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Mr. Blunkett: I welcome the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) to his new Front-Bench portfolio. I look forward to the sort of brief but robust exchanges that I had with his predecessor, but perhaps at a lower pitch than was usual then. I welcome the general principle of the hon. Gentleman's approach, although I should hate to be opposite him on a day when he was facing down legislation, rather than welcoming it.
We are not intent on taking away rights or denying people normal opportunities through judicial process, but we are endeavouring to respond to the new situation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, with the agreement of the Leader of the House, we will look to take the legislation on the Floor of the House. We want to ensure that the areas that are identified with the Opposition as being key for debate have sufficient time allocated to them to allow proper debate, in order to reassure the entire House and the public outside that we have achieved the right balance between the need to act swiftly and the ability to draw up legislation that will be lasting.
I am happy to consider reaffirmation of aspects of the Bill that will be identified as we take the legislation through the House. That seems sensible in the case of emergency legislation. I am also prepared to consider proposals from the Opposition as well as from Labour Members that would enhance or improve what we are doing.
It is worth spending a moment on the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in relation to two matters, which are different but related. The first concerns extradition where we have treaty agreements with other countries and where it is possible in all present circumstances to extradite those who are required for due trial. The second concerns people whom we are seeking to eject from our country although they have not committed a crime here, but whose deportation would be desirable, given the threat that we believe they pose.
On the first matter, we have very clear treaties with main partner countries. There is no problemindeed, there has been no problemunder section 11 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in relation to our European partners. There would be no problem on arrest warrants either, because to carry out an arrest is not to deny someone fair trial or to presume them guilty before trial has taken place; it is to respect mutual recognition of our judicial and policing systems throughout the European Unionsomething that goes back a long way, but which has taken a long time to recognise and to get through the system.
Deportation, like preventing people who are feared to be terrorists and who are travelling through our country from claiming asylum, is another matter. It seems to us that when a third safe country cannot be found, holding such peoplewith proper rights of appeal and the opportunity for a return to their caseis preferable to sending them back to certain death when their guilt has
The speeding up of judicial review in both processes will be absolutely crucial. It is absurd that it can take five, seven or even 10 years, as happened in one case, to extradite someone from this country. That is not justice; it is playing monkey business with our judicial framework and processes.
I can assure the House that we have thought long and hard. We have not rushed into these measures. In the next few weeks, there will be time to contemplate as well as to scrutinise the legislation that we are introducing. We want to get it right because we have obligations to our own people and to our international requirements. If we can get it right, we will have managed to sweep away some of the nonsense that has been found in recent weeks to exist in our system. I appeal to our judiciary to work with us to ensure that democracy in all its guises can operate fairly and openly, rather than be held up to ridicule by those who should be upholding it.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I am sure that all sensible people will welcome any new measures intended to make our dealing with terrorism more effective, but I should like to underline the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin): there is a long history of anti-terrorism legislation being introduced in haste and repented at leisure. We will need time properly to scrutinise whatever measures my right hon. Friend puts before the House. I welcome the fact that the measures are being introduced after mature consideration and not in the immediate aftermath of the terrible events of 11 September.
On the new definition of terrorism proposed by the Commission, has my right hon. Friend noticed that, under proposed article 5.3, sanctions such as community service for alleged terrorists are listed? The EC may be proposing to cast the net a little wide. Will he ensure that whatever definition is finally agreed is robust, watertight and confined to dealing with terrorists and not with the other people who might, from time to time, get up the noses of the established order?
My right hon. Friend mentioned the need to deny asylum to those suspected of having terrorist associations. What level of evidence will be required and who will assess that evidence? Finally, he said that he was examining additional powers in relation to conspiracy. Will he give us a clue about what is in his mind in that respect?
Mr. Blunkett: I welcome my hon. Friend's approach of wanting to ensure that we get it right, and not just quickly. I am a great enthusiast for active citizenship, but I had not envisaged engaging terrorists in good works in our community as a suitable punishment in Sheffield or Sunderland. I am therefore happy to affirm that we shall take appropriate and proportionate measures, and press them on our European partners.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and briefings. He can rest assured that the Liberal Democrats will support the Government when they introduce well considered legislation, which is necessary in the current emergency, and targeted specifically at tackling terrorism. However, if the legislation is not immediately necessary and has nothing to do with terrorism, Liberal Democrats will defend the liberties of the individual citizen robustly. I anticipate that that applies to other quarters in the House as well.
Let me ask about process. Will a draft Bill be presented as early as possible? If so, we can ensure that we try to get it right as soon as possible. Will the Home Secretary undertake to consult the Joint Committee on Human Rights early to ensure that there are no breaches of our human rights obligations, not only in the Government's view but in that of all parties in both Houses? Will he follow the provisions in previous legislation for emergency powers to have limited time effects whenever possible, and to continue only if Parliament agrees?
The statement contained a surprising element: the implication that European legislation could get through both Houses of Parliament, without proper debate and scrutiny, simply on the basis of an affirmative order proposed by the Government. It is most important that the Home Secretary confirm that he did not mean that. It is not acceptable to any hon. Member, even ardent Europeans, because legislation should come through this place, not by a Minister putting a yes or no question to Parliament.
On human rights, will the Home Secretary confirm that he will try to avoid derogation from the European convention whenever possible? Does he seriously propose to bring back internment throughout the United Kingdom? One of his suggestions could be interpreted to mean that.
On asylum, will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that he will uphold the 1951 convention and that all who have a right under it to seek asylum and put their case here will retain it after the legislation is enacted? Will he make sure that, on controversial matters such as human rights and asylum, there will always be the opportunity for a judicial review of Ministers' and officials' decisions, and that no one will be precluded from going to court to challenge a decision by the Executive?
Incitement to racial hatred is an important issue. I share with the Home Secretary and others the view that its prevention should not restrict the right to criticise other faiths or people and views of other faiths. What has happened to the Government's proposal to introduce an equality Bill to guarantee equality of all faiths?
Lastly, the Home Secretary rightly paid tribute to the emergency services. We join him in that tribute, but can he assure police services and police authorities throughout the country that they will have the resources that they need to implement the additional measures, and that the civil defence measures are sufficiently resourced and in place? If there is a need to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, are we safe between now and the end of the legislative process or will he introduce other measures to ensure that action is taken immediately against any such terrorist threat?