§ [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 Antiterrorism, 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,That the draft Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (Continuance in force of sections 21 to 23) Order 2003, which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.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 wellbeing, 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 585 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 586 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. 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.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North):
I recognise some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) —the rule of law is absolutely essential, although I do not believe that this contradicts the rule of law—but is it not a fact that if a terrorist could commit an atrocity such as 11 September in Britain, they would not hesitate for one moment because they believe that we are non-believers, infidels? 587 They believe that we have no right to live, just as the Nazis considered that the Jews, Slays and gypsies had no right to live. We must recognise that we are faced with a deadly enemy that will strike whenever it can.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right. I say "afraid" because, if we were dealing with people who we could talk to, negotiate with and understand so far as the parameters that they are following are concerned, we would be in an entirely different situation in terms of the nature of the international terrorism that we are debating today, and which we have debated on a number of occasions since the Act was approved in December 2001. The many measures undertaken under the Terrorism Act 2000, and under the 2001 Act in general and part 4 in particular, have been undertaken only where no alternatives were available. In holding in detention the 13 people to whom I referred earlier, we are also mindful of trying to speed up the process. They decided, presumably on the advice of their solicitors, to challenge the whole validity of part 4 of the Act. That was dealt with in the first instance by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, and then by the Court of Appeal. It was agreed that we had both the right and the power, that we were exercising it properly, and that it was proportionate. It is in that vein that we are having today's debate.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
Given that one reason why it was necessary to take these powers is that the Home Secretary is no longer able to deport everyone whom he thinks is a potential threat to the life of the nation, what will he do when he can no longer place his hand on his heart and say that we face a threat to the life of the nation because of international events, and yet these people are still here?
§ Mr. Blunkett
If they themselves posed a threat according to the way we laid out that threat in the Act—in terms of their behaviour and contacts, and of the way in which their links affect the likelihood of terrorist action—we would not recommend that the House cancel the powers under part 4. That is the purpose of seeking annual renewal: to make the assessment, and to seek guidance from those who are independently advising us on the operation of that part of the Act. I want to pay tribute to Lord Carlile for his work in providing us with the first annual review. His timely comments are helpful. He supports the need for these powers, and he has confirmed that they have been exercised correctly, as laid down in the Act.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Did my right hon. Friend note the suggestion by Lord Carlile that if the law were amended to make actions preparatory to committing an act of terrorism a criminal offence, it might be possible to subject some, most or all of these people to due process?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I hesitate to take on Lord Carlile in an area in which he has enormous experience and expertise; however, were it possible through normal legal procedures to identify actions that would lead to terrorist acts—and were we able to provide, in court, evidence of the level required to stand up to the normal processes we would of course do so.
§ Mr. Mullin
That brings us to the point about telephone intercepts. The Home Secretary will recall 588 that a debate has been going on for some time as to whether telephone intercepts should be made admissible in court. Were that to happen, it might be possible to provide a standard of evidence that would enable these people to be convicted by due process.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I see no reason at all why I should not tell the House that a consultation is currently taking place on whether there should be a change. There have been considerable differences of opinion among security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in this country for many years as to whether that would be appropriate. Let me say this as carefully as I can. Anything that prevents the security services from being able to undertake the kind of work that leads them to pre-emptive action, and not just prosecution—or undermines that work—is deeply unfortunate. If people were to withdraw from their normal practice, or if they thought that by engaging in normal communications they would be subject to court action and therefore ceased—and that put us at greater risk—we would have gained nothing and lost much. We seek to achieve a balance.
§ Mr. Bercow
Given that it would be difficult ever to declare that we had won the war against terrorism, that relentless surveillance is required, and that it would be difficult to say with alacrity that this country no longer faced a particular threat, does the Home Secretary agree—further to the inquiry from my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) —that in practice, the sunset clause notwithstanding, the power seems destined to remain in place for much longer than five years? By the way, I mean no indictment of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Blunkett
The power is destined to remain as long as it enables us to protect ourselves against the international terrorist threat. That is what it was put in place to do. Should the threat recede to the point at which we believe that the powers are no longer appropriate or applicable, I would be the first—as I said when we passed the legislation—to tell the House to say that we no longer needed to renew them.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
The Home Secretary was earlier explicit that this country faces a condition of emergency and that that is the justification for these powers. Is it his assessment that the qualitative threat to the United Kingdom is greater than that to other western European countries? Is he satisfied that the areas of co-operation within Europe, for the exchange of information between security and police services, are adequate to the task of dealing with the terrorist threat?
§ Mr. Blunkett
On the second issue, I am absolutely clear that the level of co-operation that now takes place is materially improved from when we first met, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 September 2001, to address those issues, both in terms of collaboration between European states and between Europe, the United States and other international partners. We are continually trying to improve matters.
