Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General
Theresa May (The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women and Equalities; Maidenhead, Conservative)
Since December 2001, successive British Governments have sought to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, his home country, because he poses a serious risk to our national security. Qatada has a long-standing association with al-Qaeda. British courts have found:
“His reach and the depth of his influence…is formidable…He provides a religious justification for…acts of violence and terror”.
In Jordan, he has been tried and found guilty in absentia of terrorism offences including conspiracy to cause explosions at western and Israeli targets and involvement in the bombings of the American school and the Jerusalem hotel in Amman in 1998.
The House of Lords agreed with the Government that Qatada can be deported to Jordan to face a retrial because of the diplomatic assurances negotiated by Britain and the Jordanian Government. That agreement ensures that individuals deported to Jordan will not be tortured upon their return. Despite the House of Lords agreement that Qatada should be deported, and despite accepting that he would not face mistreatment in Jordan, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month against his deportation. It did so on the grounds that deportation would violate article 6 of the convention, the right to a fair trial, due to the risk that evidence obtained from the torture of others would be used against him. Hon. Members should be aware that that argument had already been considered by a British court and rejected.
I hardly need tell the House that the Government disagree vehemently with Strasbourg’s ruling. We believe that Abu Qatada should be deported. We are considering all the legal options available, including whether to refer the case to the Grand Chamber. As we do so, we will continue to negotiate with the Jordanians to see what assurances they can give us about the evidence used against Qatada in their courts. Following the Strasbourg ruling, Qatada’s lawyers appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for bail. We opposed that appeal vigorously, but yesterday it was granted, and bail will start within a week.
The bail conditions are among the most stringent imposed on anybody facing deportation from the UK, and reflect the conditions set out when Qatada was bailed in 2008. He will be under a 22-hour curfew. He will not be allowed to access the internet or any electronic communication devices. He will not be allowed to travel outside an approved boundary. Visitors will need to be approved, under very strict conditions. He will be subject to a specific condition preventing him from attending mosques and leading group prayer. If any of those conditions are breached, he will be re-arrested and we will seek his immediate re-detention. But however strict the bail conditions, I continue to believe that Qatada should remain behind bars.
It is simply not acceptable that after the Jordanians have guaranteed his treatment, after British courts have found that he is dangerous and after his removal has
been approved by the highest courts in our land, we still cannot deport such a dangerous foreign national. We continue to consider the case for a British Bill of Rights, and the Prime Minister is leading the Government’s attempts to reform the European Court of Human Rights.
The right place for a terrorist is a prison cell. The right place for a foreign terrorist is a foreign prison cell, far away from Britain. That is why we will do everything that we can within the existing legal regime to deport Qatada, and we are doing everything that we can to reform that regime to avoid such cases in future.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East, Labour)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her answer. She will understand, of course, that there is considerable concern throughout the House about yesterday’s decision. I appreciate, as do we all, that it places her in a difficult situation, but the public will want reassurance that the Government are doing everything possible to protect their safety.
First, can she offer any explanation why Mr Justice Mitting decided to bail Abu Qatada now, while an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is still possible, rather than give notice that that would happen at some point in future if Ministers were ultimately unable to deport him? Will she say more about the discussions with the authorities in Jordan? Does she expect to receive assurances on the use of evidence, and if so, when? Given the urgency of the situation, will Ministers be directly involved in those discussions? Does she intend to make further representations to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission? Has Mr Justice Mitting indicated that he would be prepared to reconsider the three-month deadline for removing bail conditions if the Government received the necessary assurances and appealed against the ECHR ruling?
The public will be reassured by the fact that Home Office lawyers were successful in pressing SIAC to impose a 22-hour curfew on Abu Qatada. What arguments were advanced for that level of control, and how do they compare with the much-reduced arrangements that would be available if Abu Qatada were made subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure? Will the Home Secretary confirm that, under a TPIM, Abu Qatada would be entitled to a mobile phone and have access to the internet, that an overnight residence requirement would not exceed 16 hours, and that she would be unable to relocate him to another part of the country?
