§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the legislative steps necessary to counter the threat from international terrorism.
First, I pay tribute to all those in the security and emergency services and elsewhere who have already risen to the challenge over the past five weeks, and all those who have assisted in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack in New York itself.
It is the first job of Government and the essence of our democracy that we safeguard rights and freedoms, the most basic of which is to live safely and in peace. It is now necessary that we look afresh, in a measured and proportionate manner, at whether our legal framework is adequate and our security sufficient.
Although the nature and the level of the threat is different from what was previously envisaged, wholesale revision of our anti-terrorism laws is unnecessary. That is also the view of the law enforcement agencies. However, we do need specific and targeted measures, which is why I intend to introduce an emergency anti-terrorism Bill. I am determined to strike a balance between respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited.
Through those measures, we will reinforce action against the perpetrators of organised crime, drugs and people trafficking. Therefore, in the next few days we will introduce separate measures in the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which will now be complemented by anti-terrorist legislation. Terrorists use organised crime and trade in human misery to finance their activities. The tough new financial controls in the emergency Bill will help us to staunch the flow of terrorist funding.
The emergency legislation will build on the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to deal specifically with terrorist finance through monitoring and freezing the accounts of suspected terrorists. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will spell out in more detail measures on the seizure of cash within this country and strict reporting requirements on the financial institutions. Separately, a new anti-terrorist finance unit is to be established in conjunction with my right hon. Friend under the auspices of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.
The events of 11 September have led to a new determination to co-operate at European and international level. Terrorists do not respect national boundaries. In line with the Europe-wide endeavour, I intend to include in the emergency Bill an enabling power to allow implementation by affirmative order of measures from the Justice and Home Affairs Council on police and judicial co-operation.
Regrettably, there are those who are prepared to exploit the tensions created by the global threat. Racists, bigots, and hotheads, as well as those associating with terrorists, are prepared to use the opportunity to stir up hate. It is therefore my intention to introduce new laws to ensure that incitement to religious, as well as racial, hatred will become a criminal offence. I also intend to increase the current two-year maximum penalty to seven years.
924 I am examining wider powers in relation to incitement by people in the United Kingdom, against groups or individuals overseas. I am also examining additional powers in relation to conspiracy. None of those measures is intended to stifle free speech, dialogue, or debate. Fair comment is not at risk, only the incitement to hate.
Obtaining good intelligence and being able to target and track potential terrorists is essential. We need comprehensive powers to require best practice to become the norm. This legislation will therefore facilitate the exchange of information in two key areas. It will ensure that law enforcement agencies can access vital information on passengers and freight. It will also enable customs and revenue officers to pass information to the police. These provisions will remove barriers which currently prevent the exchange of information in the fight against terrorism. These will be carefully targeted measures designed to protect the public, not affecting the privacy of law-abiding citizens.
We will introduce measures to enable communication service providers to retain data generated in the course of their business, by which I mean the recording of calls made and other data, not the content. We will work with the industry on a code of practice. I wish to thank those who have co-operated so well over the past five weeks in the industry.
I think that we all accept that there is a compelling need for more effective powers to exclude and remove suspected terrorists from our country. We rightly pride ourselves on the safe haven that we offer to those genuinely fleeing terror. But our moral obligation and love of freedom does not extend to offering hospitality to terrorists. That is why, both in the emergency terrorism Bill and in a separate extradition measure, I will ensure that we have robust and streamlined procedures.
I believe that it will be possible to achieve these changes without substantial alteration to the Human Rights Act 1998. Nevertheless, it may well be necessary, using article 15, to derogate from article 5 of the European convention. That would allow the detention of foreign nationals whom we intend to remove from the country, and who are considered a threat to national security. This would occur in circumstances falling outside those permitted by article 5 of the European convention on human rights, but within the scope of article if of the 1951 refugee convention.
I am also looking to take power to deny substantive asylum claims to those who are suspected of terrorist associations, and to streamline the existing judicial review procedures while retaining the right of appeal. Appropriate safeguards would apply to any such derogation.
A review of extradition procedure had been undertaken by the Government before 11 September. I intend to bring forward a separate substantive measure to modernise and place our laws in the context of the new international situation. Streamlining, while retaining rights of appeal, will form part of this measure. I also intend, following an announcement to the House in the weeks ahead, to modernise our nationality and asylum system.
There are four other measures to which I wish to refer today. The first, which relates to the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, will strengthen 925 security at airports and for passengers. Powers both within restricted areas at airports and aboard aircraft will all be strengthened.
