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Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the time set aside for consideration in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading is roughly equivalent to four Committee sittings. Is that a proper way to deal with this most important legislation, the significance of which he has underlined, given that terrorism and other such Bills were considered for much longer? The Bill contains the embryo of five Bills.
Mr. Blunkett: I do not accept that it contains the embryo of five Bills. The measures are coherent, they deal with a threat of a particular nature, they were laid out on 15 October with one or two exceptionsOpposition Members pressed us on those, including that in respect of corruptionand they are before the House for agreement. If there were no emergency, if there had not been a terrorist attack and if there were no danger that not passing the Bill by the end of the year would put us at risk, I would not be introducing it in the first place.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) complained about the lack of parliamentary time to discuss the Bill following the 10-week gestation period. It was published only towards the end of last week, but it will complete its Commons stages by the beginning of next. That allows only a week for outside bodies to concentrate on its terms and lobby those in the House who are interested in its content and implications. Although the Home Secretary may be right that he spent 10 hard weeks drafting the Bill, surely those outside the House should have rather longer than a week to lobby Members and the Government on its content and effect.
Mr. Fisher: I am most grateful to the Home Secretary. Surely he appreciates the distinction between the principles that he laid out on 15 October and the detail of the Bill. We are expected to scrutinise and pass law, and that law is based on the wording of the Bill. As the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said, outside bodies have only a week in which to consider the Bill and advise us. Surely the Home Secretary accepts the historical precedent that when the House acts quickly, it seldom acts wisely.
Mr. Blunkett: I have no intention of getting into conflict this afternoon, but, if I might say so, I had not noticed that the past 10 weeks were free of detailed comment by a range of lobbying organisations and individuals. [Interruption.] Yes, about the Bill, the nature of its content, the statement of 15 October and the work undertaken by the Human Rights Committee and the Home Affairs Committee over the past week, including detailed evidence given to them by the very groups to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) referred. Those groups clearly had a handle on the principle and the detailed substance of the Bill, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), and I were questioned in detail in those Committees on that content. The idea that people have been deprived of knowledge of the details or implications of the Bill does not bear thinking about.
Mr. Llwyd: As a legal challenge to the Bill is highly likely, will the Home Secretary elaborate on his definition of a public emergency, and also explain why the United Kingdom is the only country subscribing to the European convention that considers such an emergency to exist?
Mr. Blunkett: I shall deal with the second point during my speech. I am well aware of the differences that exist not merely within countries that are signatories to the convention, but across the world. However, the definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 and the article 15 provisions gave us precisely the power to act in circumstances envisaged by those who drew up both the European convention on human rights, as approved in 1953, and the European convention on refugees, as approved in 1951. They foresaw circumstances in which it would be necessary to take action to derogateto suspend temporarilya particular article or clause, in order to be able to act in a particular way to respond to what was happening. I am positing that the circumstances of 11 September and its aftermath are such that they warrant immediate action.
Let us recall for a moment not just what happened on 11 September, but what has happened since. Let us recall the interviews given and the video recordings made by bin Laden and the al-Qaeda group, which have spelt out their determination not simply to threaten once, but to threaten the civilian populations of the United States and those working with it. It is for that reason that we are proposing measures allowing us to take rational, reasonable and proportionate steps to deal with an internal threat and an external, organised terrorist group that could threaten at any time not just our population, but the populations of other friendly countries.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does the Home Secretary accept that many people who are obviously appalled at what happened on 11 September believe that the answer is not to suspend traditional legal rights such as the right of access to courts in this country, but to use the criminal law against those planning or perpetrating criminal acts? Many people are deeply disturbed about this piece of emergency legislation, and believe that it will be no more effective than the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974. Peace eventually came to Ireland through a political process, not a legal process.
In 1997, the House unanimously passed the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997, which established the commission. I would be interested to know whether any hon. Member would like to use their comments in debates on that legislation to contradict me now on this legislation. Does anyone wish to intervene? No hon. Member from either side of the House voted against that legislation, which was subsequently approved by the other place. It was approved not only because previous practice had been judged not to accord with the level of human rights that was needed and accepted at the end of the 20th century, but because, in November 1996, the then Government had lost the Chahal case, which considered the acceptability of the process being used to eject people from the United Kingdom.
It was adjudged in the Chahal case that there had been improvements in the process, such as use of the three wise men and women, but it was also held that the process for ratifying the Home Secretary's power of certification for removal was not acceptable because the power infringed article 3 of the European convention on human rights. That is the nub of the issue. There is also no disagreement that the previous Government would have introduced the 1997 Act.
After the Chahal judgment, therefore, the House passed a measure that effectively provided judicial review of the Home Secretary's right to certificate the removal of an individual who is not a British national, but who is judged to be endangering national security or whose presence is not conducive to the public good.