What additional costs will fall to the police and the Security Service as a result of the decision to grant Abu Qatada bail? Will the Home Secretary update the House on progress made since the Prime Minister’s recent speech in Strasbourg on the need to reshape the relationship between the ECHR and the UK’s own judicial system? Does she agree that it should only be in truly exceptional cases that a Supreme Court judgment can be challenged in the ECHR? Finally, does she agree that it is a good thing that indefinite detention without trial was ruled to be unlawful, but that the answer in Abu Qatada’s case is deportation, with assurances, to Jordan, not release into the community in Britain?
Theresa May (The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women and Equalities; Maidenhead, Conservative)
The right hon. Gentleman has raised several issues in his supplementary questions, some of which relate to the approach that Justice Mitting might take
in certain circumstances, but obviously it is not for me to indicate what approach the judge would take. However, were assurances received from the Jordanian Government—we are working hard on that—obviously that would change the scenario and, by introducing a new factor, would enable the Government to take action that would, I think, change SIAC’s approach. If any case were to go before it again, though, it would be for it to determine.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the work being done on the ECHR. As he will be aware, because of our chairmanship of the Council of Europe, we are in a position for six months to take action on this matter, and we are working actively with other countries with a similar interest in ensuring that the European Court acts as originally intended, which is as a Court considering the most serious issues and key points of human rights law, rather than as a body to which people automatically appeal once they have gone through national courts. That work is being actively led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. Furthermore, as I mentioned, the Prime Minister has been to Strasbourg, spoken on these matters and explained our position.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned TPIMs and bail, but of course they are two separate matters—one should not conflate the two. The Home Office made vigorous representations to SIAC arguing that Abu Qatada should not be released on bail, but that were it to happen, the most stringent conditions should be applied. As I said, these are among the most stringent conditions applied to anybody we are currently unable to deport from the UK.
As the right hon. Gentleman said at the end, it is absolutely right that in this country we do not have indefinite detention without trial. However, everyone on both sides of the House wants to ensure that we can deport those who represent a danger to the United Kingdom and whom we believe should be deported. That is why we are considering our options within the legal process, and why we are negotiating with Jordanians on further assurances in order to deport Abu Qatada. However, it is also why we are working to make the changes in the European Court to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and looking at the whole issue of assurances with other countries, to ensure that we strengthen our ability to deport people who are a danger to us.
William Cash (Stone, Conservative)
The Home Secretary has made a robust statement; the Prime Minister has made robust statements. Unfortunately, the declaration that she made some months ago—that we would repeal the Human Rights Act—is the remedy. I would like to know, and I would be grateful if the Home Secretary would say, whether she intends to carry through our commitment—her own statement that she would repeal the Human Rights Act—return the remedy to this House and pass the legislation necessary to get this right; otherwise it will be all talk and no action.
Theresa May (The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women and Equalities; Maidenhead, Conservative)
I have been used, over time in my political life, to words that I have said being taken slightly out of context. I said that it was my personal view that the Human Rights Act should be repealed, not that I was about to repeal it—which my hon. Friend sort of implied in his question. I would simply remind him that even if
we were to repeal the Human Rights Act, we would of course still be subject to the European convention and the European Court.
Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities; Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Labour)
The Home Secretary has given a serious account of the risk from Abu Qatada. She will know that we agree that he should be deported, on the grounds of being a risk to national security. However, she has not said much about what she is doing now in response to the judgment. She is right to look at the legal options for appealing against the European Court judgment, but what more is she doing to get further assurances from Jordan so that he can be deported now? She will know that an agreement was reached by the British Government before the election, so it is possible to make diplomatic progress. We understand that the British ambassador has been in some discussions, but what actions have Ministers taken? Has the Home Secretary taken this up herself with the Jordanian Government? If she has not done so, will she do so now? If so, will she go back to SIAC to ask for a stay of the bail until those high-level discussions with the Jordanian Government have been completed, given the urgency and seriousness of this case?