The hon. Gentleman's first point was addressed when we debated the Bill. We considered what would be appropriate in the new circumstances. For the 589 avoidance of doubt, I should repeat that we believe that the order complies and is compatible with the European convention. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me to say that.
§ Simon Hughes
For today. Following the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), can the Home Secretary confirm that apart from the general reservation that France has had since the beginning about being a signatory to the European convention, no other country has sought derogation to allow the same powers and, therefore, that must mean that it is believed that Britain is subject to a different and greater threat than all other European Union countries? Does he think that it would be better if SIAC dealt speedily with the appeals so that a judicial hearing could be held in this country on the validity of detention, instead of people having to wait for a final decision?
§ Mr. Blunkett
On the hon. Gentleman's first question, we took the view, which we repeatedly spelled out in the debate on the comprehensive measures in the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, that we faced a specific threat level to this country and that that required us to take the actions under part 4. The certification that I have engaged in reflects that. I indicated to the House when we took these powers that they would be used sparingly, and they have been. I said that they would be proportionate, and the Court of Appeal agrees that they have been. The decision, on the advice of the lawyers, of those who are held under sections 21 to 23 to challenge the validity of the measures as a whole is precisely why there has been such a delay in dealing with individual cases. I hope that they can now be processed within a matter of weeks so that those individuals have the right to be heard judicially and to challenge whether what we have certificated was proportionate and acceptable. I should like us to be able to get on with that.
I want to make one further comment about Lord Carlile's report. He recommended that there might be a discrete and specific change to the way in which those held under part 4 were held. I have authorised that we should make such a provision available should the individuals choose to take it up. It would not be appropriate compulsorily to move all 13 into one area against their will and I do not intend to get into a secondary dispute about that. Lord Carlile put perfectly valid arguments concerning the length of time for which they had been held and might be held, suggesting that we should consider that urgently, and I have agreed that we should.
§ Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)
The Home Secretary will be aware that earlier today his Department issued a written ministerial statement entitled "Civil contingency 590 planning to deal with terrorist attack", which is obviously related to this matter. The penultimate paragraph states:We will issue proposals for a new Civil Contingencies Bill in the summer.As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Conservative Members have been pressing for such legislation for some time, so will he inform the House of his prospective timetable for that legislation and, specifically, when he anticipates that it will be enacted?
§ Mr. Blunkett
First, I want to make it clear that there has been no delay in the original timetable that was envisaged and spoken to by the Cabinet Office in relation to that Bill. It was always envisaged that we would update the historic legislation in terms of emergency powers and address the structural changes at regional and local level that such a Bill would allow us to undertake. The draft Bill will be published in the summer and put before the House in the autumn. It is important to recognise that in doing so we will be able to assure people that we are talking about updating and learning from experience in terms of the structural framework, as opposed to taking measures that need to be passed immediately, which we would do if it was necessary in order to safeguard our basic interests. Most people who have been involved in these changes are aware that they should perhaps have been made in the normal way a long time ago, and it is opportune that we are now able to bring them forward as quickly as we can and to reassure hon. Members that having the legislation in draft will allow their views to be taken into account.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) for mentioning the statement that I put out today on investment in civil resilience and on key areas for future work and the way in which we need to proceed.
The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire asked me about the material that should be made available. I have been looking with colleagues at what we should do to provide greatly improved access to the public, as well as to the House, in relation to what is already on the public record and is not held in terms of security-vetted material. That will ensure that people are much more aware, first, of what is being done, secondly, of the exercises that take place and why they take place and, thirdly, the kind of advice and information that the public would seek for themselves.
I therefore intend to establish in the next few weeks a dedicated website that will draw on all the readily available advice of the security and intelligence services, on civil resilience information and material that Departments publish on their task of protecting the public in this country. It will include readily available information not only on general civil contingency, resilience and protection but on specific events such as the emergency in and around Heathrow. We shall do that not least to ensure that people understand the difference between operational responsibility and accountability and politicians' responsibility and accountability.
We will be able to reassure people when they listen to the radio or watch television that, for example, action has been taken to provide adequate measures for 591 smallpox vaccination. More than £30 million has been spent so far on acquiring the necessary vaccines, and more than 20 million doses exist in reserve. According to historical information, more than 50 per cent, of the population are already vaccinated against the disease. As the Minister of State for Health announced on 2 December, we will be able to advise people about vaccinating volunteers in the health service and in the armed forces as a preventive measure to ensure that they can do their job.
Given that politicians are not held in high esteem and trust is not readily given, politicians, including me, will not seek vaccination against smallpox unless the vaccine is made generally available to the population. We want it to be readily available to those who are closest to action such as ring-fencing areas to provide buffer zones.
