Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
BLUNKETT, MP AND
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
20. Thank you. Before we turn to the anti-terrorism
legislation, it was remiss of me not to welcome John Gieve, the
relatively new Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. I apologise
for that. No doubt this is the first of many appearances before
(Mr Gieve) Indeed.
Chairman: We now turn to anti-terrorism legislation.
21. Home Secretary, the Terrorism Act 2000 came
into force on 19 February this year and included a range of new
powers. Why are the provisions of this Act insufficient to deal
with the present situation?
(Mr Blunkett) I think the previous Home Secretary
would say what a tremendous effort he had to make to persuade
people that the provisions of the Terrorism Act were not too draconian.
No one, bearing in mind the circumstances of 11 September, would
have foreseen quite what was to face usnot a traditional
threat, but suicide attacks co-ordinated on a terrorist basis
across the world from inaccessible parts of the world, in circumstances
where there is no one to negotiate withand therefore protecting
ourselves in new ways makes sense. I do not make any apologyI
talked at great length to the now Foreign Secretary about this,
and neither does hefor needing to move on from the experience
we had in terms of the earlier implementation of the Terrorism
Act, although I have to say that because that Act is in existence,
unlike in certain parts of the world, the anti-terrorism message
we are introducing in November does not have to go anywhere near
as far as would otherwise be necessary.
22. The United Nations Convention on Asylum
and the European Convention on Human Rights both prevent deportation
of terrorists and internment without trial, on the grounds that
they might suffer inhuman or degrading treatment. How do we overcome
(Mr Blunkett) I think we need to separate the two.
I think there is often a misunderstanding, which certainly I have
clarified in my own mind over the last 4½ months. Clearly,
where we have extradition treaties and extradition arrangements,
we are able, as we have with the United States since 1974, to
reach agreement that does not interfere with their judicial processes
but allows us to be able to agree on what might be the final outcome.
That is not the same with questions of securing those who pose
a terrorist threat, where extradition is not possible, nor is
immediate removal to a third safe country"third country"
in the sense of not providing access to the Convention and Article
3, on grounds of degrading, dehumanising treatment or the fear
of death. We therefore believe it is right to be able to hold
people, with rights of appeal through the Immigration Appeals
Commission, and to be able to do so in a way which both prevents
risk to ourselves and allows judicial process. To do that we need,
as I spelt out in the statement a week yesterday, to be able to
use Article 15 of the ECHR to derogate from Article 5, and I will
obviously have to make that clear in the legislation at the time
of the legislation so that no one is in any doubt about the relationship
and the circumstances in which we are engaging on this.
23. I wonder if you could comment on the protection
of the individual human rights of one person compared with the
human rights of the wider community which may be at risk?
(Mr Blunkett) I think this is the balance that we
are seeking to attain. It is a balance always in terms of public
policy versus individual rights and freedoms. I think it is a
debate that the Daily Telegraph are having with themselves
almost weekly at the moment. On this particular scale, we are
talking about very different circumstances to the normal application
of acceptable laws within which we all accept the norms of civilised
behaviour, and therefore the balance has to be in favour of protecting
the majority, of doing so in circumstances where risk is at our
door at any time and in any circumstances, and where it is indiscriminate.
Having said that, I think it is absolutely vital that it does
not deteriorate our democracy and our civil liberties to the point
where the very thing that we are defending has been eroded successfully
by the people who are intent on undermining it. That is why we
have been very careful indeed to ensure that people have rights
that they can exercise at each stage, but not rights which flout
common sense and which make a monkey of judicial process. John
Gieve would like to say something on that.
(Mr Gieve) I was just going to say that there are
two Conventions here. One is the Human Rights Convention which
you referred to. You also referred to the Refugee Convention.
I was going to say that that does explicitly exclude from the
provisions of the Convention people for whom there are serious
reasons for considering that they have committed a crime against
peace or a serious non-political crime outside the country in
which they have sought refuge.
(Mr Blunkett) This is Article 1(f), I think it is.
(Mr Gieve) Yes. So in that respect what we are talking
about is entirely within the terms of that provision.
24. Home Secretary, following the massacre of
58 tourists in which there were six British citizens involved
(Mr Blunkett) This is Luxor one?