On the second issue—protecting public safety in the meantime—it is unclear whether the Home Secretary is looking for more evidence to take to SIAC to overturn the bail decision. However, what will happen if the negotiations with Jordan fail and if the courts conclude that bail cannot be extended in three months’ time? Those are the circumstances that control orders were introduced to address, but her decision has been to weaken those counter-terror laws, and that will make it harder. Under the current system, if TPIMs have to be introduced after three months if bail is stopped, she will not be able to ask the courts for a curfew—only an overnight residence requirement—and she will have to provide access to the internet and telephones. She will not be able to ask the courts to relocate Abu Qatada outside London, should that be appropriate—during the Olympics, for example—nor will she be able to extend those restrictions for more than two years. The restrictions that the Home Secretary will have available to her in three months’ time are a far cry from the restrictions that she and the courts understandably believe are necessary now to protect the public, which include the 22-hour curfew, no access to the internet and no access to phones.
The Home Secretary cannot blame the European Court for her decision to weaken British counter-terror powers. The courts, the security experts and the Home Secretary have all made it clear that Abu Qatada is a continued threat to public safety and national security. We support her in her actions to protect the public and get the deportation in place, but she should be straining every sinew, on behalf of the public, to get him deported. If she cannot, she should make sure that we have the legislation and the safeguards in place to protect the public now.
I have to say to the shadow Home Secretary that she appears to have prepared her statement before listening to my answer, because I made it clear that I continue to believe that Qatada should face trial in Jordan and that the Government have begun discussions with the Jordanians to see what assurances we can
secure about the quality of evidence used in their courts. We will be pursuing those discussions at every level that is appropriate to ensure that we work towards the aim that we share across the House: getting the assurances that will enable us to deport Abu Qatada. As I said, we will also consider the legal options that are available, including whether we should refer the case to the Grand Chamber, but we need to consider the consequences of those actions before we take a decision.
I referred, obviously, to the bail conditions that have been placed on Qatada, as the right hon. Lady did. I continue to believe that he should be behind bars. The bail conditions are among the most stringent on anybody facing deportation from Britain. She referred to the difference between TPIMs and control orders. I remind her that the bail conditions are stronger than would be possible under TPIMs or control orders. I also refer her to the wider point that I have made about TPIMs in the Chamber in the past, which is that the police and the Security Service are content with the package that was negotiated in relation to TPIMs and with the extra funding that has been made available to the Security Service and the police.
We should be able to deport Abu Qatada; that is the view across the whole House. He should be behind bars. Home Office Ministers and previous Home Secretaries under the previous Government have tried to do everything possible to get him to Jordan, and that is what this Government are trying to do. The case has been ongoing since 2001. In 2008, there was a brief period during which he was released on bail. We should send a clear message from across the House that we believe he should be deported, and this Government are doing what we can to ensure that we achieve that. That is what is right for the security of our citizens.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington, Liberal Democrat)
The specific reason for the European Court finding against deportation was the question of whether the evidence that would be used against Abu Qatada in his retrial—he had been tried in absentia—had been obtained as a result of torture. That is the issue that was raised by the European Court, and that is the issue that we are addressing.
David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour)
In 2002, when Abu Qatada was eventually apprehended, he was in a flat about 400 yards away from MI5 headquarters, using what was then the most sophisticated electronic equipment to communicate his message. Given that the Home Secretary has said time and again this afternoon that the bail conditions are tough and would restrict him from being able to do that again, how can she possibly justify allowing a situation to arise at the end of April, with the Olympic games and the Queen’s jubilee taking place, in which terrorism prevention and investigation measures would come into effect that would do away with all the restrictions that she has set out in the bail conditions?
I wish to be in a position in which we can deport Abu Qatada, so that he will not be in this country when the Olympics take place.
Julian Brazier (Canterbury, Conservative)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in our unwritten constitution, there is a distinction between the rule of law and the tyranny of lawyers? Does she also accept that the interaction between the European Court of Human Rights and the ruling by Justice Mitting on the question of bail has created a dangerous situation in which millions of people in this country are starting to lose confidence in our legal system?
I do not believe that millions of people are losing confidence in our legal system. I believe that they are concerned about the ability of the European Court to come to decisions that we do not believe to be in the best interests of the United Kingdom. This decision on Abu Qatada is clearly a case in point. That is why it is important for the Government to pursue the work that we are doing, not only in looking into the possibility of a British Bill of Rights but in trying to make changes to the way in which the European Court operates, so that in future we will be able to deport people who present a danger to us.