In addition, I can announce that we will expand the role and jurisdiction of the British Transport police, together with those working on enforcement from the Ministry of Defence and the Atomic Energy Authority. We will ask the House to agree to widen their powers beyond the boundaries of particular sites. I am also seeking powers to provide the police and customs services with the authority to demand the removal of facial covering or gloves. That is a basic requirement to enable identification where finger printing or other biometric tests are important.
I am also including in the Bill clauses on nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological materials, generally described as weapons of mass destruction, which will cover the intention to use, produce, possess or participate in unauthorised transfers of those materials. At the time of the millennium, a great deal of work was undertaken to ensure the security of key utilities. I want to assure the House that both in the Civil Contingencies Committee, and more widely, we have examined and put in place further work to update our preparedness, preventive action and remedial steps, should they be necessary.
The United Kingdom has some of the world's best counter-terrorist expertise. Working together with international partners, we are taking every step to protect ourselves. Those plans are continually reviewed and tested. There is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom, but we remain alert, domestically as well as internationally.
I know that many in the House will agree that strengthening our democracy and reinforcing our values is as important as the passage of new laws. If, therefore, we do not rise to the challenge and provide through our democratic institutions the commitment and will to face down terrorists, our economy, social well-being and quality of life will suffer. The legislative measures which I have outlined today will protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them. Justice for individuals and minorities are reaffirmed, and justice for the majority and the security of our nation will be secured.
On 11 September, families lost their loved ones, and the threat of terrorism touched us all. If we fail now to take the necessary action to protect our people, future generations will never forgive us. That is why I am asking for the wholehearted support of both sides of the House in demonstrating that this Parliament, our democracy and our judicial system are capable of rising to the challenge, and of doing so swiftly and effectively.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
I should like to thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy in giving us an advance copy of the statement and a briefing. He will be aware that, as far as his principal objectives are concerned, he has our support. Like him, we wish to see changes in our law that will increase the effectiveness of domestic measures against terrorism.
We share the Government's view that legislation is required to increase the effectiveness of our counter-terrorist enforcement. However, does the Home Secretary agree that, too often in the past, over-hasty 926 legislation has proved inoperable in practice? Does he agree that the best guard against that danger is detailed scrutiny, which teases out the implications of the legislation to determine both whether it will be effective and whether it poses any undue threat to our fundamental liberties? Can he assure us that those critical measures at this critical time will be debated in detail on the Floor of the House? Is he aware that we will resist using the emergency legislation as a means of addressing problems of law enforcement outside the field of terrorism?
We are delighted that the Home Secretary accepts that the duty of Parliament in a crisis of the kind that we now face is to maintain a careful balance between public safety and individual freedom. We welcome his agreement that public safety demands changes to the law that will enable him to refuse entry to those foreign nationals whom he judges a risk to national security. But does he agree that he also needs to be able to remove such dangerous individuals from this country if they are already here?
In the light of the Chahal case, the Singh and Singh case and other jurisprudence associated with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act, does the Home Secretary accept that such removal of dangerous individuals poses a significant legislative problem? Does he accept that the internment or indefinite detention powers that he signalled in his statement today may not provide a workable means of avoiding that problem? Will he confirm the view taken by his predecessor that Parliament can legislate to alter the effect of the Human Rights Act?
With reference to laws against incitement to religious hatred, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that although the whole House will wholeheartedly agree with his desire to protect vulnerable communities—and in particular, vulnerable Muslim communities during the present crisis—the Opposition will need to be persuaded that the drafting of the legislation will achieve this admirable effect without, as he so rightly said, curtailing proper freedom of speech?
Turning to the proposed EU framework directives, does the Home Secretary share our view that there is a fundamental difference between the proposed directive on combating terrorism and the proposed directive on European arrest warrants? We all support the principle of the proposed directive on combating terrorism. That will force other EU counties to adopt legislation parallel to our Terrorism Act 2000. But does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we certainly should not let the current crisis drive us into abandoning either the principle of habeas corpus or the principle of a person being presumed innocent until proven guilty?
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the proposed directive on European arrest warrants might threaten those principles? Does he acknowledge that many of us, in all parts of the House, will have very grave concerns about implementing those directives through affirmative orders? Does he agree that there should be urgent review by the Scrutiny Committee?
Does the Home Secretary recognise the strength of the case for introducing sunset clauses to legislation in all these difficult areas, so that the House, and Parliament as a whole, can have the opportunity with the benefit of hindsight regularly to reassess both the effectiveness of the legislation and its effect on individual freedom?
