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Suspected international terrorist: certification

Lords amendment: No. 9, in page 10, line 38, leave out "an international" and insert "a".

8.30 pm

Mr. Blunkett: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to take the following: Lords amendments Nos. 10 to 20, Lords amendments Nos. 21 and 22 and Government amendments (a) to (f) thereto.

Mr. Blunkett: Part 4 rightly received a great deal of attention in Committee in this House and in the House of Lords. It has also been debated publicly at considerable length, and understandable concerns have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House during the Bill's passage.

Considerable progress has already been made in clarifying the role of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, and its relationship with other aspects of the judicial process and with the Home Secretary's role in certification. We seek tonight to find a way forward to

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complete the unification of the two sides of the House and secure the good will of those of all parties about the way in which the procedures should operate.

All parties have expressed the wish to see the threat of terrorism and those who pose a threat internationally and whom this country currently hosts dealt with decisively. We have disagreed about how far we should go in deratifying the European convention and on the removal of people to countries where their lives and well-being might be at risk. Concerns have been expressed that any kind of detention, as an alternative to removal, is a threat to human rights. We have sought together to try to find a process that gives sufficient guarantee of due process to enable people to feel that, in the difficult circumstances that we face, we have found a suitable avenue for achieving the proportionate balance that we have talked about over weeks and months.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Part 4 rests on the derogation from article 5 of the European convention. Has the Home Secretary read the comments of David Pannick QC, one of the country's leading barristers, that the derogation from article 5 is unlawful because, first, the European Court of Human Rights is unlikely to accept that we face a public emergency threatening the life of the nation and, secondly, even if it did accept that, the Government will not be able to establish to the Court's satisfaction that detention without trial is strictly required by the exigencies of the situation? Can the Home Secretary assure us that David Pannick is wrong in his interpretation of the law, because if he is correct part 4 is at serious risk of collapsing?

Mr. Blunkett: I have seen David Pannick's comments. I have a great deal of respect for his judgment and the Home Office has made use of it on several occasions, but we do not believe that he is correct, nor do any of the lawyers we have consulted. Subject to the passage of the Bill in the next 48 hours, we shall, as we said we would, deposit the derogation at Strasbourg. We believe that that step will complete the necessary process.

In two sets of discussions with United States Attorney-General John Ashcroft today, it was made wholly clear that the international threat remains. Although we have made enormous progress on Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, we have not undermined that network, the tentacles of which stretch across the world. John Ashcroft described the process as stretching from those who have a conception of an idea, through those who plan based on the idea, to those to execute it. All three steps can involve different groups, in different parts of the world, operating in different spheres and at different times. That is why we believe that the threat that became apparent immediately after 11 September has not diminished.

Jeremy Corbyn: No one in the House is in favour of terrorism or terrorist attacks, but many of us believe that the criminal law should be used to apprehend people who commit or who are planning to commit criminal acts. Will the Home Secretary explain why this country, almost alone in Europe, is proposing such draconian measures and derogation from human rights conventions when other countries believe that their criminal law is sufficient to deal with the threat?

Mr. Blunkett: As I said on Second Reading and in Committee—I regret the need to repeat myself, but doing

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so is necessary because we must take a measured approach this evening—not only do we accept that there is an international threat and that we are in danger of hosting, as many have accused us of doing, those who engage in organising, funding or perpetrating international terrorism, but we believe that we are at greater risk than many other countries because of our declared and clear alliance with the United States, for which that country's people are deeply grateful, and because in the minds of those who have engaged in terror we are associated with the international action taken against the terrorists.

We need to update our preparedness, our legislation and our actions against terrorism—even in a way that has been denounced by other countries, including those to which my hon. Friend refers—and to reflect the nature and the response to the threat to the United States and elsewhere, albeit not to the extent that the United States has found necessary. On Second Reading, in Committee and on several other occasions the House has reflected on the fact that we have not suggested the sort of measures that the United States has felt it necessary to take in terms of detention or military tribunals in order to deal with the perceived threat.

Mr. Fisher: Members on both sides of the House agree that we are under threat from terrorism—the whole world is under threat from terrorism, this country perhaps more than most others apart from the United States. We were under threat from terrorism before 11 September, and that threat may have increased since, but that is not the test for derogation. Mr. Pannick and others who support him say that the test is not whether we are under threat from terrorism, but whether the threat is so severe that it threatens the life of the nation. Nothing the Home Secretary has said on Second Reading, in Committee or tonight takes that necessary step to extend the threat of terrorism, which obviously exists, to a threat that threatens the life of this nation. That is a far more severe test, and not one that the Home Secretary will find it easy to demonstrate.

Mr. Blunkett: I say with great sadness that I fear that I shall not be able to convince my hon. Friend. We know what happened on 11 September, and I think that most people are aware of the time that it takes to organise acts of terror, some of which have been detected. I have mentioned previously those in Jordan and the proposed attack on the American embassy in Paris. There are also the well-known Tanzanian and Kenyan US embassy attacks in 1998. Such attacks take a long time to prepare. They are organised and funded on the basis that they will disrupt, as we saw at the World Trade Centre, both the economic life and activity of a nation. There is not simply the act; there is also the knock-on or spin-on effect on the life of the nation.

If people do not believe that what happened on 11 September has not had a dramatic effect on the life of the United States, on its economy and on the economy of the world, they have been living in a different world from the one that the rest of us inhabit. It has had that effect, and everyone knows that. It has changed the perspective.

I cannot guarantee that there will not be an attack on the United Kingdom—nor can I say that there will be such an attack. We started the debate on the basis of whether

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we take decisive action of the sort that is proposed. It behoves us to consider whether we believe that we would find what we are proposing acceptable if a major attack took place.

Norman Baker: The test that has to be satisfied to allow derogation to be justified is a high one, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has said: the essence of the life of the country must be under threat. The right hon. Gentleman said on 15 October, more than a month after the terrorist attack on New York, that there was no immediate threat to the United Kingdom. Of course terrorism exists, but there is not an immediate threat to the essence of the country.

Mr. Blunkett: I am in a cleft stick. In seeking to ensure reassurance, which I have done to the best of my ability over the weeks after 11 September, and to ensure that the life of the nation was not immediately disrupted by a change in people's behaviour, it should not be assumed that people did not believe that there is and remains a threat to the life of the nation.

I am posing the question whether people believed on the 12th, or believe it now, that there was or is a threat. I believe that the threat has not diminished. I take the same view now as I took the day after 11 September. The question that must be answered is whether people think that what we are seeking to do under part 4 is justified if a substantial attack took place now. I suggest that they would. Taking action to preclude that threat to the life of the nation has to be the right thing to do, rather than taking the action after the life of the nation has demonstrably been threatened.

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