Jack Straw (Blackburn, Labour)
The right hon. Lady’s peremptory answer to my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett was simply not acceptable for a Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend asked her a very serious question, but she failed to give him any answer to it at all. All of us believe that Abu Qatada should be sent back to Jordan. Many of us, myself included, personally sought to negotiate with the Jordanians—unsuccessfully—to achieve that. If that cannot happen, however, and if the bail conditions lapse at the end of three months, will she accept that, on any analysis, the powers that she has put on to the statute book—these so-called TPIMs—are much weaker than the powers of the control orders that were in place and that worked satisfactorily in the past?
I will repeat the point I made in response to Mr Blunkett—that our work now is to try to get the assurances necessary to ensure that we could deport Abu Qatada, but also to look at the other available legal options, such as whether or not to refer the case to the Grand Chamber.
Mr Straw and many of his right hon. and hon. Friends have raised in the House on a number of occasions the issue of the conditions relating to TPIMs and I have every confidence that they will be raised again in future. I repeat the comments I made in response to the shadow Home Secretary, which I have made previously, that we have put together, from TPIMs and additional funding available to the Security Service and the police, the package that we believe is right and with which the police and the Security Service are content. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman as I did to the shadow Home Secretary that the bail conditions applied in this case are more stringent than control orders, so even if control orders were in place, it would not be possible to apply the same conditions as have been made available under these bail conditions.
David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds, Conservative)
Signatories to the European convention on human rights, such as Italy, have simply ignored in exceptional circumstances rulings from the Court. Have Her Majesty’s Government considered that course of action in the Qatada case?
As I made clear in my earlier responses, we are looking at every option available to us under the current legal regime in order to deal with this issue. We wish to be able to deport Abu Qatada; we do not believe he should be in the United Kingdom, but we are looking at all options under the existing legal regime.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles, Labour)
The Home Secretary said quite rightly that she wishes to be in a position to deport Abu Qatada, but I am afraid that, much as we all might wish that, if it does not happen in three months’ time, the Home Secretary will face a serious choice. The bail conditions might well be relaxed, so the only choice she will have under current legislation would be to impose a TPIM. Time and again, we have seen that TPIMs do not have the measures necessary to give the British people the degree of security that they need. In this year, with the Olympics and the diamond jubilee and with half a dozen people on control orders coming back to London and being relocated, there is layer upon layer of risk. What steps is the right hon. Lady going to take to make sure that we can be assured of our safety and security?
I can assure the right hon. Lady that this Government place the security of this country and its people as their priority. That is why we have put in place a series of measures that we believe will satisfy that requirement. Right now, the Government’s intention is to work to try to achieve what the right hon. Lady has recognised that all of us want across the House when it comes to dealing with Abu Qatada.
Patrick Mercer (Newark, Conservative)
The European Court of Human Rights has yet again placed the Home Secretary and this Government in an extremely difficult position. In the short term at least, we are stuck with it, but can the right hon. Lady assure us that she will renegotiate not just with Jordan but with other countries that are subject to memorandums of understanding so that we can head these sorts of problem off—before they happen, not once they have happened?
Negotiations take place with a number of countries about the memorandums of understanding required to enable us to deport people so that we do not find ourselves unable to do so because of legal requirements. One important aspect of the Strasbourg Court’s decision in this case was that it supported the memorandum of understanding in respect of what would happen to Abu Qatada himself, were he to be returned to Jordan. In that sense, the memorandum of understanding was found to be workable by the Strasbourg court; access to a fair trial was the issue that it raised, but we will continue to be in negotiations with a number of countries where we feel it would be helpful to have such memorandums of understanding in place.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)
not a case for fast-tracking cases of national security through the European Court? The main complaint is that it took three years to pass from the House of Lords to the European Court. In cases like this, urgent action needs to be taken. Will the right hon. Lady confirm whether Sheikh Raed Saleh is still in the country?
