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25 Feb 2004 : Column 292

Points of Order

1.2 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from the Prime Minister to come to the House to clarify the fact that the guidance on random drug testing, to which he referred in Prime Minister's Question Time, was issued on 16 February, contrary to the impression that he gave? I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that he would like to come to the House to ensure that Hansard is corrected, and so that neither the House nor the public are inadvertently misled by his comments.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the Prime Minister will be back next Wednesday, and someone can put that question to him then.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that if a Minister, even inadvertently, says something to the House that is incorrect, he should correct it? In those circumstances, is it not incumbent on the Prime Minister either to amend the record in Hansard or come to the House and tell us that he got it wrong?

Mr. Speaker: I was trying to say in response to the first point of order that I am not going to be drawn into these matters.

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Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security

[Relevant document: The Sixth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2003–04 on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001: Statutory Review and Continuance of Part 4, HC 381.]

1.3 pm

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

I urge the House to reject the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which would immediately withdraw the opportunity to protect ourselves through the process adopted in part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which has been used to ensure that those who have been certificated and gone through that process are held in secure accommodation, pending their efforts or the efforts of the Government to secure a third country to which they can be removed. In this afternoon's debate I hope that we can address some of the underlying issues and challenges that face us.

First, I want to thank Lord Newton and the members of the Privy Counsellor Review Committee for their dedicated work. We all appreciate the time, energy and commitment that they have put into the task that both Houses gave them in the 2001 Act. I also thank Lord Carlile for his continuing work and his further annual report on part 4 of the Act, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, for her report on the material that was published yesterday.

I should like all the reports to be considered alongside the discussion paper that the Government published today, which was placed in the House at 9.30 this morning. I shall take them together because when the House considered the Act it decided that we should examine Lord Newton's report as part of the continuing review of the measure. Lord Carlile reviewed part 4 and we have taken on board suggestions that he made on previous occasions about changes in the regime for those who are currently held in Belmarsh and Broadmoor and further changes that would be beneficial for implementing the Act.

I address the House with some temerity because when we passed the Act we debated the substantial dangers involved in any democracy taking powers, as we did when we created the Special Immigration Appeals Commission as a superior court of record, chaired by a High Court judge, in circumstances in which we knew that security information would have to be provided and facilities established outside the normal criminal justice system. Many Members of both Houses raised perfectly legitimate issues in relation to the challenge that that posed to human rights and the presumption of innocence. We took on the challenge only because we believed that part 4 offered the only way of protecting our security from terrorism from abroad and from non-British citizens whom we could not remove from this country. We could not remove them precisely because we respected international conventions and the human

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rights of individuals who would be put at risk if they were returned to their country of origin, where they faced possible death or torture. That remains the case.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary explain how our security is enhanced by a secretive judicial process whereby people can be detained indefinitely on his signature as opposed to an open court system, which could at least ascertain the veracity of the evidence? The guilty would then be imprisoned rather than subject to the indeterminate detention that he appears to support in the document that was published today.

Mr. Blunkett: There are two parts to my hon. Friend's question. First, he asks whether security is enhanced and secondly whether the process, which he clearly does not like, for verifying the evidence that is presented to the superior court of record, namely the SIAC, does the job of ensuring that the evidence that the security services adduce is credible and therefore has veracity.

I am clear that the certification process for the 17 people who have gone through it has been done correctly. The reviews that have taken place and the challenge to the process in the appeal court have verified that. We shall fight vigorously the further challenge that will be taken to the House of Lords. The certification process and SIAC's processes have been reviewed by SIAC in 11 announced cases out of 14. It has verified that the process and the level of evidence are sufficient. The process obviously accords with the evidence given by the head of the Security Service, Eliza Manningham-Buller, who recently said:

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): On that basis, the Home Secretary clearly agrees with me that the threat from terrorism will not go away in the near future, and therefore we cannot consider the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 as temporary or emergency legislation. Is he therefore content to retain legislation in a form that does not fully meet requirements—for example, dealing with British citizens—and which will require a semi-permanent derogation from the European convention on human rights?

Mr. Blunkett: The derogation from article 5 is allowed under article 15 of the European convention on human rights. Article 15 was originally included in the convention because it was envisaged that at points in time it would be necessary to derogate, and without it there would be no facility for derogation. Our criminal justice system—and our criminal justice process as a whole—strictly adheres to the European convention on human rights compared with systems in other countries, so it was right for us to be honest and open by derogating. Some countries clearly operate without derogation by holding people without trial under an investigatory, inquisitorial process. Our combative process rightly expects that people will be brought to court rather than their being held almost in perpetuity without trial while investigations proceed for year after year.

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As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Gentleman understands the issues and I respect his views. For the time being, my advisers and I believe that it is crucial that part 4 of the 2001 Act remains in place given the security risk and the presence of those whom I certificated. Those individuals used the SIAC process to challenge those certifications, and their lawyers have also gone to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords on the wider issue of whether we were correct to take the derogation and to use the powers. I sincerely believe that on the evidence produced those individuals pose a continuing threat, which is why I certificated them in the first place. The certification process has been upheld and verified by SIAC and by the generic appeal to the Court of Appeal. We have used a higher level of evidence and lifted the test higher than the standard required by "reasonable belief", which was the test laid down in this House just more than two years ago.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I have some reservations, which I hope to have the opportunity to express later. Can my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary imagine the criticism and backlash if, having been told by the security authorities that those foreign nationals are a threat and could well be involved in terrorism, he took no action and a terrorist outrage occurred in which some of those people were involved?

Mr. Blunkett: I can imagine the criticism, and I have been imagining it for nearly two and a half years. I do not expect people to give any Home Secretary past, present or future any quarter on those issues, but I guarantee that I have and will do anything possible within our law, our justice, the presumption of innocence and the rejection of the use of arbitrary power to protect us against the threat or use of terror in our country. I carry that basic obligation in this office, and the Government carry it on behalf of the people. If we were to fail to meet that obligation and there were an incident, I would worry about death, torture and destabilisation, but I would also worry about the reaction, which would not allow the kind of debate that we are having this afternoon about how we take on the challenges.

I re-emphasise that the original debate, the report and the challenge posed by the discussion that I am keen to encourage and support over the next few months is about how we deal with those profound issues while protecting our democratic life and maintaining our commitment to the principles of democracy, good government, justice and the presumption of innocence. The discussion must occur in an environment that allows us to address the issues calmly and sensibly, as we are doing this afternoon and have done in previous debates. If hon. Members have alternative ways to address the same challenges, they must bring them forward. In part, the Newton committee did its best to address the issues. Both the committee and Lord Carlile have raised some important questions, which I shall come to shortly.

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