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3 Mar 2003 : Column 583—continued

Mr. Speaker: No, but I get the feeling that the hon. Gentleman wanted to put the matter on the record.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence was repeatedly asked about the B-52s and the change in bombing over Iraq in the past few days, which is a radical departure from only protecting the no-fly zones. Some of us think that war has already started through the back door and that last week's debate was an absolute mockery, while we were given an assurance that we would be consulted further. Given the lack of any answers to genuine questions, may I ask you to request that the Secretary of State comes back to the House and gives a full and proper statement in which he answers the questions asked today?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady can apply—I am not inviting her to do so—for an urgent question. That is the procedure that she should follow.

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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

[Relevant document: Fifth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2002–03, on the Continuance in force of sections 21–23 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, (HC 462).]

3.33 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I beg to move,

As on previous occasions, I want to express on behalf of the House our thanks to all those who have worked so diligently over the past 20 months to secure our well-being, ranging from those in the intelligence and security services, the anti-terrorism branch and the enforcement agencies to those working in our Department who have given time, energy and commitment. I am very pleased that Sir David Omand is co-ordinating and working so well in ensuring that the Government, our agencies and those working with us are prepared for what the Prime Minister in his Mansion House speech and I in my publication of 7 November described as an issue for the years ahead, rather than the weeks and months.

Following the events since the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, all of us have become aware that we are in for a very long haul indeed. It is on that basis that we need incrementally to learn from experience and what has happened around us and build on that for the future.

As I said on 13 February, we must recognise that levels of security will rise and fall, and that on occasions information provided both internally and across the world indicates a heightened threat level. Let me also again make it clear that exercises will be necessary to make us better prepared to test existing arrangements, and to be honest about whether they are adequate. Over coming weeks we will organise such an exercise here in London to ensure that we are satisfied—and can satisfy the House and the public—that we are as prepared as it is possible to be, in the real world, for any internal attack, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks. We ask for the patience of the House and the public, and for calmness, during the undertaking of such exercises.

The efforts that have been expended since part 4 of the Act was passed are well known to those who have taken an interest. I pay tribute to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which, in continuing its work, has been able to scrutinise Ministers and hold them to account, and also to report to the House as it did last July and will again this year.

In renewing the power contained in the Act, I feel sure that if anyone had doubts originally, what has happened since will have swept away concern about whether our action was proportionate. Later this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with issues connected to the threat level relating to the attack in Bali, but the lesson of Bali is clear: completely innocent people were the target of that attack. Endeavours to attack innocent people across the world have been foiled

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by appropriate action on the part of the security and intelligence services, and by policing in a range of countries including ours.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I do not doubt the importance of this legislation, particularly when we are dealing with the likes of Abu Qatada, but have there been any requests for extradition by other countries of those currently being detained?

Mr. Blunkett: I am not aware of a request for the extradition of any of the 13 individuals whom we are currently holding in detention under part 4, including sections 21 and 22. I am of course mindful of the need to respond to requests of that sort. That is why, both through the extradition legislation we are updating and through general procedures, we are trying to improve the processes involved.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): I do not think it would be appropriate for me, as a member of the review committee, to take part in the debate, but I would like to ask the Home Secretary a question, as a Member of Parliament rather than a member of the committee. Does he intend to publish a summary of actions taken under various parts of the legislation for the information of the House, as part of the renewal procedure?

Mr. Blunkett: The right hon. Gentleman and I had constructive exchanges when the Bill was going through Parliament. In a later part of my speech—I shall try to be brief—I will spell out all the new arrangements both for informing the public more widely of what we have agreed here, and for reassuring the House that the information will be readily available to Members.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Home Secretary will remember that the precedent for this legislation going through was the Government's request for Parliament to agree to a derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights. Although opposed from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that was agreed to by Parliament. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has made it clear in its report that in order to comply with our international obligations we have to declare a public emergency and that that was not done explicitly before. Can the Home Secretary make it clear whether he intends from now on that, if there is what he or the Government regard as a public emergency, it will be formally declared in a way that does not allow any doubt?

Mr. Blunkett: We had not only excellent advice but the decisions of the Appeal Court in relation to whether we were justified in taking the steps that we took. I will repeat this later but the Appeal Court verified our actions following the appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I have been very pleased to receive advice from the Joint Committee on Human

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Rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), the Chairman of that Committee, gives me regular advice extraneous to the Committee's.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Even when you don't ask for it.

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, even when I do not ask for it. I am very pleased to receive it.

I think that the Appeal Court was an appropriate venue—

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): The Home Secretary will be aware that many people in this country are very worried about the great powers that he is given under this legislation and feel that it undermines any respect for normal law and judicial processes. Can he give some indication how much longer he expects the legislation to last? And would it not be better to rely on the criminal law and the open courts system, rather than the great power that has been given to him as an elected politician to detain people indefinitely?

Mr. Blunkett: This House determined that we would have an annual renewal of the order and the derogation. This House determined that we would have the review by Lord Carlile, to which I shall come shortly. This House determined that there should be the review committee to which the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) referred—of which he is a distinguished member—under the chairmanship of Lord Newton, and that there would be a sunset clause after five years. I do not think that there has ever been an Act or part of an Act that has been subject to as much review, scrutiny, renewal and cancellation as this— and rightly so because of the salience of the power being used not simply through me but in terms of the procedure that has to be adhered to and the determination of this House as to whether renewal and derogation from article 5 are justified.

The events around the issue of ricin; the alert three weeks ago at Heathrow; our action to proscribe additional organisations; the evidence that has existed across Europe on arrests; and the discovery of plots and plans for terrorist actions against civilians throughout the world lead to a justification for asking the House to renew both the order and the derogation this afternoon. It is in the context of recognising the importance of exercising the power with great discretion but also of recognising that we need to protect ourselves from those who recognise no legal procedures, no boundaries and no parameters in terms of the action they are prepared to take, that I am satisfied that there remains a public emergency, that it is as spelled out 15 months ago, to refer to the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, and that therefore we need to ask the House to renew the power.

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