The issue with the European Court is not so much one of whether certain cases should be fast-tracked; rather, the question we need to ask is which cases should be going through to the European Court. One issue we need to look at is the fact that when cases have gone through every single level of judicial consideration through national courts, appeal to the European Court is too often seen as a natural thing to happen at the end of the process. That contrasts with the original intention, which was about defining some very key points of law relating to human rights. That is the issue on which we need to focus.
Anne Main (St Albans, Conservative)
Yet again, it seems that the rights of terrorists trump the universal right of people in this country to feel that they have safety on their side. This must be costing some police force an enormous amount of resources. Would it not be better to allocate one police officer to go with Mr Qatada and hold his hand throughout the time he is in Jordan than to allocate someone to hold his hand here when he will potentially walk out of the door three months later?
As I said in answer to an earlier question, the European Court has upheld the memorandum of understanding on the basis of assurances in relation to the treatment of Abu Qatada himself were he to be returned to Jordan. The issue it has raised is that of a fair trial, and concerns the evidence that has been obtained from others and whether that evidence was obtained with or without torture.
George Howarth (Knowsley, Labour)
Does the Home Secretary agree that this case reflects a wider problem? Courts, whether in Europe or here, often weigh the integrity of their own proceedings against national security. Is it not now necessary for us to make absolutely clear how important national security is, and that it should be given priority? Should we not also make that absolutely clear in legislative terms?
The right hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point about the balance between judicial proceedings and the consideration of those proceedings, and the interests of national security. If I may say so, I think it possible that those who have been in the Home Office are often more acutely sensitive than others to the fact that the balance sometimes goes in a direction that we do not feel gives sufficient weight to issues of national security. However, as we try to bring 46 other countries along with us in our attempt to introduce some reform to the European Court, we shall need to examine exactly what sort of cases should be going there.
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)
The Qatada case highlights wider chinks in our security strategy. It is a fact that the number of terrorism convictions has plummeted by 100% in the last four years. Will my
right hon. Friend consider lifting the ban on intercept evidence so that we can prosecute more of these terrorists? Will she also consider amending the UK Borders Act 2007 to strengthen our capacity to deport, which we can do without touching the Human Rights Act? Above all, does not the Qatada ruling show that it is time for Britain to say no to Strasbourg?
Of course we are always in the business of considering what measures we can take to ensure that we can strengthen our ability to deal with potential terrorists. As for the issue of intercept evidence, we are still pursuing it, the advisory council of Privy Counsellors is considering it again, and it has been considered by successive Governments. It is a complex issue, but that work continues while we try to establish whether there is a way in which it would be possible to introduce intercept as evidence.
David Winnick (Walsall North, Labour)
This person is clearly motivated by murderous hatred—there is no doubt about that—but can the Home Secretary answer this question? He has been here for some 16 or 17 years. If there is evidence that he was inciting murder, why was he not charged? Would that not have been the most appropriate way of dealing with this fanatic?
In all cases relating to terrorists, potential terrorists or those who are inciting others, our preference is always to be able to prosecute, and for those people to be behind bars. That is why all cases are looked at very carefully, and, obviously, the appropriate judgments are made.
Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)
Does the Home Secretary not accept that the British Government are now in a rather pathetic, humiliating situation? A proud, sovereign country cannot deport foreign terrorists. It is no good the Home Secretary simply huffing and puffing about the decision. What the British public want to know is this: if we cannot secure the reforms that we need from the European Court of Human Rights, will we withdraw from the European convention? In the absence of that commitment, the Home Secretary will simply be spitting in the wind.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are putting considerable effort into ensuring we can do what he wants, notably to reform the European Court and how it operates so that we will not be in such situations in the future.
William McCrea (Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs); South Antrim, DUP)
What message does the Home Secretary think the Court’s decision sends to other terrorists who pose a threat to the safety and security of the United Kingdom?
