Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)




  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 our Committee.
  (Mr Gieve) Indeed.

  Chairman: We now turn to anti-terrorism legislation. Mrs Watkinson.

Angela Watkinson

  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 us—not 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 with—and therefore protecting ourselves in new ways makes sense. I do not make any apology—I talked at great length to the now Foreign Secretary about this, and neither does he—for 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 this?
  (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.

David Winnick

  24. Home Secretary, following the massacre of 58 tourists in which there were six British citizens involved in Egypt—
  (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 concerned?
  (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 means—hence 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.

Mr Winnick

  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.

Mr Cameron

  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?[1]

  (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 questions.

  35. No identity cards?

  (Mr Blunkett) I thought you might mention that.

  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 civil contingencies.

1   See Appendix 1 p 17. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 21 January 2002