I hope that the BBC as well as the general public can draw on the new website. However, I ask the BBC not to make weekly endeavours to worry people without cause. If information that should be available is not, and if so-called advisers believe that their advice has not been taken, we should act accordingly. I advise anyone who wants to say, in private or publicly, that there is a problem to come forward. I am thinking in terms not of a whistleblower's line but of an independent method other than approaching the "Today" programme whereby those who would like to throw suspicion on our preparedness or willingness to listen and act can express their views. We could thus sort matters out in a civilised and intelligent fashion without creating scare stories.
I shall also ensure that the hard copy of the material on the website is readily available in libraries throughout the country, although most are online and can assist people to gain access to it. I hope that that will establish a more open and transparent method of reassuring as well as informing, and that the necessary advice will be provided. We do not intend to replicate events in the United States and, to some extent in Australia, where there is the equivalent of "Protect and Survive". Older hon. Members will remember from the 1960s that that was mocked as being ridiculous.
We will not provide a ready market for those who would mislead people into believing that they have to buy this, that or the other for protection, thereby creating an industry rather than providing for reasonable and sensible protection. However, we shall ensure that we tell the public about any definable, specifiable risk. We will also tell them what is necessary to enhance their protection. We do that because we are in the same position as them. That is why I made the earlier comments on vaccines.
§ Jeremy Corbyn
I am interested in my right hon. Friend's comments. Does he realise that a sort of hysteria is currently sweeping the United States, where everyone is buying ducting tape in the belief that it will protect against all ills? Will he try to persuade the British public that such actions smack of panic rather than sense?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Similar tape is produced in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Mr. Gardiner), so I shall be extremely careful about what I say because, I think, President Ford 592 finished off the broccoli industry in the United States. [Horn. MEMBERS: "It was Bush senior."] Was it? Goodness gracious! Right. President Bush senior.
The danger of the kind of advice that would lead people to go out and buy particular materials is self-evident. In the US, a new danger has arisen from people doing that—they have sealed off the normal sources of ventilation in their homes—so we all have to be extremely careful that the advice that we give is both sensible and proportionate and that it helps people to protect themselves, but I repeat that if there were a specific measure that would protect people in a set of circumstances where we believed that a particular threat was imminent or that that threat could be dealt with in that way, of course, we would have to say so.
I repeat that we believe that the renewal of the order and the derogation are justified and that the House should scrutinise this issue. It is correct that we should continue to issue updates and to ask for the public's patience not only where emergency measures triggered by intelligence and security advice have to be put in place, but where we undertake exercises precisely to identify where we need to take further action. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to renew the order this afternoon.
§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
I should start by saying that we have no intention whatever of seeking to divide the House on this measure. We agree with the Government that it will be necessary to continue the order in force—not that the Government are quaking in their boots about any effort on our part to stop it, but it is important to state our view at the outset.
The Home Secretary rightly and generously says that this part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is more surrounded, as he put it, than any other by reviews and sunset clauses. I use the word "generously" because there was an acknowledgement of the fact that Conservative Members and our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches fought him into surrounding it with those devices. I hope that the next time the Home Secretary, in one of his less irenic moods, accuses us of having forced him to battle such things through, he will admit that it was rather a good thing that he did have to battle it through.
Having said that, it is important to pay attention to the character of the review that has taken place. As one would expect, Lord Carlile has produced a very serious report. The Home Secretary has announced today, if I understood him correctly, the acceptance of a slightly modified version of eight of Lord Carlile's recommendations, and we strongly welcome that. I agree with the Home Secretary that such things should be voluntary; we should not seek to force the 13 individuals, or subsequent individuals, into one place against their will.
It was interesting, en passant, that the report makes it clear that Lord Carlile discerned a difference between the conditions at Belmarsh and those at Woodhill, and I hope that the Home Secretary will pay attention to that. I am delighted to see that he is nodding.
Two other elements of Lord Carlile's report deserve pretty immediate attention, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to take them fully into account. 593 The first is Lord Carlile's first recommendation that the pending hearings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission should proceed without awaiting the final determination of the challenge to the derogation. We all know how long it may take a case to go not just to the House of Lords, which will happen relatively soon in all likelihood, but—Lord Carlile makes this point —to Strasbourg, and it would be a great pity if we had to wait two years. Again, I am delighted to see Ministers nodding.
Perhaps more controversially, Lord Carlile referred to links to terrorism under section 21 of the 2001 Act—an issue that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and I raised on numerous occasions during proceedings on that Act.
