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Mr. Clarke: I think I have already dealt with those points as well. I have committed myself to considering the issues involved, and to returning to the House to discuss them in the round.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Although most of those affected by the decision are in Belmarsh, one is in Woodhill prison in my
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constituency. I entirely accept the Home Secretary's description of this issue as a difficult one, requiring us to balance the right of the individual to a fair trial against the need to protect the general public. When the issue returns to Parliament, will he be as open as he can be with Members about all the information behind these cases, and explain why the measures on which the Government decided were the only way in which the matters could be handled at the time? Back Benchers want to understand the reasoning behind the Government's current proposals.

Mr. Clarke: I can assure my hon. Friend that I will indeed be as open as I can be, although I think she and the House understand that difficult security issues are involved.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): During the passage of the 2001 Act, many of us could not quite square detention without trial with article 6 of the European convention on human rights. May I urge the Home Secretary to act quickly and positively? Otherwise, the certification that Bills comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 may well become a meaningless endorsement.

Mr. Clarke: I return to the point with which I began. The Human Rights Act requires a derogation to be indicated if necessary in a particular case. That was done in this case, quite properly. It is then for Parliament to decide how to respond to the circumstances. I do not think that our approach involves any devaluation of the Act, which has been followed to the letter and in accordance with processes that were established when the Bill was passed.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend spoke of the threat of international terrorism. When carrying out his assessment, will he take account of what happens in other countries facing similar threats? Will he also confirm that the individuals currently being detained could leave tomorrow, and return to the countries from which they come?

Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that. I had not thought to highlight the point, but it is important and arises specifically in the case of those detained in such circumstances. I can also confirm, as I did earlier, that we will consider the situation in the round.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does the Home Secretary accept that the Law Lords did not make what he described as an ethical, moral or philosophical judgment, but a legal judgment? Does he accept that that judgment is now a statement of law regarding the relationship between human rights legislation and terrorism legislation? Since the judgment, he has given the impression—unintentionally, I am sure—of being rather contemptuous of it.

Mr. Clarke: I am not at all contemptuous of the Law Lords' judgment. Theirs is the very highest
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court, and they judge the law in the way described by the hon. Gentleman. However, as an experienced parliamentarian, he will understand the relationship between their judgment and the duties and obligations of Parliament. That was clearly established at every point during the progress of the Human Rights Act, and rightly so. That has also been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside, the former Home Secretary, who I am delighted to see is present. That has been clear throughout the whole of this discussion. The Law Lords understand that very well and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands it properly, but it is in the light of that that the judgments have to be made by this Parliament.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Few of us envy the Home Secretary in the current dilemma, any more than we did his predecessor, who I am also extremely pleased to see in the Chamber. Many of us who feel that there is excessive hysteria about asylum issues in general still do not feel that it will be possible to defend free entry to Britain for people whom we believe wish to support terrorist acts in Britain. I consulted constituents on this last year, and my impression is that there would be widespread support for powers to prosecute people for co-operation with terrorists—I say co-operation rather than mere association—as an alternative to detention under current law, and that that should apply to British nationals as well as to foreign nationals. Will the Home Secretary consider that in his review?

Mr. Clarke: I will consider that, but my hon. Friend used the word "envy" in an interesting way when he said that he did not envy me or my predecessors the responsibility here. There is a key point here. If we choose to live in a democracy, we have to face up to the responsibilities of that and take the decisions necessary to ensure that we continue to live in a democracy. That may not be enviable, but it is not only my responsibility and the responsibility of other Members of the Government; it is for all Members of the House to think how to carry out such responsibilities properly. I would argue that that extends to wider groups in society as well. It is not a question of my having a particularly unenviable responsibility; it is a question of all of us facing up to our responsibility to preserve democracy when it is under these kind of threats. I am glad that the issue will be debated in the House in the new year so that we can consider how to address it.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): In considering the matter, will the Home Secretary also bear in mind the political dimension of the difficulties that we and the Government have in rationally criticising the state of affairs in Guantanamo bay while we ourselves also have imprisonment in this way?

