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Suspected Terrorists

7. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will make a statement on the detention of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism at Belmarsh prison. [197735]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): Under part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, 17 non-British nationals have been held under the certification system as posing a terrorist risk. One of those is being held under other powers and two have left the country. One individual has had an appeal upheld, one is being held under strict bail conditions and one has been released as no longer posing a serious threat, and thus 11 people are primarily held under the certification system.

Mr. Carmichael: The Home Secretary will no doubt have heard the comments made by Europe's Human Rights Commissioner last week when he said that he could see no justification at all for the detention of 10 inmates in Belmarsh. The right hon. Gentleman will also have seen a report last month by several psychiatrists saying that such detention was having a serious impact on the mental health of those inmates. Is it not time to find a way of implementing the recommendations of the Newton report, as endorsed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on alternatives to such detention?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman may have missed the fact that we published a consultation paper at the end of February and have been taking views on how to proceed when dealing with international terrorist threats in circumstances in which we have to secure the information and advice of the security services without putting their sources at risk. Having met the Human Rights Commissioner last week, I found that he was unaware of the independent assessment and review of
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the mental health services at Belmarsh and that the Prison Service had been awarded beacon status by the national health service.

We took up Lord Carlile's recommendations that those individuals should be moved to a specific and specially developed facility. We offered such a facility at Woodhill at considerable cost and, on the advice of solicitors, those who are held under part 4 refused to go. We cannot force them to move out of Belmarsh, but we can offer a choice. If solicitors choose, for all the reasons of which we may be aware, to advise their clients not to take that alternative, that choice lies with them, not us.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The Home Secretary will be well aware of the controversy surrounding the introduction of the legislation, which gives him unique powers to hold individuals without charge, trial or access to a normal court. How long does he expect the process to last before legislation is introduced to repeal that section of anti-terrorist legislation to ensure that all cases go through an open criminal court in the normal way, something to which any British national would be entitled?

Mr. Blunkett: There are circumstances in which any British national would not go through an open transparent court system in the usual way. They could be subject to particular restrictions on, for example, a public interest assessment basis. The Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and I have been examining that. We will introduce recommendations, subsequent to the current appeal to the House of Lords on derogation, on the way forward.

We have a choice. Either we hold individuals in the way that we do now, because we cannot remove them from the country on human rights grounds, or we release them, which means that we have to be sure that they will not take life and liberty and organise against us as part of the al-Qaeda network. As the court of superior record and the Appeal Court have affirmed that those concerned are linked with al-Qaeda and pose a threat, it would be irresponsible to release them.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the Home Secretary recognise that there is a matter of principle at stake? It is surely wrong in principle that a dozen or so people should be held in custody, in some cases for more than two years, without being charged or tried. When can those people expect to be either tried or released?

Mr. Blunkett: I am sorry, but the principle that I am following is the protection of the well-being of the British people. If that principle has to be reinforced by using powers that were introduced in exceptional circumstances and voted for by all major parties, we will continue to use them. There are three-monthly reviews of the cases and the appeals that I described have been undertaken. The court of superior record also involved special advocates assigned as legal representatives, and they had the right of appeal to the Appeal Court. We have taken every possible step to protect those people's interests. They are, of course, free to leave the country any time they feel that they can do so without being threatened with death and torture in other nations.
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David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): While recognising that my right hon. Friend faces a difficult problem when he is advised that certain individuals—foreign nationals—are an acute terrorist danger, is he nevertheless aware that there is bound to be unease, as expressed today, that people can be held indefinitely without charges? Will he continue to look for ways in which that can be overcome, perhaps along the lines of charging? That would be much better for the laws of our land and our consciences.

Mr. Blunkett: I am certainly aware of the disquiet. Three years ago, we all expressed disquiet at the necessity for introducing the powers. Those were voted for and have to be reaffirmed annually by the House, with a sunset clause in November 2006. What I am seeking are sensible contributions to how we can square the circle of protecting the sources of the advice that we receive and ensuring that those who are in front of the courts receive a fair hearing and fair representation, while protecting the well-being of the British nation. The proportionality and care that we adopted in passing the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is reflected in the limited use of the certification powers, which, when we passed the Act exactly three years ago, were described as a charter to hold hundreds of people without trial. That has not taken place and reviews of the use of the powers by Lord Carlile and the interception of communications commissioner have confirmed that we have used those powers sparingly.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has argued much more eloquently than I could that the holding of those individuals is not only wrong but unjust. Does the Secretary of State accept that every day that those men are detained, they act as a focus for further unrest? One way around that might be to adopt a more thoughtful approach towards evidence. Can he tell us when it will be possible to use intercept intelligence as evidence in court?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman has made an excellent case as to why he should never be the homeland security tsar for Britain, because discontent regarding the individuals who are held does not exist. If we released them and they continued to pose a risk and colluded on attacks in this country, the unrest at that moment in time would exceed anything that we have experienced here before. Of course, we are prepared to continue examining inceptors' evidence, and we are currently taking the advice of all the security and policing services. Once we have done so, we will make an announcement to the House, but we do not have a panacea for dealing with the problem, at the root of which is admissibility and the nature of the evidence, not the question of whether supporting intercept evidence has been provided.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend publish a comparison as to the way in which other countries, particularly in western Europe, deal with the problem? As I understand it—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—other countries deport such individuals against their will to
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countries that we regard as having an unacceptable record of human rights abuses. If that is so, are we not dealing with the problem by keeping them here as long as they wish to stay while also enabling them to go, whereas other countries are simply sending them back to possible torture and death?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend is right, and there are two aspects to consider. First, the magistrate investigation system in many European countries allows people to be held without being brought to court for very long periods of time. Secondly, some countries with judicial systems and human rights lawyers take a different view from human rights lawyers and the judiciary in our country. I respect their right to do so, which is why we have been careful not to remove people to countries where they might be threatened with death and torture. There is a paradox, however, and to be accused of taking away human rights when we are not removing people because we are concerned about their human rights really takes the biscuit.

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