Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. McNamara: I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that the Government will re-examine the definition of "links", which deals with the point made by the Joint Committee about the possibility of arbitrariness in the operation of these provisions. He said that he would not send people back to another country if he felt that they would be subject to torture or the possibility of the death penalty. Will he confirm that it is not his intention therefore to deport anybody to the United States or to accept an extradition order from that country? If any person connected with bin Laden or any other terrorist is captured by British forces in Afghanistan, will he confirm that they will not be transferred to the American authorities there, because by virtue of the executive order of the President of the United States—to which, my right hon. Friend will recall, he particularly drew my attention—and the draconian powers it contains, that person would be immediately subject to a possible punishment of death?

Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I will answer the part that is relevant to the Bill and to my powers. I would not sign a certificate for any country with extradition arrangements unless it was prepared to agree to retain and maintain the extradition agreement signed by us. In any revision of the extradition agreement with Attorney General Ashcroft, which we will undoubtedly undertake because it has been in force for 27 years now, I would insist that that existing parameter remain in force. I would not transfer someone to the United States or elsewhere if I believed that that outcome would result. I hope that satisfies my hon. Friend.

The issue is one of genuine choice. Some Opposition Members believe that it would be reasonable to give the Home Secretary the power in question, by removing the restraint of the ECHR. I do not take that view, but it is a reasonable alternative, albeit an unacceptable one in terms of the powers of our Parliament.

Mr. Cameron: The right hon. Gentleman overstates the position of those of us who are arguing that the Home Secretary should have greater flexibility in exercising the power to deport people from this country who may

21 Nov 2001 : Column 382

pose a threat to national security. Has he seen the recommendation in the Home Affairs Committee's report, which states:

That is the conclusion of a paragraph that says that

Is not the problem that the jurisprudence under article 3 has made it so difficult to deport anybody in any circumstances, because the Home Secretary is not allowed to take into account, according to the Chahal judgment, the risk that they may pose to the United Kingdom?

7.15 pm

Mr. Blunkett: It is true that the jurisprudence on that case, to which I have referred publicly, constrained what was possible, but—and this is an interesting point for the immediate future and we will return with a substantive extradition Bill in the new year—if we cannot reach an extradition agreement, it is not right to ask the Home Secretary to certify the risk in those countries that do not have judicial systems that are acceptable according to our terms and with which we do not have an extradition agreement that locks in the safeguards that we would seek. Even if we have queries about some countries' judicial systems, we have extradition agreements that safeguard the process when someone arrives back in one of those countries.

It is not right to ask the Home Secretary to take a risk in a grey area, where an extradited person may be summarily executed or tortured. We need to be open and clear, so that we do not say one moment that we do not want to detain people, but the next moment say that we are prepared to take the risk, on the certification of the Home Secretary, that someone will not be put to death. That is why the difficult but necessary compromise that we are putting to the Committee is the right one, and why the Government will seek to gain the assent and support of both Houses of Parliament in carrying it through.

Mr. Letwin rose

Mr. Blunkett: I had intended to finish, but to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman I shall find another sentence.

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to the Home Secretary. He has given an accurate and compelling description of the disposition of the Conservatives, the Government and the Liberal Democrats, but one element needs to be refined. He describes his choice, which is to give himself the power that he calls indefinite detention, as not being internment. He rightly says that in some technical sense the people he is interning—as I would call it—have the right to leave voluntarily. However, he has made the argument powerfully—although I disagree with it—that the choice that falls to those people is to go to countries to which he says he would not deport them. I do not understand in what meaningful sense someone could be said voluntarily to be able to leave if the circumstances of their departure are such that he would not compel them to go to that place.

Mr. Blunkett: That is an interesting debating point. I should warn the hon. Member that I have read chunks

21 Nov 2001 : Column 383

of his 1999 book, which relates, interestingly, to definitions of freedom and the role of politics. I happen to believe that if people wish to leave this country after they have come here voluntarily, they should be free to do so. If they choose to do so, that is very different from a Home Secretary deporting them on a certificate in the belief that they are a risk, but in circumstances in which their lives would then be at risk.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Blunkett: We are about to enter the M25 on the issue, but because blood pressure should not be allowed to rise too high, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central.

Mr. Fisher: The Home Secretary is willing to allow people voluntarily to leave the country whom he has good reason to suspect are associated with international terrorism. It cannot be good to let loose into the international community people whom he believes to be international terrorists; they should be detained and prosecuted here. We would do international security no favours by allowing those people to go voluntarily to another country.

Mr. Blunkett: That is the dilemma we have struggled with. The obvious answer is for my hon. Friend to table an amendment on Report that the process, including the role of certification and the review by SIAC, should lead to the person being imprisoned, even though the evidence base differs from the one that would usually be used and would normally be available to commit them for a set period of time to prison.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Blunkett: No, I shall not give way. I want to finish the point.