927 We will engage constructively with the Government as the legislation proceeds, but we shall perform the proper role of an Opposition under these circumstances—probing, inquiring and bringing likely effects to light. Let us hope that the combined efforts of all of us in this House and in the other place will be sufficient to produce a rarity in British legislative history—fast law that is also good law.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I welcome the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) to his new Front-Bench portfolio. I look forward to the sort of brief but robust exchanges that I had with his predecessor, but perhaps at a lower pitch than was usual then. I welcome the general principle of the hon. Gentleman's approach, although I should hate to be opposite him on a day when he was facing down legislation, rather than welcoming it.
We are not intent on taking away rights or denying people normal opportunities through judicial process, but we are endeavouring to respond to the new situation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, with the agreement of the Leader of the House, we will look to take the legislation on the Floor of the House. We want to ensure that the areas that are identified with the Opposition as being key for debate have sufficient time allocated to them to allow proper debate, in order to reassure the entire House and the public outside that we have achieved the right balance between the need to act swiftly and the ability to draw up legislation that will be lasting.
I am happy to consider reaffirmation of aspects of the Bill that will be identified as we take the legislation through the House. That seems sensible in the case of emergency legislation. I am also prepared to consider proposals from the Opposition as well as from Labour Members that would enhance or improve what we are doing.
It is worth spending a moment on the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in relation to two matters, which are different but related. The first concerns extradition where we have treaty agreements with other countries and where it is possible in all present circumstances to extradite those who are required for due trial. The second concerns people whom we are seeking to eject from our country although they have not committed a crime here, but whose deportation would be desirable, given the threat that we believe they pose.
On the first matter, we have very clear treaties with main partner countries. There is no problem—indeed, there has been no problem—under section 11 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in relation to our European partners. There would be no problem on arrest warrants either, because to carry out an arrest is not to deny someone fair trial or to presume them guilty before trial has taken place; it is to respect mutual recognition of our judicial and policing systems throughout the European Union—something that goes back a long way, but which has taken a long time to recognise and to get through the system.
Deportation, like preventing people who are feared to be terrorists and who are travelling through our country from claiming asylum, is another matter. It seems to us that when a third safe country cannot be found, holding such people—with proper rights of appeal and the opportunity for a return to their case—is preferable to sending them back to certain death when their guilt has 928 not been ascertained. We are not, therefore, seeking to withdraw from or deratify the ECHR, which would be necessary in terms of denying article 3. As I said, we may derogate from article 5, while continuing to hold to article if of the refugee convention, in order to have the ability better to protect ourselves while protecting appeal rights.
The speeding up of judicial review in both processes will be absolutely crucial. It is absurd that it can take five, seven or even 10 years, as happened in one case, to extradite someone from this country. That is not justice; it is playing monkey business with our judicial framework and processes.
I can assure the House that we have thought long and hard. We have not rushed into these measures. In the next few weeks, there will be time to contemplate as well as to scrutinise the legislation that we are introducing. We want to get it right because we have obligations to our own people and to our international requirements. If we can get it right, we will have managed to sweep away some of the nonsense that has been found in recent weeks to exist in our system. I appeal to our judiciary to work with us to ensure that democracy in all its guises can operate fairly and openly, rather than be held up to ridicule by those who should be upholding it.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
I am sure that all sensible people will welcome any new measures intended to make our dealing with terrorism more effective, but I should like to underline the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin): there is a long history of anti-terrorism legislation being introduced in haste and repented at leisure. We will need time properly to scrutinise whatever measures my right hon. Friend puts before the House. I welcome the fact that the measures are being introduced after mature consideration and not in the immediate aftermath of the terrible events of 11 September.
On the new definition of terrorism proposed by the Commission, has my right hon. Friend noticed that, under proposed article 5.3, sanctions such as community service for alleged terrorists are listed? The EC may be proposing to cast the net a little wide. Will he ensure that whatever definition is finally agreed is robust, watertight and confined to dealing with terrorists and not with the other people who might, from time to time, get up the noses of the established order?
My right hon. Friend mentioned the need to deny asylum to those suspected of having terrorist associations. What level of evidence will be required and who will assess that evidence? Finally, he said that he was examining additional powers in relation to conspiracy. Will he give us a clue about what is in his mind in that respect?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I welcome my hon. Friend's approach of wanting to ensure that we get it right, and not just quickly. I am a great enthusiast for active citizenship, but I had not envisaged engaging terrorists in good works in our community as a suitable punishment in Sheffield or Sunderland. I am therefore happy to affirm that we shall take appropriate and proportionate measures, and press them on our European partners.