One of the important messages comes from part of the Court’s decision, which is that where we have memorandums of understanding in relation to the treatment of individuals, that was upheld by the European Court. That is an important part of the judgment. Obviously, as I have said we vehemently disagree with the other part of the Court’s judgment in relation to the issue of a fair trial, which is why we
continue to do what all hon. Members have said they want, which is to see if there are ways we can move to Abu Qatada’s deportation.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, Conservative)
My right hon. Friend referred to the current legal framework. Will she confirm that it is open to Parliament to change this legal framework, and would it therefore be possible to repeal any rights of the European Court to interfere in our affairs and to return this matter to British courts—and could a Bill to achieve this be introduced tomorrow?
We are signatories to the European convention on human rights, and we remain signatories to that convention. That has been the policy across Governments in this country. As I have said in response to a number of questions, we are doing what we can at this time, with our chairmanship of the Council of Europe, to bring change to the way the European Court operates.
Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour)
Is it true, as some press reports suggest, that, despite the stringent bail conditions, this individual will enjoy the privilege of a daily school run? If that is the case, what steps are in place to offer protection and reassurance to innocent parents and their children who may inadvertently find themselves forced into contact with this man?
As I have said, the bail conditions include a 22-hour curfew. The exact details of the curfew have yet to be determined by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest, Conservative)
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that we have now reached the point where the vast majority of people right across the country are saying, “Enough is enough”? While we understand the difficulties the Home Secretary faces with the European convention on human rights, the Human Rights Act and so forth, will she reassure the House that the Government will use its presidency of the Council of Europe to seek to reform the European Court of Human Rights?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who in a nice way points out that I referred to our chairmanship of the Council of Europe when I should have referred to our presidency. I can absolutely assure her that we are putting considerable effort into the possibility of reform of the European Court and the way it operates. As my hon. Friend will know, the Prime Minister went to Strasbourg and gave a speech to assure people of the reasons why we feel that is necessary. We are, of course, working to bring the other 46 countries along with us in achieving what I am sure all Members want: appropriate reform of the Court.
Richard Drax (South Dorset, Conservative)
May I compare this case to that of my constituent, Michael Turner, who under a European arrest warrant spent four months in jail in Hungary, without charge, for alleged fraud? Does the Qatada case show that there is one rule for fanatical terrorists and quite another for British citizens?
No, I do not draw that lesson from this case. As my hon. Friend will know, we are looking at the various measures on which we have the block opt-out or block opt-in in 2014 in relation to European matters, which includes the European arrest warrant.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin, Conservative)
For people watching the news bulletins tonight, it will be both depressing and alarming that once again the European Court of Human Rights is undermining British justice and British national security. Is it not time that the United Kingdom temporarily suspended its membership of the European convention and European Court pending the reforms my right hon. Friend has set out today, and then once those reforms are in place go back into the convention and the Court? Will she set out a timetable for those reforms?
We have the opportunity, particularly with the six-month presidency of the Council of Europe, to bring other countries around the table to discuss the possibility of reform and we hope to achieve agreement on reforms that might be possible. We should be putting our energies into looking at how the European Court operates and at reasonable reform of how it operates.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)
Does the Home Secretary agree that entrenching the convention by the Human Rights Act was a catastrophic error on the part of the previous Labour Government? Will she set out a process that she will follow to take us towards a British Bill of Rights?
I have made my views on the Human Rights Act clear, but I also point out that even before that Act we were signatories to the European convention and subject to the European Court of Human Rights. On the process of reforms towards a possible Bill of Rights, a commission is examining a possible UK Bill of Rights. It was set up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister, and I believe that it is due to report before the end of this year.
David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)
How are the bail conditions going to be enforced? How much will their enforcement, and any benefits that this individual will be entitled to, cost the British taxpayer?
The precise details of how the bail conditions are enforced will be a matter for the police. Abu Qatada does not have immigration status and therefore he is not entitled to claim benefits.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley, Conservative)
This individual supports terrorists who want to kill our children. Regardless of what somebody says in Strasbourg, we must protect the human rights of the good people of this country, so I ask the Home Secretary to take the lead and put this man on a plane to Jordan.