There is a good debating point as to whether someone should be ejected from the country, but let me make it clear: we are using immigration powers—we are relating them to the issue of someone who has voluntarily come into our country, was hosted by this country, but whom we wish to remove on the grounds that they are a risk to our national security or that their presence is not conducive to the public good. We are challenged on that, not in terms of the fact that, historically, we can do that, because under the Immigration Act 1971—in schedule 3, I think: just for Simon Carr of The Independent, I was not referring to braille to enable me to remember that point—[Interruption.] He would not be in the Gallery because he will be having a good dinner somewhere. The biggest choice that he will have made will not have been at Sainsbury's but on the quality of the wine that he is buying on the expense account of The Independent. He cannot say anything more vile about me than he said on Tuesday morning, so he can get his own back at length, and undoubtedly, often—[Interruption.] Muesli will not be on the menu.

The serious point is that under those immigration powers, we had the ability to deport someone from this country. What has got in our way was the judgment that we were unable to ask a person to leave because their life was at risk. I rest my case.

21 Nov 2001 : Column 384


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I now have to announce the results of the Division deferred from a previous day.

On the motion on Human Rights, the Ayes were 331, the Noes were 74, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Simon Hughes: It is an indication of the huge importance of this debate that the Committee is very full. I hope that the Home Secretary will accept that we have listened to him with great attention, and that colleagues on both sides of the House are trying to deal with a set of complex matters that have greatly preoccupied many hon. Members and many people outside this place.

Two parliamentary Committees, the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, have attentively deliberated and given helpful advice. When we began the debate, I was conscious of the fact that we had about one-and-three-quarter hours to discuss 15 clauses, 22 amendments and one new clause to do with what the letter column of The Times—not The Guardian—in a headline above letters from Lord Donaldson, Lord Russell and Professor Brian Simpson described as

The House accepts that the Home Secretary has a duty to try to think of ways of dealing with the issue. We all understand. There is no dissent about that. The Home Secretary has not only the opportunity but the duty to do that, and we do not criticise him at all.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that three different types of conclusion have been reached. The Government's conclusion is in the proposal that we are discussing. The Conservatives' conclusion relates to other articles of the human rights convention and would allow people to be sent back to countries to which the Home Secretary and I agree we would not want them sent. We believe that it is better to uphold our international obligations not to send people to such countries—and that view is confirmed by the all-party Home Affairs Committee.

The third conclusion is that expressed by my colleagues and me. I shall summarise it in a moment, because it is important that the Home Secretary and I do not disagree about what the different positions are.

This debate is hugely important for all us. I shall try to explain objectively why that is so, by reading one paragraph from the report of the Home Affairs Committee, published last Monday. Paragraph 32 states:

21 Nov 2001 : Column 385

We are debating proposed laws that risk doing injustice to people, so it is hugely important that the House, collectively, should try not to do that. Those people would not by definition be British but that does not reduce our obligations, as I am sure the Home Secretary agrees.

From the two Select Committee reports, I have drawn seven suggestions that would make the legislation more specific and targeted. The first is that we should define more tightly the term "international terrorists". The Home Secretary has helpfully acknowledged that he is willing to consider that, so I shall not pursue the point. I remind him that the Human Rights Committee noted that no other legislation authorises detention on the basis of criteria so vague as the current measure.

Secondly, the Select Committee makes the serious point that the legislation could be held to discriminate on grounds of nationality. We are proposing to detain people who are not British nationals and do not have the right to indefinite residence. We would not propose so to detain British nationals, so such provisions might be illegal under human rights and other international law. The Select Committee was not persuaded by the Home Secretary's evidence.

The third suggestion relates to an important point in clause 27—it would be easy to become technical at this stage, but I shall try not to be. That point is addressed in an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), as a result of the Select Committee's considerations, and in amendment No. 114, tabled by my hon. Friends and me. The provisions deal with circumstances in which, when a certificate has been cancelled, another certificate can be issued. They deal with the criticism that has been properly made of the clause. The clause states that a certificate can be reissued

That is too wide. Will the Home Secretary consider amendment No. 114, which seeks to be even more specific than the amendment tabled by the hon. Lady?

The Home Secretary has dealt in part with my fourth point. The initial issue of the certificate should be subject to a test of reasonableness. I shall return to that point. The Home Secretary has accepted that the measure should include such a proposal.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is also minded to accept my fifth suggestion, which is also based on Select Committee advice: it is far better that the right to be represented—even in the unusual circumstances of an appeal hearing—should continue through each stage of the hearing, even if it goes to appeal at the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. The reason is obvious: there may be new evidence that the representative of the detained person might not otherwise see and about which they could not argue before the commission.

The sixth point relates to the length of detention. To summarise one of the amendments, it would be much more acceptable if the length of detention without automatic review were shorter. We have proposed that the intervals should be no longer than three months. After that, detention should be reviewed.

The seventh point is that the police should not, as proposed, hold the fingerprints of asylum seekers indefinitely, as though they were in the same category as

21 Nov 2001 : Column 386

people who were being held in relation to other crimes, but that there should be a limitation. It is most unfair to group together people who have been suspected of a crime and those who are only in this country because they are seeking asylum.

So there are seven specific proposals for improvement, and I hope that they will all find favour with the Government today or, at worst, next week when the Bill is considered in the House of Lords. They have all-party support, although they have been proposed in different ways.

Next Section

IndexHome Page