We are looking with the Crown Prosecution Service to examine ways in which those who are not directly engaged in fundraising, organising or inciting by 929 pronouncement may be involved in conspiracy by supporting or succouring those who are engaged in terrorism. The question of conspiracy would come into play in the case of people who had been engaged, as is alleged about some of those who are currently held throughout the world, in facilitating terrorism through training, providing goods and services or engaging in communication networks with those involved in terrorist activity. I am working with the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor on the best way of tackling that.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and briefings. He can rest assured that the Liberal Democrats will support the Government when they introduce well considered legislation, which is necessary in the current emergency, and targeted specifically at tackling terrorism. However, if the legislation is not immediately necessary and has nothing to do with terrorism, Liberal Democrats will defend the liberties of the individual citizen robustly. I anticipate that that applies to other quarters in the House as well.
Let me ask about process. Will a draft Bill be presented as early as possible? If so, we can ensure that we try to get it right as soon as possible. Will the Home Secretary undertake to consult the Joint Committee on Human Rights early to ensure that there are no breaches of our human rights obligations, not only in the Government's view but in that of all parties in both Houses? Will he follow the provisions in previous legislation for emergency powers to have limited time effects whenever possible, and to continue only if Parliament agrees?
The statement contained a surprising element: the implication that European legislation could get through both Houses of Parliament, without proper debate and scrutiny, simply on the basis of an affirmative order proposed by the Government. It is most important that the Home Secretary confirm that he did not mean that. It is not acceptable to any hon. Member, even ardent Europeans, because legislation should come through this place, not by a Minister putting a yes or no question to Parliament.
On human rights, will the Home Secretary confirm that he will try to avoid derogation from the European convention whenever possible? Does he seriously propose to bring back internment throughout the United Kingdom? One of his suggestions could be interpreted to mean that.
On asylum, will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that he will uphold the 1951 convention and that all who have a right under it to seek asylum and put their case here will retain it after the legislation is enacted? Will he make sure that, on controversial matters such as human rights and asylum, there will always be the opportunity for a judicial review of Ministers' and officials' decisions, and that no one will be precluded from going to court to challenge a decision by the Executive?
Incitement to racial hatred is an important issue. I share with the Home Secretary and others the view that its prevention should not restrict the right to criticise other faiths or people and views of other faiths. What has happened to the Government's proposal to introduce an equality Bill to guarantee equality of all faiths? 930 Legislation on incitement to racial hatred has existed for 15 years, but barely a prosecution has occurred. Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that legislation is pointless if it is never implemented?
Lastly, the Home Secretary rightly paid tribute to the emergency services. We join him in that tribute, but can he assure police services and police authorities throughout the country that they will have the resources that they need to implement the additional measures, and that the civil defence measure s are sufficiently resourced and in place? If there is a nee d to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, are we safe between now and the end of the legislative process or will he introduce other measures to ensure that action is taken immediately against any such terrorist threat?
§ Mr. Blunkett
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will discuss the question of resourcing, but I can make it clear that all necessary practical measures will be in place before the legislation reaches the statute book.
The human rights questions that the hon. Gentleman raised can be answered in the affirmative. Yes, we shall consult the Joint Committee. Yes, we are party to the 1951 convention, as I spelled out. We do not intend to introduce internment, although if a major crisis arose from the terrorist threat, other specific measures would have to be introduced, as has born the case since the second world war. Governments have always held that in reserve.
On the question of secondary legislation, I did not know that it had ever been Liberal Democrat policy that every single measure agreed at European level required primary legislation in the House. It certainly has not been since we joined the European Union and signed the treaty of Rome in 1972. Affirmative and negative orders as well as the European Scruff my Committee have been used for such measures. I ha I thought that affirmative orders, which offer the opportunity for debate on the Floor of the House, provided a much more positive way to deal with such matters than do other measures.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again, because we shall grind our own legislative procedures to a standstill and make a nonsense of our partnership in Europe if we do not accept that secondary legislation is required. The matter involves the specific terms that I have laid down, not any old issue at any time, and it is important that we reaffirm that.
I have dealt with the question of seeking co-operation. I cannot guarantee that we shall be able to publish a draft Bill, because of the speed at which we are trying to act, but I shall engage the opposition parties and those in the House with a particular interest as quickly and effectively as I can.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House will understand that there are three other statements to be made. Short questions will allow the Home Secretary to give a short reply, which would be a great help.
§ Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I broadly welcome the proposals that the Home Secretary has brought to the House, but may I press him further on the nuclear, biological and chemical issues to which he referred? Does he intend to provide a statutory basis for 931 emergency planning, and will he consult the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health on how the measures will be drawn up before the legislation is debated here?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am happy to give the assurance that we shall consult. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs has been doing sterling work on the civil contingencies side of our operation and we want to ensure that we consult such groups.
On my hon. Friend's first question, it came as a surprise that although the Chemical Weapons Act 1996 gives substantial powers in relation to the movement, possession and use of chemicals, we have not done the same in the areas that I have outlined, in particular radiological aspects. Irrespective of what happened on 11 September, it is time that we had those powers in place. We have the opportunity to move quickly on the measures, some of which were in preparation, and they can be put in place speedily at this timely moment.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
While we all wish to reserve the right to scrutinise in detail this massive legislation, may I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement about tackling the problems of extradition? I well remember expressing my frustration about them when I held his office because of the archaic procedures and protracted litigation that often occurs.
Although the right hon. Gentleman may have to confine fast-track emergency legislation to terrorist offences, does he accept that there is an extremely good case for tackling the problem of extradition in almost all serious offences? There is no good reason why people accused of serious violence or serious organised crime should not speedily be returned to the jurisdiction of any country that respects the rule of law to face serious charges. Will he try to maintain progress on a Europe-wide arrest warrant, so long as all member states have satisfactory safeguards on personal liberty and the due process of law?
Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to remove the Home Secretary's role in extradition cases? Although that sounds attractive, in practice it encourages people to raise political issues and bring political lobbying to bear on him and those who hold similar office in other jurisdictions, which can have most unfortunate and delaying consequences.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his supportive words. I hope that the European arrest warrant will be dealt with by the beginning of December at the Laeken Council. It will then be possible to make sense of something that is not always operated in the best interests of speed or justice. That will iron out some of the issues that I have read about—Julian Knowles' article in, I think, The Daily Telegraph was about a case in Portugal—and enable us to deal with these matters sensitively and sensibly.
I agree that there is a good case for examining the withdrawal of the Home Secretary's role from areas where, otherwise, judicial review would be used as a deliberate delaying tactic, without new evidence or new presentation but with the ability to challenge at each stage of the process. As a former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know how difficult it is for a Home Secretary to give up any power.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The whole House welcomes the burden of 932 the Home Secretary's statement. As a Hackney MP representing a large Muslim community. I welcome the thinking behind the proposed legislation against incitement to religious hatred, which is designed to check the disgusting and racist attacks on individual Muslims and the Muslim faith. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, because others in Hackney take their religion—or even their lack of religion—extremely seriously, such legislation must not cut across genuine debate?
On the speeding up of extradition and related matters, the House welcomes the legislation in outline. However, I represent many people who have genuinely fled from torture and oppression, and the burden of proof in these matters will be very important. We would not want the process to be so speeded up and robust that people were returned to torture and perhaps death.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It certainly would not be my wish, either, that we returned people to torture and death. That would contravene the conventions that were mentioned a few moments ago. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks in relation to free speech, dialogue, debate and attitude. What we are dealing with, in changing the law on race and religion, is hatred. I take the inference of her intervention, so I shall examine carefully the question of atheists and—I say this wryly—consider whether unpleasant and unhelpful comments about atheists could be included.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
Can the Home Secretary tell us today whether the new legislation on incitement to racial hatred will include either a definition of religion or a list of those religions against which it will be illegal to incite hatred?
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is not our intention to include in the Bill a definition of religion, for all the reasons that many in the House will be familiar with. The Attorney-General and I would wish to assure ourselves that we were handling the matter sensitively, bearing in mind the fact that the existing law in relation to race provides for those religions that have a direct relationship with the race of the individual concerned. We want to extend that facility to people who follow Islam and Christianity. The measures will also enable us to deal with those who deliberately use the current law to stir up dissension and hate, which we would all find unacceptable.
I am examining why existing law has been used so infrequently—in the past decade about four prosecutions a year have been successful—and whether, in conjunction with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, we should be slightly more robust in what we do about those who, in writing or in speech, deliberately cause hate in our community.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
Is not this the wrong end of the equation? We have a law against racial discrimination, which was followed by a law against incitement to racial hatred. Perhaps the best way to deal with this issue is to prohibit religious discrimination rather than start with a prohibition on incitement. Has my right hon. Friend considered doing that?
