Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3 Mar 2003 : Column 603—continued

Jeremy Corbyn: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing the early part of his speech. Is he aware of reports that the United States is considering taking prisoners from Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan, to be imprisoned on Diego Garcia and interviewed there? Although the Government assure us that there are currently no prisoners on Diego Garcia, what would be the legal situation of any prisoners, given that it is a British territory?

Simon Hughes: I sincerely hope that we would not allow that to happen. One argument that I have heard in regard to Guantanamo bay is that it has American jurisdiction, so America is allowed to determine the matter. However, I was troubled by a ruling by a court in the United States that that was outside its legal jurisdiction. That seemed entirely incompatible with all traditions of human rights and international law. We must have stronger voices from the Foreign Office.

The tradition in this country has always been that people have a right to a trial before the courts can lock them up. The imprisonment of suspected terrorists, no matter how few or how many, without charge or trial is an extraordinary departure from the norm. We opposed those powers 15 months ago because we did not believe that the case for them was made out sufficiently to mean that other alternatives would not have sufficed. However, given that there is, as every one of us across the House must accept, a real and ongoing terrorist threat, we are prepared to accept the renewal of the powers for the limited further period of a year.

In the meantime, it is a consolation that the Government's activities are subject to the strongest scrutiny, both by Parliament and the courts, but it is better to have occasional exemptions and derogations from the Human Rights Act 1998 than not to have a convention on human rights or a Human Rights Act at all. We are prepared to argue for the continuing tradition of human rights in this country on the basis that we will always be vigilant and that we will always hold the Government to account.

4.49 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): In the minute that remains to me, I should like to make a couple of very short points.

I support the measure, just as I did when the Bill was introduced. A number of Opposition Members get slightly fed up with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary telling us that we did not support the legislation. Of course we do not like it and we question it—that is what we are supposed to do—but we see that there is no full alternative at the moment. I wanted to talk about trying to work at an alternative by restoring the Home Secretary's powers to deport people.

I asked the Home Secretary earlier about the power that he is taking in using article 15 of the European convention on human rights to derogate from article 5. I pointed out that, in order to use the power, he has to claim that there is a

3 Mar 2003 : Column 604

That public emergency will not last for ever. The problem that we face is that some people who have used the asylum system to come to this country threaten it, and that problem will continue unless we restore to ourselves the ability to deport such people.

That is why article 3 is so important. As I have said many times, it does not include the word "deportation". It is the interpretation of the courts that has internationalised article 3, which simply states:

Under the Soering case and other cases, the article has been internationalised to apply to non-EU citizens who happen to be in this country and to every country in the world, whether or not it has signed up to the convention. Until we deal with that problem, I am worried that the law in question may have to stay in force very much longer than any of us want, as the Home Secretary will come back each year with a similar proposal. He may not be able to say clearly that a public emergency is threatening the life of the nation, but he will know that individuals are threatening this country. As he cannot deport them, however, he will have no choice but to use the power that he is taking.

In referring to the power, the Joint Committee on Human Rights cited in its excellent report a quotation from Winston Churchill:

That is the power that we have to have in part, because in court cases under article 3 we have lost the right to remove from this country people who threaten it.

4.52 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Although this has been a short debate, it has been a very serious one, as befits the very serious issues that we are discussing. In passing, I say to the Government business managers that an hour and a half is perhaps rather too short a time to discuss such serious matters. Perhaps there should be a Southwark, North and Bermondsey allowance, given that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who speaks for his party, took twice as long as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and effectively used all the Back-Bench time. I shall be brief.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made it clear that we support continuation of the order. The legislation, which is hedged around with sunset clauses and reviews, is in the form in which we wished it to be enacted. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the Home Secretary approved that hedging around with sunset clauses and reviews, but those changes were introduced only after a pitched battle in which, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), said, both Liberal Democrats and Conservative Members voted against the Home Secretary, and in which both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Committee wanted the safeguards to be introduced.

3 Mar 2003 : Column 605

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out that Lord Carlile identified differences between Her Majesty's prisons Woodhill and Belmarsh. Opposition Members welcome the Home Secretary's acknowledgement that that is a serious issue that needs to be looked into. My right hon. Friend also pointed out that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission should continue to proceed without awaiting the final determination of the challenge to derogation, which may take two years and may go to Strasbourg. He also referred to Lord Carlile's concern about the possible need to consider rewording sections 23(4) and 22(3)(c) of the Act to make the phrases in those provisions more effective.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South rightly pointed out that the current security situation might prevail for years, and that people might therefore remain detained for years. I think it fair to say, however, that there is still serious concern among Conservative Members and outside the House about those who canvass actively for terrorist organisations, particularly some associated with the Finsbury Park mosque. It is feared that the powers taken by the Home Secretary have not been used to detain specific individuals who are often in the public eye, and who seek actively to publicise support for terrorist groups.

Jeremy Corbyn: As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Finsbury Park mosque is in my constituency. I hope he is aware that the individual to whom I assume he was referring has been removed and banned from the mosque, that the mosque itself is not open as it is awaiting repairs and refurbishment, and that the perverted form of Islam preached by that individual has zero support in the area and the local Muslim community.

Mr. Hawkins: That is why I used the words "previously associated", as the record will show. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding assent, indicating that he had understood me to say that. Nevertheless, concern continues, and I think that concern legitimate. We want these exceptional powers to be used sparingly—as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said—but to be used where appropriate for the protection of the state. We should not allow our proper concern for safeguards and human rights to overtake our primary concern as parliamentarians in all parts of the House, which is to secure the safety of the British people.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey described the way in which the legislation, in its final form, came into existence, through votes in another place, and spoke of the built-in safeguards. He said, and we agreed, that it would not be appropriate to divide the House when the matter is in mid-process. He praised the Home Secretary for using the power sparingly. He expressed his view on the derogation, which was different from mine and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. He talked about the limited use of the powers, about the Geneva convention, and about the discussion he had had with my right hon. Friend when he intervened earlier on the different legal views that we take on that issue.

3 Mar 2003 : Column 606

The hon. Gentleman accepted that there should be continuing use of the new Committee of Privy Councillors chaired by my noble Friend Lord Newton of Braintree, which also includes my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), who intervened earlier. He described concerns prompted by the recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We agree that its view should be taken seriously: there is no division between any of us on any side of the debate in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was worried about the way in which our support for the legislation has sometimes been misrepresented—inadvertently, I am sure—by the Home Secretary and others. It has been suggested, even by as distinguished a figure as the Prime Minister, that we opposed it. We never did. We sought to amend and improve it, and following our success in improving it through the votes in another place the Home Secretary now praises the final version. I hope we shall not hear the Prime Minister misrepresent the position in future.

We support the continuance of the legislation, but we want the Government to listen carefully to the views we have expressed, and will go on expressing, about ways in which it could be improved still further and ways in which people who are a threat to this country may in future be deported rather than merely being detained.

Next Section

IndexHome Page