Lord Carlile provides a splendid example of why we all pay lawyers so much in his examination of how we might tackle the problem of links. His exposition is lucid and, I find, compelling. In conclusion, he says that theuse of the word 'links' gives rise to understandable concern.He continues:It is unclear to me that there would be any detriment in terms of public safety if that word and indeed section 23(4) were removed from the Act and section 23(2) (c) amended to read—(c) otherwise supports or assists an international terrorist group'".I find that a compelling suggestion. I cannot understand why I did not think of it when the Act was a Bill now that I see it so well laid out; perhaps I did not hire legal advice as expensive as Lord Carlile's. As we now have the invaluable recommendation of an expensive and brilliant lawyer—at the Home Secretary's expense, not mine—I hope that he will take account of that suggestion.
I am not sure in what context that change can most expeditiously be made, and nor am I suggesting that we have another anti-terrorism Bill on the stocks before one can say, "Jack Robinson", "David Blunkett" or some such phrase. I hope that the Home Secretary will find a suitable moment, without adding to our legislative burdens, to introduce that change, and we would certainly co-operate with that.
With those adjustments, we are entirely convinced that the continuation is sober, proportional and right. The Home Secretary has evidently conducted his part of the bargain with exactly the seriousness that one would have expected. Lord Carlile makes it perfectly clear that he had access to all the information, and that he is content that all the decisions that have been made were made on the basis of the kind of consideration that was required.
Having occupied a few minutes saying with what we agree, I wish to occupy only a few minutes saying with what we do not agree. Strictly speaking, it is not the subject of the review, but I hope that the Home Secretary has given me licence to deal with it by mentioning the subject himself: the related question of the degree of preparedness to deal with a terrorist attack were it to occur.
§ Mr. Cameron
Before my right hon. Friend moves off detention without trial and the linked issue of 594 deportation, will he reflect on the answer that the Home Secretary gave me? Given that we opted out of the European convention on human rights with reference toIn time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation",what will this Government or any other Government be able to do to protect this country once that no longer exists? People who use the asylum system and who may threaten the life of the nation are still here, yet we cannot deport them.
§ Mr. Letwin:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that rhetorical question. He knows—as I, and, as it recently transpired, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who is present, also know—the answer to that question is that the right and sensible procedure is that which we recommended repeatedly when the Bill was going through the House. That procedure is that we should engage in the elaborate dance of denunciation, legislation and reservation to move to the position at which we have so reserved against article 3 that the Home Secretary can do what I am sure that he would have done and what his predecessor, the current Foreign Secretary, sought to do when he was Home Secretary: to deport those people rather than having to retain them indefinitely in detention.
My hon. Friend was right to unearth the point that, at any stage at which it becomes difficult to claim that a generalised state of emergency exists, it will be difficult to maintain the derogation that provides the basis for the legality of the current proceedings. Individuals may remain who are a great danger to the state, however, and it would be appropriate to be able to deport them, as the current Foreign Secretary, who was then the Home Secretary, sought to do in the case of Singh and Singh. As I have said, that will require the reservation for which we have argued.
I hope that, in due time—as we discovered just a few days ago that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is clear about it—the Home Office will also move to adopt that procedure. Of course, the Home Office will have to overcome the difficulty of persuading the Foreign Office, which shows remarkably little inclination towards anything that might protect British interests in its negotiations with foreign powers, but we will leave that be.
§ Simon Hughes:
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept in his heart of hearts that, rather than the highly risky suggestion of leading the way out of the European convention and risking not being allowed back in, it would be far better to use the provisions of the Geneva convention that allow people to be turned or sent away if they have committed a serious crime, and the derogations procedure—even if some of us do not care for it—that allows a temporary exclusion from rights in cases of national emergency?
§ Mr. Letwin:
Mr. Speaker, I am astonished at the latitude that you are allowing me in discussing this issue, and I shall not impose too far on your good will. We have investigated the possibility that the hon. Gentleman raised. It is attractive in principle but falls jurisprudentially. I fear that the judiciary will interpret article 3 as overriding that procedural device. The hon. Gentleman and I could spend a happy half-hour after 595 this debate, during which I could take him through the legal advice that we have received. I suspect that the advice is parallel to that received by the Home Office, because the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration gave us such a pellucid explanation of the very suggestion that I had made a year previously, which she described as impossible just a few days ago in the House.
I want to do what the Home Secretary asked me to do by implication. He said that anyone who wished to raise a problem, in private or in public—although I am not sure which of those the Chamber of the House of Commons is these days—should do so here and not on the "Today" programme. I cannot fulfil all parts of that request as I have already been on the "Today" programme today—although I am aware that the Home Secretary was thinking of others. However, I wish to raise a problem now.
The problem is difficult to describe. It is not a problem of a lack of will. I hope that it has been clear to the Home Secretary that I accept entirely that he and his officials—and, indeed, Ministers and officials in other Departments—are keen that we should be properly prepared against terrorism. After all, this is not a matter of party political debate: it is not as if any of us is going into the next election on the question of, "Should we, or should we not, be prepared to deal with terrorism?" We all agree that we should be prepared and that Ministers and their officials wish us to be prepared.
