Examination of Witness (Questions 140-159)
3 JULY 2008
Q140 Sir Alan Beith: ---but it is
confusing, giving guidance on how we would like people to live
and how society is improved if people behave responsibly towards
each other and confusing that with rights that cannot be taken
away and can be enforced. If you cannot enforce responsibilities,
what are they doing packaged up with rights?
Mr Brown: In some cases you can
enforce responsibilitiesthat is what I am referring towhether
it is the Health Service patient who abuses the goodwill of the
Service by refusing to turn up for appointments that they have
made, or whether it is the anti-social tenant that you have referred
to who refuses to be a good neighbour and disrupts the life of
Q141 Sir Alan Beith: I said a bad-tempered
Mr Brown: ---then it is right
for us to insist that these responsibilities be enforced by them
being penalised in one way or another.
Q142 Sir Alan Beith: I did not say
bad tenant, I said the bad-tempered neighbour who just does not
get on with people and does not do very much in society?
Mr Brown: There are ways of describing
that behaviour, but when that behaviour becomes in an extreme
form, really hurting the whole neighbourhood, action should be
Sir Patrick Cormack: I would like to
move on to my very good neighbour. Yesterday you were somewhat
perplexed as to how he should be rewarded. He has been rewarded
by being given the opportunity to ask you some questions today.
Q143 Keith Vaz: I do not know whether
that is being short-changed!
Mr Brown: He is not, however,
sending me letters on this occasion!
Q144 Keith Vaz: I want to ask you
about your counter-terrorism proposals. Some have argued quite
strongly that the proposals that have been put forward by the
Government will affect the constitutional settlement of this country,
because for the first time Parliament and the Home Secretary will
be asked to be involved in a judicial process once it has begun.
What is your answer to that?
Mr Brown: I do not accept that.
The Home Secretary would come to the House with the support of
the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police and say, "A
terrorist incident has occurred. It is of a grave and exceptional
nature and, on that basis, she wishes to trigger the commencement
order for the legislation." It is as straightforward as that.
She is not involving herself in the action on the individual case,
which is a matter for the courts and a matter for the police in
relation to the courts, but she is telling the House that there
is a grave and exceptional terrorist incident.
Q145 Keith Vaz: But do you not feel
that the safeguards that the Government has put in place are not
going to be sufficient in order to guarantee that constitutional
Mr Brown: No, I think the safeguards
are sufficient. I believe the safeguards, by the way, for the
individual are sufficient because the worry had been, when we
put forward the proposal for up to 90 days, that essentially people
were arguing that you would put someone in a cell and throw the
keys away. That is not the case. In the case of going beyond 28
days, not only has the action to be approved by the Director of
Public Prosecutions and by the police, but there has to be an
independent legal opinion put before the House of Commons, she
has to inform the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee and yourself,
as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, and the Intelligence
and Security Committee, she has to come before the House, obviously,
and get the approval of the House for nominating this incident
as exceptional and grave. At the same time, the independent reviewer
is brought into play. He has got to look at the individual case,
not generally report on the work of this Act, and every seven
days that person has to come before a judge. So the protection
for the individual is there. The Home Secretary will be very careful
not to go beyond what is stated in the Act.
Q146 Keith Vaz: Liberty have made
it very clear, and they were in discussions with you during the
progress of the legislation, that they feel that the compensation
arrangements announced by the Home Secretary are totally unworkable.
Are they legally sound?
Mr Brown: The Home Secretary has
said she will bring before the House proposals about compensation.
You have got to remember that the argument that we had with the
organisation Liberty was that they wished to use the Civil Contingencies
Act in these circumstances, and they would have wanted us to come
before the House and declare what was effectively a state of emergency
that gave powers far greater than we were asking for in the Anti-terrorism
Act. These powers would have concluded preventative detention
as well as the detention that we are talking about, and these
powers, in my view, would have given the oxygen of publicity to
terrorists so that an individual terrorist incident would be leading
to, effectively, a state of emergency in a way that would give
massive publicity to a terrorist organisation.
Q147 Keith Vaz: Prime Minister, with
hindsight, you are going to amend the Civil Contingencies Act
anyway with these proposals. Why did not the Government, right
at the start of this process, decide that that was the best way
forward, to amend the Civil Contingencies Act, rather than to
bring these other goals to the fore?
Mr Brown: Because, if I may say,
the Civil Contingencies Act contains a whole range of other powers
and a whole range of other circumstances in which the civil contingency
measures can be triggered. We were dealing specifically with terrorism
and only terrorism. We were dealing, not simply with a terrorist
incident, but with a grave and exceptional set of terrorist incidents.