§ Mr. Blunkett
A long debate about discrimination as opposed to incitement to hatred arose under the Public Order Act 1986. This legislation and the measures that 933 we are taking are designed to deal with specific circumstances regarding the threat of terrorism and the development of protection against terrorists. We want to avoid the exploitation of the situation domestically. My statement about the proposal was made in that context. We are endeavouring to unify our community, and to avoid divisions and conflict at the very moment when we need that unity most of all.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
The Home Secretary said that persons who come here from dictatorial and oppressive regimes but who nevertheless promote terrorism will face the option of being detained or going to what he called "a third country." Will he explain how third countries will be approved and selected? Will the Government publish a list of countries that they think are appropriate for housing terrorists?
§ Mr. Blunkett
That was very entertaining. [HON. MEMBERS: "It needs a serious answer."] If hon. Members want a serious answer, I can tell them that we do not need a list of third countries. A person who is not facing extradition from a specific country because of action taken but whom we want to eject from the country would have a choice. He could be deported to a country of his choice or to a country prepared to take him, or he could be detained in this country under the appeals process. Such people would not be charged with a specific terrorist act overseas: they would be suspected of working with and supporting terrorists. We are proposing measures to protect this country from those people. We are interested in ideas about safe third countries if that choice is not available to an individual. If anyone has a smart answer, I should be grateful to hear from them in the morning.
§ Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)
Like all Members of the House, I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. He will be aware that, as he was speaking, people in the civil liberties lobby were unpicking every word that he said. I ask him to resist that strongly. In a free society, we must take on not only our rights but our responsibilities. Although there must be due scrutiny by the House, some of us believe that there should be an even more robust approach, particularly on judicial review. Will that happen? Most people in this country would agree to sacrifice some of their liberty if it meant greater security.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is precisely that balance that we intend to secure. Debate in the House and the securing of freedoms through political action must always be preferable to falling back on those who are not elected, who are not accountable and who often cannot respond quickly or sensitively to a particular threat. That is why parliamentary and participatory democracy is the better safeguard, rather than relying on jurisprudence.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
Will the Home Secretary explain why he has not taken this opportunity to legislate on mercenary activity? He will recall that we were promised a Green Paper in November last year, and that in April this year the Government regretted that they had not got around to it. Now we see young British men recruited by British citizens to fight for the Taliban, 934 possibly against British service men and women. Should not the Home Secretary now take the opportunity to legislate?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have known the hon. Gentleman for many years in opposition, so let me be frank with him. No, I did not know that we were thinking of producing a Green Paper, but I will go back and read the material, along with all the other tomes that I have been reading over the past five weeks.
§ Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East)
I have visited various mosques in my constituency on recent Fridays, and I have heard from the Muslim community overwhelming condemnation of acts of terror. At the same time, however, there has been a free and frank exchange of views with that community, which has not always been in complete agreement with the Government's tactics. Can the Home Secretary reassure me that the measures will be used in the fight against terrorism and religious hatred, and not against that free and frank exchange of views?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes, I can. On my own visits, I too have encountered both support and concern from constituents. We are all in this together, as has been said over and over again in the House by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and Opposition Members. We are in it together because we are all threatened by terrorism. It is indiscriminate—it singles out no religion, no colour, no creed. That is why everyone in this country will need to back, and should back, the measures that we are taking—we are protecting them and their families as well as our own.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
Does the Home Secretary agree that the main lesson from the terror attacks on America was not that existing laws are inadequate, but rather that the security and intelligence services failed to use the existing laws and their powers? Will he be very sceptical about Government agencies and others that demand new intrusion and surveillance powers, and also about the European Union, which has a declared aim of using the existing emergency as a pretext for centralising and advancing its own powers? In presenting his proposals for new laws, will he in each case show that they are required specifically for the struggle against terrorism, that their absence was significantly inhibiting, and that they will be used only in that war on terrorism?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I certainly agree with the first of those three propositions. There would be no point in measures that were not specific to, and helpful in, combating terrorism. I cannot guarantee the implication of the second question, which was, "Would these measures have materially helped to prevent the attack on the World Trade Centre?" Hindsight is a wonderful thing; what we now need to do is learn the lessons—what went wrong, what measures were not in place, what scrutiny had not been carried out and what failures may have existed following the bombings in Dar-es-Salaam and Kenya in 1998—and thereby ensure that we establish measures and facilities that will prevent such terrorist attacks from occurring again. We should not wait until they do occur again, and then say that perhaps we should have taken measures, 935 including being ready to co-operate with free democracies in the European Union rather than suspecting them of somehow being prepared to use this moment to centralise power. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that what I have encountered in the meetings that I have attended since 11 September is the need to encourage and speed up their processes, not to slow them down.
§ Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Is my right hon. Friend content that the list of proscribed organisations in the Terrorism Act 2000 is appropriate, or does he intend to review it?