It is also not exactly a problem of things being so maladministered as to be heading in the wrong direction. There is no doubt that Ministers and their Departments have gradually been moving towards greater rather than lesser preparedness.
So far, so good, but the problem is that I am not sure whether so far is far enough or fast enough. In fact, I am pretty sure that it is not. Partly because we are dealing with things that may necessarily be secret—which therefore I do not know or wish to know—and partly because we are dealing with things that are, almost inevitably, intangible and unable to be documented, it is difficult to get at the sense of what is going wrong. At any rate, it was difficult before today. It has become easier today. The Home Secretary has vouchsafed to the House a statement on civil contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that I was allowing him some latitude, but he is now stretching the point just a little too far. We must keep to the order that is before us.
§ Mr. Letwin
Mr. Speaker, if you will allow me to respond to the precise points that the Home Secretary made, without straying any further, that would be enormously kind.
The Home Secretary said that he would set up a website a little while from now. However, that is not what the written statement says. It says:Information for agencies and the public is available through".and goes on to name the websites. We went to one of those websites this morning. What does it do? It gives one a link to what is done in Australia. It is otherwise empty.
596 The Home Secretary referred to smallpox and smallpox vaccination. For the life of me, I cannot understand why that is not available on demand to all those who wish it. I will never understand that until it ceases to be the case.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I do not want to take the time of the House, but I shall make two brief points. First, the new website will be designed specifically to put together all the information available, including that from the security services when it is not secret. Secondly, I do not believe that there is a problem with people approaching their general practitioner for the smallpox vaccination. If there is any difficulty with that, I will happily talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
§ Mr. Letwin
That is very constructive. There is a difficulty at present, because people cannot obtain the vaccination, but it is good news that the Home Secretary will speak to the Department of Health. In fact, it would be good for him to think of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Department. We found that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recently felt that it had to do that with the Department of the Health. Have things not come to a strange condition when two Departments of State have to sign memorandums of understanding between them?
The Home Secretary's written statement refers to a range of Ministers and units. As well as referring to the Minister responsible for London resilience—we already knew that the Minister responsible for the fire service and for destroying local government in the south of England had that role—it refers to a new figure appearing on the scene. Although the post may not be new, its holder is new to the British public. I very much doubt that anyone was aware that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety also doubles as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear—CBRN—threats. As the written statement says, the role has existed since the end of 2001, but no one in Britain knew that. This Minister has been active in dealing with the police; everyone in England knows that he has responsibility for them. However, I do not think that anyone has ever heard him speak about CBRN co-ordination.
§ Mr. Letwin
I am speaking about the Home Secretary's colleague who has just left the Government Front Bench—the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety. He has reappeared in the written statement as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to CBRN threats. That was a genuine shock to me. I thought that I was an observer of this scene and would have noticed who was responsible. I thought that the Minister of State, Cabinet Office was responsible for this issue, and then I thought that the Minister responsible for London and who is also responsible for the fire service had responsibility for it.
§ Mr. Mullin
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What are we debating? Are we debating the renewal of the 597 Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 or the written statement put out by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on an entirely different matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is miles away from the issue that we should be discussing.
§ Mr. Letwin
With his usual acuity, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is on to something. I could not resist the opportunity of pointing out a real problem. Now that I have done that, I shall not intrude on your goodwill, Mr. Speaker, or that of the House any further. I have made my point. There is a problem that desperately needs to be resolved because it deals with the life and death of our citizens. In the meantime, let us, by all means, continue with the operation of the Act.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
We all agree—at least, those of us who have studied the matter in any depth—about the need for these measures even though we might do so reluctantly. We recognise how draconian they are. We also recognise that it is not inconceivable that they will remain in force for many years. Therefore, the people who have been detained will remain detained without trial for many years. It behoves us to get this right.
I propose to make a few remarks about a couple of issues that have already been touched upon: the conditions in which such people are held and the consideration that has been given to the alternatives. Reference has been made to the safeguards that exist, and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) put them down to the assiduous opposition of himself and the Liberal Democrats. In fact, several proposals, including the sunset clause, appeared in the report of the Home Affairs Committee.
§ Mr. Mullin
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Other proposals came from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
As the House might imagine, I agree with several points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made. In particular, I agree with his point that the measures have been used sparingly. There was some fear when they were first mooted that they would be applied to a far larger number of people, and we must be grateful that that is not the case.