25. In Luxor, yes. Following that, the President
of Egypt made accusations against this country. He said, "Why
is Britain protecting terrorists, because they're operating in
Britain and Afghanistan?" That goes back, as we know, four
years. Do you feel, on reflection, that before the horrors of
11 September, the horrors which I have just mentioned, which took
place in Egypt, could have been dealt with as far as Britain is
(Mr Blunkett) Let me take two separate parts to this
question. I believe that the law that we have been implementing
in terms of extradition has not been sufficiently robust, nor
has it been sufficiently speedy. The recognition of this resulted
in the Government undertaking a review which we now have done
and which will lead us to be able to bring forward the review
of our extradition procedures. I have no knowledge of an extradition
request for the individual concerned in relation to the Luxor
massacre being made to the British Government.
26. Home Secretary, the accusation, accurate
or otherwise, made by the Egyptian authorities and particularly
by the President of Egypt, was such that he said that London was
a haven for what he described as "Islamic extremists".
I take the point you have made that no extradition application
was made, and I am just wondering how far the British Government
and previous British Governments took on board the accusation
that Britain was a haven for extremists?
(Mr Blunkett) I stand corrected, but I think the FBI
have issued a statement today indicating their position in terms
of their view, following their enormous review over the last six
weeks since 11 September and its aftermath, that that is not the
case. We believe that where there is evidence on an individual,
past and future, we will take action against them and will do
so in relation to the evidence being provided. On each occasion
where individual cases have been drawn to our attention, I and
other relevant Ministers have insisted, quite rightly, that they
are followed through and that they are investigated. I hope that
with the new legislation we will be able to act more swiftly than
we have been able to do in the past.
27. I am wondering if you are also aware, Home
Secretary, of how some of these extremists have undoubtedly caused
a tremendous amount of difficulty on campuses where they have
been trying to recruit Muslims who have been intimidated. In some
instances such Muslim students have been told that their families
could be "told"and we know what that meanshence
the action taken by the National Union of Students in banning
a particular type of extremist organisation. My question to you
is, Home Secretary, does it not give rise to a feeling that perhaps
we should be doing more to protect people, students, certainly
Muslims, from these extremists?
(Mr Blunkett) I firstly welcome the actions of the
NUS in what they did. We made available considerable cost support
and advice from the security services and the police to all those
who feel in any way threatened or intimidated, either by those
seeking to recruit or engage them in terrorism or pseudo terrorist
action and in protecting people within the community who feel
at risk. We will continue to do so. When my predecessor proscribed
the 21 organisations following the Terrorism Act we were mindful
that the fragmentation of those groups and their re-emergence
would want vigilance on our part and the security services are
certainly doing that. I repeat what I said, not just out of the
fact that it is some sort of cover, but we do need evidence from
people of precisely what happened to them and then with the Crown
Prosecution Service we can pursue those issues more vigorously
and clearly than is sometimes the case.
28. What about the extremists, who in no way
represent the mainstream of Muslim opinion, who have no permanent
resident as such in this country and who use their religious position
as such to defend and justify the horrors of 11 September, is
there not a justified reaction from so many British people asking,
why on earth are such people here in the first place?
(Mr Blunkett) They do ask questions like that, I would
not say, wholly, I would not be too embarrassed to say so, it
is pretty much the same instincts that most other people have
on these matters. When I discovered that one individual, who has
been very prominent over the last six years, but not so much over
the last fortnight thanks to the media not giving him so much
of a platform as they were, in 1991 he had been picked up and
had been interrogated in relation to his threat to the kill the
then Prime Minister. The Crown Prosecution Service at the time
did not find there was sufficient evidence to follow through with
charging. I want to make sure that if people are picked up that
we learn the lessons that have had to be learned from the past,
including at the time of the Gulf War, not to pick people up unless,
(a) they are chargeable and (b) those charges will stick because
it undermines the credibility of what we are doing, and to distinguish
those who are simply mouthing off for gaining publicity and those
who are either engaged in conspiracy or incitement or other activity,
which both existing and the new law will help us to deal with.
29. Did you contemplate, Home Secretary, derogating
from Article 3 of the ECHR rather than Article 5 so you could
give more weight to deportation and less to internment?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I did consider it. The question
I have to answer in my own mind, and I think we all have to answer,
is precisely where we would send people back to in circumstances
where there is not an extradition treaty but where there is suspicion
of their activities outside this country or the danger of their
activities taking place inside this country short of being able
to deal with them under extradition and therefore whether we would
send them back to certain death or torture. Unless you can answer
the question yes there would be no point in what would amount
to deratifying, pulling out of the European Convention on Human
Rights, with all of the implications that would have, not merely
in terms of Britain as an open country with civil liberties that
we seek to protect, but also our international relations. I cannot
say more strongly that having examined that and come to the conclusions
that I would not send people back to their certain death without
knowing that the judicial process was acceptable, because that
is the real test, that the alternative was to be able to hold
people until a safe third country was attainable. It is different
where we have extradition treaties.