§ Mr. Blunkett
The list will be kept up to date. The 14 original organisations, and the additional 21 that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary introduced earlier this year when he was Home Secretary, will be reviewed. What is more, we need to ensure that those who fragment within those organisations, change their name and reconfigure themselves in new forms are dealt with adequately and speedily.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I support the Home Secretary in his intention of getting it right rather than merely acting quickly. How does he square that with the use of affirmative orders? A 90-minute debate on the Floor of the House is hardly an appropriate form of scrutiny of matters that touch on the relationship of citizens to the state and the competence of the state over judicial arrangements.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am not proposing simply to have 90-minute debates. I am proposing that we have a debate about the nature of the orders that would be consequent on the parent legislation, and that each aspect should then be debated on the Floor of House in a way that has not always been the case for such measures adopted under secondary legislation. We intend to give every opportunity, at a later date, for people to be able to review whether the measures have been effective. The fact that they emanate from co-operation across Europe should be seen as a plus, not a minus, because we want other European countries' co-operation, as much as they need ours, to combat a threat that knows no national boundaries.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's aim of outlawing incitement to religious hatred, but in our headlong rush to protect our democracy there is a real danger that we will forgo basic civil liberties. What, specifically, does he mean by retaining data? I am sure that many businesses are very concerned about what that will involve. Personally, I am concerned about whether it means nosing through private e-mails or steaming open letters.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It explicitly does not mean ferreting through people's private e-mails or steaming open their post. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is the greatest safeguard that exists in any democracy in the world in its updating of earlier provisions for protecting our rights. Having had this job for four months, I am well aware that that is the case. Great care is taken in these matters.
Being able to find out from service providers—just as we can from telecommunications agencies—whether a phone call was made at a certain time, when we are 936 investigating terrorism, makes sense. Holding that information for a longer period than would otherwise be commercially desirable—it is not information that does not already exist—and reaching agreement with the industry on achieving that, through a code, threatens no one except those who are up to no good.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
Given the recent history of legislation on issues such as asylum and extradition being taken apart by the courts, why is the Home Secretary waiting before deciding whether or how much to amend the Human Rights Act 1998? Is not the history of Home Office legal advice on such matters that if officials think that it might possibly be necessary, it almost certainly will be necessary—so why not do it at once? Could we hear a little more of his thinking on that subject?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Delphically put, if I may say so. I use the word "might" because we want to be absolutely sure when we introduce the legislation that it will be absolutely necessary, in order to achieve our goals, to derogate in the way that I described. I am pretty certain that it will be, given the advice that we have already received and the views of the Attorney-General—but precisely for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman outlined, I want to ensure that we have taken every possible step to get the best legal advice before committing ourselves.
§ Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
In respect of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, may I ask my right hon. Friend about offshore bank accounts, especially in respect of their access and transparency? It is of widespread concern that the proceeds of crime and drug smuggling—therefore, the funding of terror—are funnelled through offshore bank accounts and, indeed, Swiss bank accounts. I wonder whether he would take a fresh look, in consort with the rest of the international community, at achieving such access.
§ Mr. Blunkett
There are many times when I am very pleased to have my right hon. Friend the Chancellor alongside me, and this afternoon is one of them.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I welcome the Home Secretary's statement. We want to work with the Government and assist them in ensuring that the right legislation is put through the House. To that end, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to work with all parties in the House, not only on the details of the legislation but on the timing and the amount of debate that we will have on the crucial questions that will be asked, such as those that have been asked by many Members today?
The Home Secretary made some important announcements on extradition. Nevertheless, will he now rule out the extradition of individuals from this country to places where they will face the death penalty? Instead, will he work within multilateral agreements to ensure that such individuals can be extradited, but with a different result? Finally, does he accept that despotic Governments use accusations of terrorism against their genuine opponents who are not guilty of terrorism? What safeguards does he envisage in his legislation so that this 937 country still provides a safe haven for genuine refugees and for people who oppose terrorism and terrorist Governments?
§ Mr. Blunkett
No genuine refugee has anything to fear from the proposals that I have introduced this afternoon. Those who claim that specialist status, having been picked up on suspicion of terrorist acts or who are in transit through our airports, will still be entitled to go to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and to appeal to the Court of Appeal, so there is no question of taking away their rights. Speeding up the operation of those rights and not suffering fools gladly is how we intend to proceed. We will consult the minor parties as much as possible on the way in which we proceed in the months ahead.
