With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the case of Abu Qatada.
As the whole House will know, successive Governments have sought the deportation of this dangerous man since 2001. The prospect of his deportation now depends on one very narrow issue: the question of whether evidence obtained through the mistreatment of others might be used against him in his home country of Jordan. In January last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there was indeed such a risk, and therefore blocked his deportation. Following that ruling, the British Government sought from the Jordanian Government further information and assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial.
Although the Special Immigration Appeals Commission noted that the Jordanian Government
“will do everything within their power to ensure that a retrial is fair”,
in November last year it ruled that there was still a risk that a trial in Jordan would breach Qatada’s rights under article 6 of the European convention. Since then, the Government have pursued a twin strategy: first, to appeal SIAC’s decision; and secondly to work with the Jordanian Government to seek further assurances to convince the courts that Qatada would indeed receive a fair trial. I want to take each of those approaches in turn.
First, I shall deal with the Government’s appeal. On 27 March, the Court of Appeal confirmed SIAC’s interpretation of the law and ruled that we could not deport Abu Qatada to Jordan under present conditions. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal refused the Government’s application to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. The Government disagree with that ruling, and I can tell the House that we will now seek permission to appeal from the Supreme Court itself.
Secondly, I can tell the House that I have signed a comprehensive mutual legal assistance agreement with Jordan. This agreement is fully reciprocal, offers considerable advantages to both countries and reflects our joint commitment to tackling international crime. It covers assistance in obtaining evidence for the investigation and prosecution of crimes in either country and provides a framework for assistance in the restraint and confiscation of the proceeds of crime. It also includes a number of fair trial guarantees that would apply to anyone being deported from either country. I believe that these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture in a re-trial in Jordan.
Before the agreement can come into force and become a formal treaty, it must be ratified by both countries, and the Jordanian Government will be laying the draft treaty before its Parliament shortly. In the United Kingdom, the agreement does not require any changes to our domestic law, but it must be placed before both Houses for 21 sitting days before it is ratified. So I can confirm that the text of the treaty has been laid before both Houses today, and, depending on the date of Parliament’s prorogation, we expect the 21 days to be completed before the end of June. Under Jordanian law, once ratified the provisions of the treaty will take primacy over existing Jordanian law in cases such as Qatada’s. We therefore believe that the treaty will deliver the protections required by SIAC to secure Qatada’s deportation.
I believe that the treaty we have agreed with Jordan, once ratified by both Parliaments, will finally make possible the deportation of Abu Qatada, but as I have warned the House before, even when the treaty is fully ratified, it will not mean that Qatada will be on a plane to Jordan within days. We will be able to issue a new deportation decision, but Qatada will still have legal appeals available to him, and it will therefore be up to the courts to make the final decision. That legal process may well still take many months, but in the meantime I believe that Qatada should remain behind bars.
Lastly, I would like to say this: as any sane observer of this case will conclude, it is absurd for the deportation of a suspected foreign terrorist to take so many years and cost the taxpayer so much money. That is why we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport. In the meantime, however, the Government are doing everything they can to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan. I believe that this treaty gives us every chance of succeeding in that aim, so I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement.
The Home Secretary and the courts have agreed that Abu Qatada is a dangerous man who puts security in this country at risk, and the House is united in wanting him deported to stand fair trial in Jordan so that justice can be done and in wanting him to remain in prison in the meantime. I welcome the work that she continues to do to get Abu Qatada deported and the further assurances that she has sought from Jordan, although she will know that the history of Home Office problems in this area means that serious questions remain.
The Home Secretary referred to the European Court judgment of January 2012, which she has previously said she strongly disagrees with. Once that passed, she had two choices: to appeal against its conclusions about the level of proof that the British Government needed to provide before Abu Qatada could be deported or to provide enough evidence from Jordan that she could meet that level of proof. So far, the Home Office has not managed to do either. I welcome this further work with Jordan, but the question for the House and the Court will be whether it meets the specific test that the Court has set.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled six months ago:
“Until and unless a change is made to the…Code of Criminal Procedure and/or authoritative rulings are made by the Court of Cassation or Constitutional Court which establish that statements made to a public prosecutor by accomplices who are no longer subject to criminal proceedings cannot be admitted probatively against a returning fugitive and/or that it is for the prosecutor to prove to a high standard that the statements were not procured by torture, that real risk will remain.”
Will the Home Secretary tell us more about how the new mutual legal assistance agreement will meet those tests? The treaty refers to the obligation on the prosecution, but will she explain whether and how this will be an equivalent of a change to the code of criminal procedure, and whether it will supersede any ruling made by the court of cassation or the constitutional court? We wish the Home Secretary well with the mutual legal assistance treaty, and we hope that it will work. We will support it in the House, and suggest that we hold a debate and a vote in the Commons to demonstrate the strength of support that exists across the House.
Let me ask the Home Secretary more about her approach to the European Court. Everyone agrees that the European Courts have taken way too long over this, as did the British courts—that has rightly been seen as a source of frustration for Home Secretaries—but will she tell us again why she chose, in January 2012, not to appeal against the judgment that she said she disagreed with? I ask her again to show shadow Ministers and the relevant Select Committee Chairs, on Privy Council terms, the legal advice on why she did not appeal. Until she does so, doubts will remain about her legal strategy and about the credibility of her criticism of the European Court.