30. Is this not the problem, Home Secretary,
that instead of being able to work out what the best response
is in each case, internment or deportation, because of the ECHR
we are stuck with deciding to derogate from Article 5 and going
for internment. In many cases people are not being sent home to
certain death, the courts are just deciding they do not like that
particular country. Are we not being artificially constrained
in terms of making policy?
(Mr Blunkett) There are two issues here, one is the
interpretation and the handing down, jurisprudence, in terms of
practice and, of course, the Soering case in terms of the Strasbourg
Court is the famous one; and the question of how we frame our
laws and how we implement them and I am open to persuasion, and
have been, in terms of whether Parliament expresses itself sufficiently
clearly. I come back again to the fact that if a country has an
acceptable judicial process and they wish to reach an extradition
treaty we are able to do so. We are trying to deal with circumstances
where if we were to deratify, to disengage with the ECHR would
there actually in practice be a point. Having examined this carefully
I have concluded there would not.
(Mr Gieve) On that, there is no provision to derogate
from the Article.
31. I slightly suspected that. That is why one
does not have the choice.
(Mr Gieve) As the Home Secretary said it would be
a question of deratifying. Obviously you can argue about the interpretation
but there is no provision to derogate from that Article.
32. It seems to me that the problem is people
coming to this country who we know have been involved in terrorism
and what is our response. The response is going to be, as I understand
it, to intern them, with all of the costs that involves, and possibly
making, who knows, this country more of a target. We cannot go
for the deportation option because we are stuck with the ECHR.
In some cases it would be better to have the choice of deportation,
or your plans for internment.
(Mr Blunkett) I hope we will be able to reach more
constructive extradition treaties with agreements that actually
ensure that the country who are seeking to put people on trial
can adduce the evidence and can carry that through. I think that
if we can get that then we would have made a big step forward.
Mr Cameron: Thank you.
33. Is it intended that the proposed Extradition
Bill will be retrospective, Home Secretary?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, it is.
34. One small point about embarkation controls,
it has been alleged that the scrapping some years ago of routine
embarkation controls has made it easier for terrorists to move
in and out of Britain, are you going to reconsider or consider
reintroducing such controls to British ports?
(Mr Blunkett) I have two stages for the
broader policies here, one in the next fortnight will be a statement
to the Commons on the broad asylum policy and the second will
be a White Paper, which will be on and nationality and immigration
asylum policy more broadly. I hope to be able to deal with the
questions that have been raised round embarkation in both. I am
aware of the debate which, incidentally, I do not think rested
purely on the saving of costs but the logistics of being able
to handle this in a way which provides credibility. I have not
yet been convinced that we can do that but I am very keen to be
convinced because it seems to me that knowing who is coming and
going is very helpful. Of course that opens up all sorts of other
35. No identity cards?
(Mr Blunkett) I thought you might mention
36. You said you are persuadable, what would
it take to persuade you?
(Mr Blunkett) It would take to persuade
me that we could implement a policy that is not simply engaged
with policing but was engaged with providing entitlements that
related to developing a common citizenship, that provided measures
against fraud and mis-identification, that enabled convenience
to be gained from reducing the multiplicity of evidence that has
to be adduced in terms of our identity at one time or another,
each week of our lives, and that the administration and cost could
be borne in different ways. On 14 September I was asked a question
about this on the Today Programme and I had two choices, one was
to rule it out and the other was to tell the truth, which is that
this is an issue that is worthy of review. I indicated then that
I did not wish it to be done purely on the back of the attack
on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, that it was a much
broader issue than that, and we would consider it carefully. The
Government as a whole is considering it carefully, we have not
ruled it out nor have we made a decision.
37. Thank you. Presumably nothing much is likely
to happen in the near future on that issue, given all of the other
things on your plate?
(Mr Blunkett) Not this side of the statement
to the House, no, nor after the statement to the House. I thought
I just better correct that in case the whole of the weekend papers
were speculating I was about to make an announcement on it.
38. Can you just clarify that again?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes.
39. Not this side of which statement?
(Mr Blunkett) Not this side of the statement
to the House on nationality and asylum or immediately after it.
Chairman: Mr Russell, we are turning now to
1 See Appendix 1 p 17. Back