This is a power that will be rarely used, but it is a power that
I wanted us to have without having to declare a state of emergency
and give the oxygen of publicity to terrorists and a power that
was in place long before we had the sort of terrorist incident
that would trigger it. I do not want to have to come to the House
and say that a terrorist incident has occurred that is of such
a nature that we need to trigger greater powers than we have at
the moment. To do this in a period of calm where we could have
a reflection on what has happened was by far the best way of doing
Q148 Keith Vaz: We have heard those
arguments put forward, but you put yourself forward, quite rightly,
as the Prime Minister of the whole nation. The fact is that these
measures will disproportionately affect members of one community,
the Muslim community. Is that not the case?
Mr Brown: I do not accept that
either. I think the support for these measures in the Muslim communities
will be as high as the support in other communities. The reasons
is that they too want protection against both terrorist incidents
and the action of individual terrorists; and I do not usually
go through these things, but I believe from what I can see, there
is a large amount of support right across the nation for these
proposals, and I was actually sorry that we could not achieve
an all-party consensus on these proposals. I tried very hard to
get that consensus, and so did the Home Secretary. We approached
the other parties, we talked to organisations like Liberty and,
in my view, what separated us was not sufficient to have justified
the major attempt to destroy the legislation.
Q149 Keith Vaz: You only got your
legislation through by nine votes. Is it the case that you authorised
or offered any backbench member of Parliament a peerage or a knighthood,
even the governorship of Bermuda, in order to vote for your legislation?
Mr Brown: Not at all. Nor do I
recall sending any letters to anyone.
Q150 Keith Vaz: What about the Ulster
Unionists? Did you offer them anything?
Mr Brown: I think the criticism
of the DUP has been totally misplaced. If there was any party
in the House of Commons that knows what terrorism can do and what
is its impact on our society it is the Ulster Unionists, and many
members of that party have suffered themselves, or their families,
at the hands terrorism, and I think those parties that are criticising
the DUP should instead be listening to what they say about how
terrorism can cause such damaging and deleterious effects.
Keith Vaz: Thank you Prime Minister.
Q151 Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sure
that will strike a chord with Northern Ireland. Last year, in
those giddy days in June when you were forming your ministry of
all the talents, you decided Parliament did not have quite everybody
you wanted and so you looked outside. Those appointments that
you made, Lord Digby Jones, Lord West, et cetera, how have they
worked out? What is your report on their year's progress?
Mr Brown: I think the performance
of these ministers has been excellent, and I think they have done
a very good job for the country. Digby Jones, of course, spends
a great deal of time going round the world making sure that our
trade relations with so many of the countries with whom we want
to have good relations are, indeed, very good. Admiral West is
doing an excellent job in security. Mark Malloch Brown is just
back from the work that he has done with the African Union in
trying to make sure that we have a better outcome in Zimbabwe
and has been much involved in what is happening in Burma, and
I think people have seen the benefits of Lord Darzi's report only
in the last few days.
Q152 Sir Patrick Cormack: So three
cheers for the House of Lords.
Mr Brown: I think those people
who can be brought into the Government to support the executive
responsibilities that governments have got to discharge and can
bring a wealth of experience from the outside world are to be
Q153 Sir Patrick Cormack: I could
not agree more, and, therefore, is it not a good thing if you
have got somewhere to put them?
Mr Brown: That is the position
at the moment. There are other ways, of course, by which you can
add to your government.
Q154 Sir Patrick Cormack: As that
is the position at the moment, I do not want to get bogged down
whether we should finally have an elected House or anything like
that, but as for the foreseeable future, Prime Minister, even
Mr Straw would agree that we have what we have; would it not make
sense to deal with some of the anomalies at that end of the corridor?
I have raised this with you before and you gave a half-hearted
reception, but you did not totally dismiss it. What about dealing
with the things in Lord Steel's Bill, bringing to an end the absurd
by-elections for hereditary peers? What about having a statutory
appointments commission, which would fit in well with the other
things you boasted about earlier today? What about these things?
Why not give this Bill a fair wind in the next session?
Mr Brown: There are proposals
about to come from the Government on the promise that we made
when the House of Commons voted on the reform of the House of
Lords, and some of the things that you mentioned will be part
of these proposals. I do not think it is for me to presume what
is going to be published quite soon, but we are aware of both
the Steel proposals about the statutory appointments and about
by-elections and so on, but we are also aware that we have got
to honour our promise to the House of Commons that we will bring
forward proposals about the reform of the House of Lord based
on the decisions and the votes of the House of Commons at the
Q155 Sir Patrick Cormack: You do
know, of course, do you not, that when those votes took place,
the majority of your own party voted against 80:20, the majority
of the Conservative parliamentary party voted against 80:20 and
what gave a good majority, with 100 per cent elected, was the
tactical vote of the Labour members who wanted to throw a spanner
in the works and did not want any elected members at all, and
you know that to be the case as well as I do. So, building this
White Paper on this fiction is a bit daft, is it not?