I have already made a couple of points that were taken up by Lord Carlile, and I hope that they will be considered seriously. Lord Carlile suggested amending the law to refer to "acts preparatory to terrorism". He said:if the criminal law was amended to include a broadly drawn defence of acts preparatory to terrorism, all could be prosecuted for criminal offences and none would suffer executive detention".That went slightly beyond the scope of his review, but given the source of the suggestion, it ought to be taken seriously. 598 I have already made the point about intercept evidence. I understand that, among the security services and others with an interest in this area, there is a strong difference of opinion about whether it is desirable to make intercept evidence available in court. I shall watch with interest the outcome of any review.
Turning to conditions of detention, certainly it was the case early on that people were held in pretty harsh conditions in Belmarsh. At one stage, they were allowed only 30 minutes out of cell during the day. When the measure was being introduced, Lord Rooker said that they would be held in remand conditions, and not alongside convicted prisoners. I know that some improvements have been made since the low point that was touched early on. I think that I saw Martin Narey quoted as saying that people are now allowed out of cell for seven hours and various other measures have been taken.
If we are to hold on these terms people who are unconvicted, I hope that we will, as we were assured at the time of the measure's introduction, detain them in conditions that reflect the fact that they are unconvicted and that their detention is indefinite. At one stage, there were signs that detention was beginning to damage the mental health of some of those held, as it might do to any of us in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Bercow
I do not want unduly to embarrass the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with his remarks about the treatment of people who are unconvicted. Surely we need an assurance of national security and not of personal privation. If we can be reassured that proper procedures are in place to guarantee the former, there need be no requirement for the latter.
§ Mr. Mullin
I completely agree, and I am glad to see that the point unites hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I turn now to a compelling point made by Lord Carlile about allowing appeals from abroad to be made by those who have been detained under this measure, who have agreed to go abroad and who have found a haven to accept them. At the moment, people in that position who take the view that they are not terrorists have no means of removing the stain, and it is quite a large stain, from their character. I imagine that only a handful of people would want to take advantage of the opportunity to appeal, but the possibility ought to be left open. As we know—we saw it with the pilot whom the Americans were trying to extradite some time ago—the security services can be wrong in the information that they lay before Ministers, or further information may come to light which casts doubt on the original. As Lord Carlile says, there ought to be some mechanism by which people can remove that stain from their character.
Finally, at paragraph 6.13 of the report, Lord Carlile touches on alternatives to custody. I do not suppose that he means community service but, to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), the purpose of the exercise is to satisfy ourselves and those whom we represent that such people cannot pose a threat. Once we have done that, all other considerations melt away. Lord Carlile suggests that restrictions on movement—perhaps even tagging—could pose an alternative to what are otherwise 599 extremely draconian measures. I shall not go into too much detail on that for fear of being denounced as a namby-pamby liberal, which I am not. Although it is not my suggestion, it is in the report, so I hope that the Home Secretary will address it.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The motion deals with important and controversial matters, as hon. Members know from our debates on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 15 months ago. The discussion has been even tempered and balanced. A coalition of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches in both Houses ensured that we could discuss the issues again, and I am glad to have the opportunity to do that.
I think that the Home Secretary remembers, however, that the votes cast at the other end of the building, principally by Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues, along with a few Labour and Cross-Bench independent Members, made it clear to the Government that they could not get away with an indefinite provision along the lines that they wanted. We have no regrets about that. Through intelligent conversation, and frantic legislation, we came to a collective decision that it was necessary to build in safeguards for what is a derogation from an important human right. Like other hon. Members, we will not divide the House on the motion. To put it bluntly, we are in the middle of the process for which protection was given by review and checks and balances. Having persuaded the Government and Parliament to accept various checks and balances, it would be unreasonable and unfair not to allow them to be used to the full. That does not mean, however, that the issue is of any less importance.
It remains a difficult matter, not just for liberals and Liberal Democrats, that a power is in force in the UK which is outwith the European convention on human rights—it is a derogation from it—and the Human Rights Act 1998, which we passed only four and a half years ago, to allow people to be detained indefinitely without trial. That is of considerable concern. It is of most concern to the people in question, who are held without having been found guilty of anything. There may be only a handful of them and I concede to the Home Secretary, as I have set out consistently, that he has been true to his word and used the power sparingly. We should be grateful for that, but it is not a legislative requirement on him. He has chosen to use that discretion properly within the powers, which are significant. There is no limit to the number of people who could be detained under them. As it happens, only a few have been.