I believe the feeling of the whole House is the same as that of my hon. Friend, in that we all want to be able to deport Abu Qatada. That is why the Government are making every effort to negotiate with the Jordanians to see whether it is possible to put in place the assurances that would enable that to happen.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
Surely this international law is an ass. It is clear that this man is a terrorist and he laughs at our weakness. He considers that he is at war with us—that is what he thinks. In wartime conditions, our Government can take extraordinary actions, so
surely he should not come out of prison. If we cannot send him to Jordan now, he should stay in prison until we can send him there.
It was the Government’s view that he should not be given bail. We argued that vigorously before SIAC, but Justice Mitting determined that he should be given bail, on the conditions that I set out earlier.
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough, Conservative)
James Adams, a decent, gentle, law-abiding constituent of mine, was murdered by Islamist terrorists on 7/7, and my constituents will be appalled and disgusted by this judgment of the Court. Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard, is it possible that the Home Secretary could consider the efficacy of doing what Sweden did and suspending our membership of the European convention on human rights?
Of course everybody in this country—everybody who wants to ensure that we can deport those who are a danger to us here in the United Kingdom—will be appalled by the decision that was taken by the Strasbourg Court. As I have said, we are doing everything we can to examine the legal options available to us. I continue to say that I believe it is right that we should be working to reform the European Court of Human Rights, and to do that we need to get the support of all of the other 46 countries involved.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood, Conservative)
We cannot currently repeal the Human Rights Act because the Liberal Democrats will not let us. However, so many Labour Members are running in the police elections that, come November—if they all win—it is possible that we may have a Conservative-Democratic Unionist party majority. Will we use it?
My hon. Friend is well aware of the position set out in our manifestos at the last election, but he is also well aware that the coalition Government have agreed that we will look at a British Bill of Rights. That work is being done by the commission and, as I said in response to an earlier question from another hon. Friend, I expect it to report by the end of the year.
Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)
Is not the absurdity of the European Court of Human Rights such that Abu Qatada could even challenge his stringent bail conditions, and does that not mean that we really should be moving towards a British Bill of Rights?
As I have said in answer to a number of questions, it is right that we look at the prospect of a British Bill of Rights. That is why the Government have put in place the commission that will be reporting on that very issue later this year.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley, Conservative)
I joined many Members in this Chamber last year in voting to continue the ban on prisoners getting the vote. Could my right hon. Friend confirm to all my constituents, many of whom have been getting in touch with me today, what the sanctions would be if we just ignored the European Court and put national security first? If it were to be a fine, I personally would put £50 in the pot to help pay it off.
I have noted my hon. Friend’s suggestion that he could come forward with a sum of money of the sort he has described. It is right that the Government look at operating within the legal framework open to us and that we look at the legal options available, which include whether we should refer to the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court. Also, on the other side, it is right that we continue the negotiations with the Jordanians. His constituents, mine and others across the country wish to see Abu Qatada deported and the Government will do what they can to see whether we can get to a position where that is possible.
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that article 17 of the European convention says explicitly that human rights law should never be used to defend those aiming
“at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms…in the Convention”
such as the activities of Abu Qatada? Article 16 makes it clear that Governments can restrict the political activity of foreign nationals in self-defence, and the Jordanian hate-preacher Abu Qatada is a clear case of that. Does she agree that it was never the intention of the framers of the European convention, which was founded to avoid a repeat of the horrors of Nazi Germany, to let the poison of Islamist terrorists go free?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the way in which the European Court operates is not how it was originally intended to operate. That is precisely why we are looking at possible reform and, as I have said, discussing with the other countries involved whether that reform would be possible in a way that enables us to be in a better position in future to deport those who are a danger to us.
Peter Bone (Wellingborough, Conservative)
We have a vicious, nasty terrorist, we have the Supreme Court, which says, “Send him home,” and we have a friendly Government. We also have a gutsy Home Secretary, who has listened to what Parliament has said today. She could become a national hero if, when she left the Chamber she picked up the phone and ordered that he be sent back to Jordan tonight.
I am always grateful for my hon. Friend’s contributions to these debates but as I have said, the right course for the Government to take at this time is to pursue negotiations with the Jordanians to see whether we can receive the assurances that would enable us to deport Abu Qatada, at the same time as looking at our legal options.