Mr Brown: I do not think so. We
have got to honour the promise that we made at the time. There
is going to be a lengthy debate about the future of the House
of Lords. There always has been. We did say we would bring forward
proposals in our election manifesto. Let us see what these proposals
lead to in terms of the debate that takes place in the country.
I am aware that there are immediate issues that might be able
to be addressed, but I am also aware that we have got a responsibility
to honour the votes of the House of Commons.
Sir Patrick Cormack: May I bring in Dr
Q156 Dr Wright: Thank you very much.
I am one of those who do welcome the Constitutional Renewal Bill,
not least because some of us were involved in some of the ingredients
of it. Could I follow Sir Patrick and just ask about the House
of Lords? I have devoted far more time than is good for me thinking
about House of Lords reform. When I hear again that we are going
to do this after the next election on the basis of consensus,
I have great doubts about it. What I do know is that there are
things that we could do now. We issued a report after the "cash
for peerages" affair, saying there are things we could do
now, and we could do it without legislation, just to clean up
the place. After ten years of progressive government, we have
still got a raft of hereditary peers. Why do we not just do a
bit of cleaning up and at least do what we can do now?
Mr Brown: I have said before that
the House of Lords should be both accountable and it should not
remove the primacy of the House of Commons in so many different
areas. As far as these individual changes that you are talking
about are concerned, I think you have got to wait until we put
forward our proposals in the next period of time and then let
us have the debate about what we can and what we cannot do immediately
to make sure that the democratic process works better. I have
a great deal of sympathy with your proposal about the hereditary
peers, but let us see how we can move these things forward. As
you know, the reason why people talk about consensus is that proposals
need normally to get through both the House of Commons and the
House of Lords.
Q157 Dr Wright: Your predecessor
was not keen on elections to the Lords; he was in favour of an
appointed House. I do not quite understand what your sense of
the balance between election and appointment should be?
Mr Brown: As you may know, I voted
for the 80 per cent myself. I think there are very good arguments
in the modern world for those chambers that have responsibility
for legislation and the ultimate power with the House of Commons
to decide what is legislated in our country and have a very substantially
elected element, but I am also aware that we have got to deal
with this other issue, and that is that the House of Commons,
in my view, should have primacy.
Q158 Dr Wright: People quite like
the idea of a cross-party non-party element in the House of Lords,
do they not?
Mr Brown: Yes, but I think you
will find that the House of Lords can be pretty political as well.
Q159 Dr Wright: Let me ask you a
couple of different things. There is a lot of talk at the moment
about the English question. Do you think there is an English question?
Mr Brown: I think you are dealing
with a constitution in the United Kingdom where 85 per cent of
the population, 85 per cent of the representations in the House
of Commons, the representatives, are from one country: England.
So the pressure in recent years has been for special arrangements
that can guarantee the position of the minorities. That is why
the pressure for devolution arose in Scotland and then in Wales,
and that is why, of course, for nearly 90 years we have tried
to find the best way of governing in a democratic way in Northern
Ireland. In a constitution where 85 per cent of the population
come from one country and a very small number, eight or nine percent,
from another, five from another, three from another, the pressure
has always been, I think, in recent years, to find a position
that would protect, reflect and give attention to the rights of
minorities. Now, of course, we have got devolution in Scotland,
we have got a Scottish Parliament, we have got devolution in Wales,
we have got the Welsh Assembly, devolution is working in Northern
Ireland with, as you will know, the policing justice issues still
to be dealt with in a second stage of devolution, but it is working,
and I think people see it as a success. People will then look
at what is the position of those people in England in a United
Kingdom Parliament. One of the ways that we have sought to deal
with that issue is to enhance the power of the regions of England,
and therefore you have got regional ministers now that we did
not have before and these proposals for regional committees in
the House of Commons that will give greater voice to the English
regions, particularly so when you have regional offices of government.
As far as the issue of voting in the House of Commons itself on
what is seen as English legislation, first of all a lot of the
legislation that is seen to be simply English has repercussions
for the rest of the United Kingdom, so that has got to be understood.
Secondly, English votes for English laws would, in my view, in
the end, split the United Kingdom; it would divide the United
Kingdom fundamentally. So if we are looking for better solutions
for the future, having recognised the rights of the minorities,
having seen that there are issues affecting England, I think we
have got to look for solutions in a way that is not along the
headline: English votes for English laws. I think that would inevitably
mean for the Executive to have to draw its power from both the
United Kingdom representatives and from the English representative,
and that would be an unstable situation. I think you would probably
agree with that.
Dr Wright: I would have hoped you would
have said that we might take a serious look at the governance
of England after devolution to see what devolution now means for
England, and I would urge you to do that. We have just had the
new Equality Bill, which I think we all welcome. You mentioned
the word "prerogative" earlier on. It seems to have
an exemption for the Royal Family. We have still a royal family
which manages to practise religious discrimination and gender
discrimination, and there was some suggestion that this might
be covered by the Equality Bill, but it does not seem to have