Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Blunkett: Clauses 33 and 34, while being separate from clauses 21 and 23, are related to them. Let us consider the example of someone who is picked up on suspicion of being involved in or engaged in terrorist acts while in transit through one of our airports. The moment they are picked up and there is the intention to remove them, they then claim asylum and the rights that go with it in terms of having their case heard through the asylum process. To be able to adjudge that in those circumstances the substantive case for asylum is not heard is to acknowledge the circumstances of the detention of someone who was about to leave the country or go about their business in another way without actually claiming asylum, who is then using the asylum machinery precisely to get round the existing law. That was debated immediately after 11 September because a case at Gatwick illustrated the problem.

Following the consultation on extradition, we will be able in the Extradition Bill to deal with these matters more extensively, where extradition powers exist; however, where they do not, we have to be able to deal with the circumstances that we are discussing today. This is our

19 Nov 2001 : Column 30

home—it is our country. We have a right to say that if people seek to abuse rights of asylum to be able to hide in this country and organise terrorist acts, we must take steps to deal with them.

The underlying question is whether this measure is necessary. Is there really an issue arising out of 11 September that warrants us taking such steps? That is the fundamental question raised in the media and, in effect, raised here this afternoon.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Blunkett: I will give way, but let me answer the question. I have posed one, so I think that I will answer it.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer spent the weekend in Ottawa with colleagues from across the world. He was engaged, rightly and effectively, in getting 183 countries to affirm that they would establish what we have established—a terrorism finance unit—as a way of co-operating and getting to the bottom of the most careful and clandestine networks the world has known. My right hon. Friend spent the weekend encouraging people from 183 countries to do that not because there has not been a new threat but because the threat has increased dramatically. That is not merely because people acted as suicide bombers, flying planes into the World Trade Centre, but because they have openly declared that it is open season on all of us. They want to destroy our lives, our liberty, our values and our way of life. If 10 weeks makes such a difference in terms of perception, I despair of our being able to hold in our mind the gravity of what we have been dealing with and the threat that exists. The question is whether, proportionately and cautiously, we should take steps to protect ourselves.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): I welcome the legislation that my right hon. Friend is bringing forward. After 11 September, it is probably long overdue. Does my right hon. Friend find it bizarre—as I do—that the yoghurt and muesli-eating, Guardian-reading fraternity are only too happy to protect the human rights of people engaged in terrorist acts, but never once do they talk about the human rights of those who are affected by them?

Mr. Blunkett: I declare straight away that I do eat yoghurt and occasionally muesli—in the summer, I even wear sandals; but I do not suffer fools gladly. It seems to me that although the nation of course has a right to scrutinise what we are doing and to question us—to ask why on earth we are taking additional measures—we must also face up to things and be prepared to understand that people out there really want us to get a grip on any danger that threatens their or our lives, or the operation of this country—its economy, working and lifeblood. That is all that we seek to do this afternoon: to explain the necessity of having to take these actions and, on the back of them, of having to derogate.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Will my right hon. Friend accept the thanks of many Members in the Chamber for his new news today that debate on future renewals will not be limited to an hour and a half—unlike our debate on the motion that we are to discuss later tonight? Given the circumstances of the 40 nations that have signed the European convention and, indeed, of the United States itself, why does my right hon. Friend think

19 Nov 2001 : Column 31

that circumstances in the UK should lead us to suspend habeas corpus? That is not the case for those other nations, which were equally affected and, in one instance, much worse affected by the tragedy on 11 September?

Mr. Blunkett: In the United States, the Patriot Act gives the Attorney-General sweeping powers of detention. It gives powers in terms of the ability of the Attorney-General first to certificate and then to hold people pending their removal from the country. Of course, they are not subject to article 3 of the European convention on human rights. In countries such as France—

Mr. McNamara: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I am still answering a question.

In countries such as France, where the investigatory magistrates have considerable powers, a different law applies. People can be—and have been—detained without trial while investigations are taking place, for up to four years in certain circumstances. From time to time, investigatory magistrates are challenged. Indeed, the French have been challenged in the European courts. When the challenges are upheld, the magistrates take a different approach, but based on French law, not British law.

I am proud of the fact that British law provides the human rights that are being defended and considered by all of us this afternoon. I am not intent on trawling through the anti-terrorist, criminal or civil laws of each country in order to abuse their systems, but I want to make one thing absolutely clear so that there is no mistake: those of us who are arguing the case this afternoon for additional powers are just as committed to human rights and civil liberties as those who legitimately and reasonably seek to oppose the powers. Some of us—in fact, all of us on the Government Benches—have spent our lives fighting for the civil liberties and empowerment of people who do not have access to wealth, privilege and power.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in a moment, but first I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) because I have to live with her regularly—

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I beg your pardon!

Mr. Blunkett: I shall rephrase that. I have to keep our friendship going.

Helen Jackson: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I am glad that he rephrased what he said about our living together.

I do not doubt the intentions behind the Bill and the need for action following 11 September, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will clarify an issue that relates to the effectiveness of this provision. I understand that the objectionable bits of the Bill on detention and the length of time that people might be detained applies only to

19 Nov 2001 : Column 32

people who are not nationals of the country in which they live. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would clarify this query: to what extent can he be sure that the people who are part of the international network about which we are concerned at the moment are not nationals of the various countries in which they live? Is there not a danger that we are labelling those individuals who are stateless, and directing this Bill at them, so ignoring potential terrorist activities from people—

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order in a moment. The hon. Lady's intervention was certainly far too long.

Mr. Francois: You have just dealt with my point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was about to ask whether there was a 10-minute limit on interventions.

Mr. Blunkett: I return to my original point, and I apologise to the House for making it again, but it is important to stress that we are seeking the powers in relation to detention and the use of SIAC precisely on the basis of our immigration and nationality provisions and the inability to send people to countries in which they would be put at risk.

The right to regular review exists; the right to leave the country exists; and the right to ask that Parliament reconsiders what we are asking it to pass in relation to these measures exists; but all that is based on the presumption that, in normal circumstances, we would have asked people to leave our country but that we have been unable to do so because their lives would thereby be put at risk. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North, because I promised to do so.

Mr. McNamara: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most forbearing. He mentions the United States Patriot Act and the power of the US Attorney-General to detain people for up to four weeks. Will he confirm that, under the US constitution, any act by the Attorney-General is subject to scrutiny by the Supreme Court of the United States and cannot be excluded?

Next Section

IndexHome Page