I think that I have missed one the hon. Gentleman's questions—
§ Mr. Blunkett
The hon. Gentleman asked about the death penalty, and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) says "the USA". Where we have specific extradition treaties—we would seek to extend them—they already apply in that way. We have had an extradition treaty with the United States since 1976, and only last Thursday we extradited a man called Qadar, who was wanted in the state of New York. The treaty has been working well. There have been no difficulties with it, and I have agreed with the Attorney-General in the US that we will update it—but as with all extradition treaties with other countries, the provisions that we have in place will safeguard that basic acceptance which the House has affirmed on numerous occasions.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
Can I press my right hon. Friend a little further on his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley)? Clearly, his statement is very important in relation to the chemicals sector, whether we are dealing with major hazard sites in manufacture, with transport or with chemicals that could be made for an innocent use but misused in the production of chemical weapons. Will he clarify the situation in relation to the movement of and trade in chemicals? Is he satisfied that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is sitting bedside him, is affording him sufficient resources to address those very serious problems, especially for those who represent the chemicals sector?
§ Mr. Blunkett
The answer is yes, of course, but the industry has an obligation to ensure security and safety—the two go hand in hand—as has the Health and Safety Commission. However, on this occasion the legislation will be primarily intended to prevent those who should not have access to, possess or move such products from being able to do so. I am surprised that we are catching up with such matters late—but of course, as I said earlier, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Has the Home Secretary detected the widespread support for his 938 general determination to deal with terrorism? However, has he also detected the real unease across the House about the measure dealing with incitement to racial and religious hatred? Will he bear in mind that hasty legislation—one can cite the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 and the legislation introduced after the Omagh bombing—is often bad legislation? Will he please consult very widely, not just in the House but with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, before he comes forward with specific proposals?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the leaders of all the denominations and faiths with whom we have spoken over the past five weeks are enthusiastically in favour of this measure. We do not, of course, intend to take any freedom away. The freedom to hate and to use that hate to incite others to take actions that destroy our community cannot be in the best interests of democracy. I also believe that it is crucial, for the reasons that have been referred to earlier, that those who face or have experienced religious hate know and feel that we are on their side and are listening and responding to them. We want them to be part of the anti-terrorist drive and the development of a unified voice here and across the world.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
On that point, will my right hon. Friend accept the real concern about some sort of special protection for religion as it might make his task much more difficult? Of course, religious belief generally is of great benefit to our society, but some religious tenets actually promote hate. For example, in Leviticus and Revelations, homosexuality is called an abomination and people are enjoined not to touch a woman at the time she is unclean. It is important that my right hon. Friend understands that although those beliefs have now been marginalised in St. Mary's church in Hemel Hempstead, they are often not marginalised elsewhere. It is vital that those who do not support them speak out against them and are given the freedom so to do.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have answered one or two questions over the past four and half years during which I have been a Minister but, for once, I am speechless. Suffice it to say that I think that few terrorists have engaged with Leviticus.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)
The Home Secretary began his statement by saying how important it was to balance the respect for our liberty with the need to prevent its exploitation. Given that fine balance, will he explain to the House his plans for the exchange of information—often private information—within Government agencies? In particular, what safeguards will he put in place to ensure that law-abiding citizens will have nothing to fear?
§ Mr. Blunkett
We have a formidable Data Protection Registrar and we have set in place protections unequalled anywhere in the world in terms of ensuring—correctly—people's right to privacy. We have, of course, to ensure that the methods we use are commensurate with the threat that we face. That is the crunch in terms of getting the balance right. In addition, those who seek to protect us and have information at their disposal which, at present, they may be unable to transfer so that it can be used effectively against that threat, need to know that we are 939 unlocking that barrier. That is what we are seeking to do, and if we do not do it future generations will simply think that we were fools.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that had my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) been on the receiving end of religious hatred, he might take a less academic view of it?
Is my right hon. Friend also aware that his decision to introduce legislation to turn religious hatred into an offence will be welcomed not only by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, but by Jews as well? He may well be aware that even in this fevered situation the story has been circulating that the attack on the World Trade Centre was a Jewish plot, with Jews who were working there advised not to go into work on 11 September. Does he therefore accept that if the Bill is to be introduced—I am glad to hear that it will be—the decision to prosecute should be that of the Attorney-General and not that of the Crown Prosecution Service, which recently admitted to institutionalised racism within its ranks?
§ Mr. Blunkett
My right hon. Friend puts his finger on issues as quickly and carefully as ever. The Attorney-General will want to lay down key principles in terms of action, but we will want the CPS to be able to take more decisive action at a local level than has been apparent over the past 17 years.