Mr. Clarke: I will look at those issues, but my hon. and learned Friend makes the point extremely clearly. The obligation to determine how to defend our democracy is particularly an obligation on our learned Friends in the House, who should consider how the law can play its proper role. That is a key question for us all.
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Brussels European Council

3.57 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the European Council that took place in Brussels on 16 and 17 December.

I begin by congratulating Prime Minister Balkenende and the Dutch Government on their handling of the Council and, indeed, on their entire presidency. I also want to congratulate the presidency on achieving the historic agreement to begin accession negotiations with Turkey. This is a hugely important and welcome moment for Europe. Turkey lies at the intersection of three areas of strategic importance to Europe—the middle east, central Asia and the Balkans. So a stable and democratic Turkey will help to strengthen our influence and role in all three areas.

Turkey is an important and trusted NATO ally. It will take over the international security assistance force lead from Britain in Afghanistan and replace Eurocorps in Kabul next February. Turkey is a strongly growing economy which, as a market of 70 million people, imports over €40 billion worth of goods from the EU each year. Our own trade with Turkey is now over £4 billion a year and is growing at some 30 per cent. annually.

The fact that Turkey is beginning negotiations to join the EU shows that those who believe that there is some fundamental clash of civilisations between Christian and Muslim are wrong. Muslim, Christian and other religious faiths, can work together in democratic, tolerant and multicultural societies. Turkey's membership is therefore of fundamental importance for the future peace and prosperity of Britain, Europe and the wider world.

The European Council agreed that Turkey should begin negotiations on 3 October 2005, during the British presidency of Europe. Before this happens, however, Turkey will need to complete its latest reform package. The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, confirmed during the European Council that he was ready to sign before 3 October the protocol to the Ankara agreement extending the European Union and Turkey customs union to the 10 new EU member states. That does not constitute formal legal recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. The accession negotiations thereafter are likely to last at least a decade. Turkey's performance, including in relation to respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, will be closely monitored, and we will want to see a satisfactory track record of implementation before each of the negotiating chapters is closed. Moreover, there is the option of long transition periods, derogations or even permanently available safeguards, should these be required.

It is worth emphasising how much Turkey has achieved under Prime Minister Erdogan's leadership. He has now taken through nine separate packages of legislative and constitutional reform, bringing the military under civilian control, improving minority rights, abolishing the death penalty, significantly improving freedom of expression, liberalising the economy and reforming the penal code. Those reforms must continue, but this House should recognise the extraordinary progress that has been made. The
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developments in Turkey over the past two years, following the reforms across central and eastern Europe of the last decade, surely demonstrate the influence and power of the European Union as a motor for change and a force for good.

There were other significant decisions at this European Council. We confirmed the conclusion of accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania; both should join in January 2007. We decided to begin accession negotiations with Croatia on 17 March 2005, subject to its full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal. We decided on several new areas of action and co-operation in the fight against terrorism.

We welcomed the agreement reached with Iran on nuclear issues and future co-operation, following negotiations conducted by the UK, France and Germany. If, however, this process is to succeed, as we all want, Iran must sustain its full suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.

The European Council confirmed its full backing for next year's elections in Iraq and its commitment to support them, finance UN protection and provide continuing reconstruction assistance. The violence and terror directed against Iraqis wanting to have free elections should simply make us redouble our efforts to ensure that democracy defeats terror and those elections take place. Whatever the original disagreement over the conflict in Iraq, I am pleased to say that that is a unified European position today.

We also committed ourselves to support financially, technically and politically the democratic transition in the occupied Palestinian territories, and we reaffirmed our commitment to achieving through the road map a negotiated two-state solution. Finally, we committed ourselves to helping to ensure that the rerun of the elections in Ukraine is free and fair, including through sending a substantial number of EU observers.

At this European Council, we achieved an historic British objective with the decision to begin accession negotiations with Turkey during the British presidency next year. If evidence is needed of the benefits of positive engagement and leadership in Europe, here it is, and I commend it to the House.

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