I regret the
fact that the government's going over the top on this. We join the government
and I think all parties and certainly all peers in trying to have, wanting
to have a Bill about terrorism, genuinely about terrorism on the statute
book by Christmas. That is common ground, it's been common ground all
the way through. What we're arguing about and I think inevitably we will
have to argue about are the bits of the Bill which don't really have anything
to do with terrorism. Now, on some of those I think the government's doing
the right thing. Jeff Rooker is quite right, they appear to have made
a major step forward towards a consensus by offering effectively to remove
the parts that deal what would otherwise have been the imposition of things
like European arrest warrants in ninety minutes in a committee upstairs
in the House of Commons. Quite intolerable, nothing to do with terrorism.
I think they've moved to get rid of those. If they have that's very welcome,
we'll work with them. But there remains some elements here where there
are genuine doubts. Now, I don't know how far the Government's amendment
on the incitement to religious hatred which you were talking about just
now will turn out to solve the problem. It may, and if it will then we'll
certainly go along with it. We've no wish to seek confrontation where
we don't need it. We'll look at that obviously in the Lords and in the
Commons in the next few days. I hope we can reach consensus on that too.
I'm delighted that the Government is moving on the question of sunset
clauses. We all want to see this very rushed legislation be subject to
....(INTERRUPTION) .. that has to be renewed.
HUMPHRYS: Are you satisfied with
this idea that a group of councillors, six or seven privy councillors will
sit down and have a look at it. Are you satisfied with that?
LETWIN: Well, I don't know because
we don't know the details yet. The reason we have a parliament is of course
that we can tease out all these details rather than having to do it you
know, in fifteen minutes on Friday night when the Home Secretary has a
press conference. But we will tease out the details, and it may well be
that that will do the trick or very nearly. Now we come to the things
which the Lords changed in the last couple of days, and as I say I regret
the tone of voice, I think the slightly bullying tone of voice that the
Government's chosen to adopt. I hope it will go back to talking reasonably
as Jeff was just now. We can talk about these things. The argument the
Home Secretary is making is an interesting one. He's saying that in order
to catch terrorists which we all want to do, he has to allow I think it's
eighty-one government agencies and quangos, everything from the BBC to
the NHS to reveal all of a person's records, if they are being investigated
for example for a traffic offence in the United States. Now I find that
a difficult chain of logic to follow.
HUMPHRYS: But aren't you being
a bit na�ve here, and I think this is the point that Lord Rooker was making,
assuming that there is this kind of neat division between somebody who's
a terrorist and somebody who's a criminal. And if you have to have the
powers to investigate terrorism properly you might need to use it as a
kind of criminal - take it to investigate criminals and therefore pick
up the terrorist on route, because terrorists and criminals are often the
same people, and they're doing the same kinds of things.
LETWIN: I absolutely agree with
that. A point we've been making for some months now is that for example
serious corroborated crime and terrorism converge to a great degree, and
of course it's right that when the police or the security forces are investigating
someone for terrorist links they ought to have the ability to dig under
and find things which those same people may have been doing by way of Social
Security fraud or any number of other things as a way in. And for example
Al Capone, very famously the terrible Chicago gangster was eventually got
over a tax evasion charge. Much to the benefit to the people of Chicago.
Now if what the Government was proposing was that when the police were
investigating someone for alleged terrorist offences, or terrorist related
offence they could go into all their records even if it was about quite
other offences that they were looking at we'd have no hang up at all.
The problem is here we're talking about a power which is as it's currently
phrased as we understand it, and it's open to ministers to persuade everybody
including the Law Lords incidentally who object to this, that we'd misconstrued
the phrase, but as we currently understand it what's proposed is if somebody
has nothing to do with terrorism and the police don't think they've got
anything to do with terrorism, but the police think that they may have
committed a traffic offence anywhere in the world for example, any offence
anywhere in the world is the way it's classed, then they can go and get
all their records from every agency and every quango. Now, I don't yet
understand how that is necessary for the purpose of pursuing terrorism,
I do understand that it poses some quite significant issues about civil
liberties. It's an arguable case, but it's one that ought to come through
Parliament in a mature fashion, not be ran through it.
HUMPHRYS: Given that it's an arguable
case are you prepared to see it killed off before Christmas if necessary
to protect the civil liberties which you describe. Are you prepared to
see it killed off?
LETWIN: No, I don't think any of
us want to see this Bill killed off. We want to see this Bill ....
HUMPHRYS: You might not want to,
but are prepared to do it?
LETWIN: Well, I prefer not to be
so to speak put over a barrel on that. I am seeking to get a consensus
with the Government.
HUMPHYRS: But if it doesn't get
through - sorry to press the particular point - if it doesn't get through
before Christmas as a result of what is done in the Lords, you will say
LETWIN: Well, I understand where
you're trying to push me so to speak, and then we get to an escalation
of this argument, and I don't want to escalate it, I want to calm it down.
I actually want to arrive at a consensus, I think the Government wants
to arrive at a consensus. At the moment I'm refusing to contemplate the
idea what we won't arrive at a consensus by Christmas. I think we should,
we can, the Government's on the move. If it would just calm down the language,
stop seeking confrontation we can work something out.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, let me.....