However, some people have been detained and it is no surprise that the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published last Wednesday as a preparation for today's debate, begins:Although the Billnow the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001was improved in a number of ways during its parliamentary stages, we continue to be concerned about a number of aspects of it.600 Specifically, the Committee was worried abouta new power to detain indefinitely a class of 'suspected international terrorists' contained in Part 4 of the Bill … which was only doubtfully compatible with Convention rights.Over the page, the Committee expresses a second concern aboutthe Government purporting to derogate from the ECHR Article 5 … to make the derogation … effective in the law of the United Kingdom by amending the Human Rights Act 1998by way of a derogation order. The Committee continues:The legal validity of the derogations and of the Order is currently the subject of legal proceedings, and their impact on human rights in the United Kingdom may be significant.We share the Committee's continuing concern, which is why we are glad that we persuaded the Government with our voices and votes to bring the measure back to Parliament after 15 months before the power could be extended. They will have to do so annually and, in addition, the measure has a limited lifespan. However much we have argued with the Home Secretary about whether there was justification in law—I have told him publicly that I have never questioned the integrity of his judgment on the necessity of the measure—it is better to have flexibility in the use of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, which was built in from the outset, than question, as some have done, the very basis of the convention.
The ECHR is not an inflexible document and it allows derogation for such a purpose. The Home Secretary argued 15 months ago that we ought to have the derogation as we needed that protection and it was likely that others would follow us. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) implied in his intervention, no other European Union country has subsequently sought to derogate from the ECHR. None the less, flexibility, together with parliamentary scrutiny, is a much better alternative to ripping up, rewriting and renegotiating the convention. We believe that the convention should stand and are glad that the Human Rights Act was passed, allowing arguments to be made in the court down the road instead of people having to wait six, five or four years to go to Strasbourg. We hope that the public accept that that is an advantage.
I intervened on the Conservative spokesman partly to remind him and the House that there are other protections to deal with an issue uppermost in the public mind and the tabloid press. There is an argument that we cannot turn away somebody who is claiming asylum even if they are a threat to our national security, and cannot revoke their right to be here even if they are such a threat. It is clear from article 1F of the Geneva convention on the status of refugees that somebody who has committed a crime against peace—a war crime or a crime against humanity—can be refused entry, whatever they are claiming. Article 33 states that the benefit of asylum provisionsmay not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.The fear that asylum seekers are outwith the protection of the law on national security and are a threat is misplaced. It is wrong, unfair and often prejudicial to pretend that they are. 601 Finally, there is the linked question of whether there is a category—this is the basis of the Home Secretary's original argument—of people whom we could send away under the ECHR but not for other reasons of international law. We accepted the Home Secretary's argument that there are people in that category when he came to the House seeking the power. We argued then, and continue to argue, that there are other ways in which to test their position, for example by trial in camera to protect security information and so on. It is always better to try alternatives to the option of detention without trial. We were not satisfied—we are still not satisfied—that all the options have been exhausted.
I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for using the power sparingly, in the sense that that was honouring his commitment. I also thank Lord Carlile of Berriew, who produced a clear report with some significant recommendations. The Home Secretary said that he would look into at least one of those recommendations. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has argued that it would be better if we redefined the people with links with terrorism. We sign up to and share that view. If that can be agreed, I hope that an amendment can be incorporated soon. We agree with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which I shall return.
The Government offered the concession—it was accepted a year and a quarter ago—that there should be a cross-party Committee of Privy Councillors to examine the working of the Act. That work is now taking place. Lord Newton of Braintree is chairing the Committee. I understand that before it is necessary to have this debate again, the Committee will have produced its report. That is one of the specific reasons why we feel that it would be wrong to say that we should not wait a little longer. The Committee is in the middle of its work. Having accepted that as a protection mechanism, it is only right that we should wait for it to report. We wish the members of the Committee well and we look forward to their report, which I am sure will be honest and helpful.
The fifth report of the Joint Committee of last Wednesday picks up some of the other specific issues to which the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee has referred. I shall mention them so that they are on the record and ask the Home Secretary, or the Minister of State when she replies, 'to undertake that the Government will consider them all. First, in paragraph 20, it is recommended that a different power should be given to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to examine material so that it hasboth 'open' and 'closed' material",and is able to form a view about that so that it can form a better picture.
Paragraph 21 states that the availability of appeals is a safeguard, and adds that the Home Secretary would want to urge that they must happen, and happen soon. It is no good having a safeguard that is held up while another legal process happens. It may be proper to go to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the validity of the decision made last year by the Court of Appeal, which tested the national 602 emergency issue. However, that is not acceptable if that is to the exclusion of the ability to have the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which has the powers of the High Court, to be able to determine whether detention is unlawful. That is why the provisions were made. The fact that appeals have not been determined is not what we expected. I hope that that situation will be remedied extremely soon.
It would be helpful in future if the Government made a clear statement setting out when they believed that a public emergency had been achieved, as it were, so that there could be, as the Select Committee recommended, an official declaration of that, rather than that being done implicitly and, as happened last time, belatedly. In addition, the Select Committee referred to the appropriateness of legal advice. A recommendation is made in paragraph 42 that there should be a better guarantee of appropriate legal advice that is speedily available to detainees, and that that should continue at all stages in the appeal process. It is said that there should be no less ability to be represented at the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords than at a lower level.
Paragraphs 47 and 48 state that any piece of evidential material should be classified as "closed"—that is, not able to be seen—only if there are substantial grounds for thinking that making it available to the detainee, or his or her legal advisers, would compromise the effort to protect the public against the national emergency that gave rise to the derogation under … article 15.The problem, as the Committee points out, is that Parliament—including, possibly, the Intelligence and Security Committee—cannot form a view about the immediacy of the national threat and the national emergency if it does not have access to the maximum possible material. Therefore, we ask that the Government respond positively to those recommendations, which were made in a balanced way, as well the recommendation about the conditions of detention.
One reason why it seems to us that today there is a case, without dividing the House, to allow the power to continue is that court hearings about the validity of detention are under way. We accept the point of view expressed by the Home Secretary today—although I have heard him put things slightly differently, if I can be gentle about it—that the courts should always have the ability to review the Executive. It is a safeguard of the constitution that the courts exist to check on the Executive, just as Parliament does—Parliament first, hopefully by getting the legislation right and holding Ministers to account, and the courts later.
I realise that it is not the responsibility of the Home Office, but it is difficult and unacceptable enough that there is a period when people are detained without trial in this country, but at least there are safeguards. It is entirely unacceptable for British and other citizens to be held in a place such as Guantanamo bay when there are no powers for them to be brought before the courts. I hope that the Home Office will make representations to the Foreign Office, if it has not done so already.
It is not compatible with any sense of international human rights that there is a part of the world to which people can be taken, whatever their nationality, that appears to be outside the legislative and judicial purview of some independent tribunal. That is not acceptable. It is bad enough that people are held without trial in 603 Belmarsh prison or elsewhere; it is doubly and triply worse that people are held without trial on the other side of the world, with no justification having been proved before any independent authority at all.
§ 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.
§ 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 604time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation".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:No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.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:The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.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.
§ 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. 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.
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.
§ The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration(Beverley Hughes)
I thank Members for the quality and tone of this debate, which were similar to those of the original debate on the legislation. They underlined the fundamental importance of the powers in the orders and the seriousness with which all Members take them.
We consider the detention powers in part 4 to be a fairly carefully crafted response to the threat, closing unacceptable loopholes that would allow foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism and threatening our national security to be at large on the streets. A difficult decision and difficult issues are involved, but we think this is the best option. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regularly reviews the need for the powers, and we are very pleased that the Court of Appeal upheld them in its judgment earlier this year.
I am very short of time, as hon. Members will realise. I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can, and I will respond later to hon. Members on the points raised that I am unable to deal with.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked about appeals proceeding without waiting for the outcome on derogation. He will probably know that SIAC is proceeding on that basis and we agree that it is right that it should do so.
The issue about links that the right hon. Gentleman raised from Lord Carlile's report is less straightforward. Certainly, we are prepared to look at that, but he will remember that there was considerable debate at the time the Bill went through. A Government amendment, to which he referred, tabled by Lord Rooker attempted to deal with those issues. We think that section 21(4) of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act as it is now worded should provide for the concerns that he 607 expressed, but if the matter is continuing to cause concern certainly we will look at it again in the context of considering in more detail Lord Carlile's report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) also raised a number of points from Lord Carlile's report. Again, the issue about acts "preparatory to" terrorism is less straightforward. We think that the recommendations relating to that point are encompassed by procedures already available to us, but again we will look at it. In relation to allowing for appeals from abroad where someone has been certificated but has gone voluntarily, SIAC has already determined that appeals may be continued from abroad. In fact, the two people who have already left are continuing their appeals against the certificates from the places to which they have gone.
Certainly, we will consider the JCHR report in some detail. In response to a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who have raised the issue of appeals to SIAC, and the point that the possibility of appeal is undermined by the delay in SIAC hearing those appeals, that delay is not caused by SIAC or, indeed, by those acting on behalf of the Government. The delay arises from the decision of the counsel for some of the appellants to deal first with the derogation issue rather than the appeal against the certificates. We had no involvement in that decision.
I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who I am sure would have put a much fuller case for his point, which I understand fully. However, I think that it is another Trojan horse for the Conservative position that we should come out of the ECHR and seek to re-enter with a reservation on article 3, which we have already heard several times. He must accept that these are difficult issues. He argues for the ability to deport people knowing that they may be killed if they are sent to places to which they could go back—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKERput the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.
§ Question agreed to.
That the draft Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (Continuance in force of sections 21 to 23) Order 2003, which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.