LETWIN: We just have to work having
this Bill on the Statute Book, and we need it.
HUMPHRYS: Thank you. Let me just
put that point quickly to Jeff Rooker because I want to turn to another
issue as well before we close this discussion. Lord Rooker, he doesn't
like the language, a lot of people might say the language is offensive.
Would you like to calm this whole thing down and are you prepared to make
more concessions that might enable this to get through before Christmas?
LORD ROOKER: Well if it's a general acceptance,
none of the powers in this Bill will allow generalised fishing expeditions
into people's private lives. Let's get that absolutely clear.
HUMPHRYS: ...no but in very broad
ROOKER: ...no, no...
HUMPHRYS: ...without going into
ROOKER: ...no, no it isn't...
HUMPHRYS: ...are you prepared to
make further concessions...
ROOKER: ...it isn't a detail. The
extravagant language that we are tearing up the rule of law, that we're
going to have mass surveillance on millions of people is totally extravagant
language as compared to the actual words on the face of the Bill. We want
to get consensus, we were promised shoulder to shoulder support of course
by Iain Duncan Smith. Now no-one's asking him to sign up to all the jot
and every dot and comma of the detail, but the general view was we would
get support and yet we did have wrecking amendments passed in the Lords
on Thursday. We've made amendments to the Bill and there will be other
amendments that we will seek to make. We are trying to build as wide as
support as we can and we will do this whether it's on the religious incitement
or whether it's even on issues like judicial review. So we do want to work
in co-operation but we must have the royal assent for this Bill before
the end of this week.
HUMPHRYS: Okay, let me...
ROOKER: ...that's absolutely clear.
HUMPHRYS: Right. Thanks. Let's
turn to this other point now, we have reports coming out this week in the
next few days on the rioting in Bradford and Burnley and Oldham during
the Summer, racial problems, severe racial problems in some cases. They
are apparently going to address the issue that ethnic minorities in Britain
need to develop a British identity. This is one of the thinks that David
Blunkett has been saying. Should they, do you think, should ethnic minorities
in this country, make a greater effort to integrate into British society,
in the government's view?
ROOKER: Well integrate, but not
assimilate and I think the report...
HUMPHRYS: ...yes I used the word
ROOKER: ...yes I know you did and
I appreciate that, but the reports are much more detailed than that. Of
course there are a lot of cities in this country where there are large
numbers of ethnic minorities where there wasn't any trouble and it is important
to look at what happens in those cities as opposed to the ones where the
difficulties were and I think some of the issues raised, it's not been
politically correct to talk about this in the past and I think we should
talk about some of these issues in order to help solve them, not to bury
them. And I think that's what the Home Secretary in the report that'll
be published this week seeks to do. No-one's under attack, far from it,
we've got to live together on this island as well as live together on the
planet and that's what we're seeking to do, while protecting everyone's
heritage and culture for people to pass their heritage and culture onto
their children, but to maintain activity and participation in society and
you can't do that if you close yourself off.
HUMPHRYS: Thanks very much for
that. Oliver Letwin, is multi-culturalism as we understand it, as we've
come to understand it, effectively dead, should it be?
OLIVER LETWIN MP: Well, if that means the idea
that we don't have any common allegiances then I hope it is dead. If it
means that people should be allowed to live their own way of life in a
tolerant, free, open society, then of course it's, I hope, alive and kicking.
And actually this is a point about which we agree with the government.
It's actually the second time that David Blunkett has announced that he's
going to aim at trying to provide an effort to make everyone feel citizens
of this country and share for example, a root point common language and
I hope he is going to come forward with a proposal to do that, obviously
we'll need to look at the details, but I think in principle it's absolutely
right that whilst we want everybody to live their own lives and choose
their own way of life, we also need to have a common sense that we are
part of one society of one country, we need to be able to speak to one
another, we need to be able to ensure that our democracy flourishes and
if the Home Secretary is aiming towards those things then he'll have our
full support in doing so.
HUMPHRYS: Lord Rooker used the
expression, politically correct. Have we been too politically correct do
you think over recent years? Perhaps because we've been too nervous of
offending some minorities?
LETWIN: Well, I think, these are
very delicate issues and it's easy for people who are trying to do good
things to sound as if they're being intolerant and I hope we've got to
the stage now where we have a mature enough democracy so that people on
all sides of the political divides can agree that there is an ability to
separate the question of whether you can live your own life from the question
of whether we all ought to share some things and if we can separate those
things that's a mature debate.
HUMPHRYS: And in that context,
should people who seek British citizenship, identify themselves first and
foremost as British as opposed to Indian or...
LETWIN: ...yes, exactly. No, I
think you're putting it just the right way. People must identify themselves
in many different ways, we all do and it's right that we should have that
diversity, but we must also all feel that first and foremost as you say
we're British. This is something I think has been understood in places
like America and Australia where there's been a long tradition of immigration
on a wide scale for a very long time and we need to create the sense that
people of every kind, every colour, every race, every religion, all of
us feel that we are part of one place and that we all have an allegiance
and a trust in the ability of our country to do the things we need to do,
it needs to do for us, we can't have that faith unless we have that common
HUMPHRYS: Oliver Letwin, thanks
very much and Jeff Rooker, thank you very much indeed, Lord Rooker.