Will the Home Secretary also tell us whether she is planning to withdraw temporarily from the European convention on human rights, as has been suggested in briefings from No. 10 to the media, and how she would justify such a decision when she has chosen not to appeal against the European Court’s decisions?
The Home Secretary must forgive us for being cautious about her claims and assurances today when some of her previous promises on this matter have been overblown. Twelve months ago, we remember the media being invited to Abu Qatada’s arrest as she told the House that
“today Qatada has been arrested and the deportation is under way”.—[Official Report, 17 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 173.]
However, within 24 hours, the process had stalled. We also remember her saying last year:
“The Government are clear that Qatada has no right to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 507.]
However, the European Court said that the request had been submitted within the three-month time limit. And 12 months ago, she also told us:
“I believe that the assurances and the information that we have gathered will mean that we can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good.”—[Official Report, 17 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 175.]
Today, however, we are back to a legal square one again, going through the deportation process.
We want to work with the Home Secretary to make the process work, so that Abu Qatada can be deported as soon as possible. In the past, however, she has overstated the evidence, overstated her legal position, and overstated her legal strategy, which has not worked. None of us wants that to happen again.
May I say in response to the shadow Home Secretary’s first question that she should perhaps listen to what she herself said in her statement? She said that SIAC had suggested that there should be a change to a number of aspects of Jordanian law and/or a change to the obligations on the prosecutor. It is such a change to the obligations on the prosecutor that is in the mutual legal assistance agreement that I have signed with Jordan and that has been laid before both Houses of Parliament, and that will therefore deal with that particular issue.
The right hon. Lady asked about the failure to appeal to the European Court. She has raised that issue before and I have answered her before. She seems to think that I should have appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court, but that would have jeopardised the Government’s wider deportation with assurances programme and risked the blockage of many other deportation cases. She should also look at what she has previously said on this issue. What she is saying today is not what she was saying last year. In this House, on 17 April last year, she said of me:
“I welcome the assurances that she has obtained from Jordan. Previous agreements were in place, but she was right to pursue further assurances.”
If she thought we should have appealed to the Grand Chamber, why did she think that we needed to pursue those assurances? If that is not clear, she should also remember what else she said:
“We understand, too, that the Home Secretary believes it is too risky to appeal to the Grand Chamber. I understand she would have had legal advice on that, and I do not want her to pursue an unwise and risky process”.
The right hon. Lady asked about the relationship with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The House will know that it is my clear view that we need to fix that relationship and that all options, including leaving the convention altogether, should be on the table. The Prime Minister is looking at all options, and that is the only sensible thing to do.
There are a number of questions for the right hon. Lady. She talked about why this did not happen sooner, and we have heard all sorts of claims from the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Immigration Minister about what I have said. A year ago, I said in this House:
“hon. Members must be aware that”
what I was announcing at that time
“does not necessarily mean that he”—
“will be on a plane to Jordan within days. There is still a potential avenue of appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission court, and beyond. That appeal process could take many months”.—[Official Report, 17 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 175-6.]
I have to tell the right hon. Lady that simply repeating something and wanting it to be true does not make it true; she should look at what was actually said here.
Finally, the right hon. Lady herself has to answer some questions. Does she support what the Government have done? [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady says she wants a vote. I am asking her very clearly whether she believes that the Government have taken the right course of action in what we have done. Beyond that, will the Opposition support what we want to do, which is to strip out appeal rights for foreign nationals, or not? Will we have a cross-party agreement that we need to deal with the issue of the length of time deportations take? We could do that by taking out layers of appeal. Perhaps even more significantly, will the Opposition agree with us that we need to sort out our human rights laws, which were passed by their Government?
This mutual legal assistance agreement with Jordan has clauses within it that, as I say, address the issue raised by the SIAC court and the European Court about Abu Qatada. I hope that the right hon. Lady will support the Government—not just on this case, but in sorting out our human rights laws and our processes of deportation.
Given the way in which successive British Governments have been made to look impotent by the European convention and regime, when will my right hon. Friend bring proposals before this House to ensure that the will of Parliament and of the overwhelming majority of the British people can be upheld, common sense applied and justice delivered in these difficult cases?
Abu Qatada’s legal team have used the Human Rights Act 1998 to suggest that if extradition took place, evidence gained through torture would be used in a trial against him. Surely his team would have more success if it changed tack and argued that Abu Qatada might commit suicide, in which case they would have the support of the Home Secretary.
I support the Home Secretary’s attempts to deport Abu Qatada and her respect for the courts, even though Governments sometimes clearly disagree with their decisions. Given that agreement with Jordan could be a game changer—in this case and in others—is there an intention to seek similar agreements with other countries where these issues arise? Will she update us on her intention to look again at prosecuting Abu Qatada in this country, which I know she was investigating at the end of last year?
On the first issue, we have a number of deportation with assurances agreements that we have signed with other countries, and deportations have been possible under them. Mutual legal assistance agreements also exist with a number of other countries. A very particular point has been raised by the courts in respect of one case, but we will obviously look at the wider implications.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, as he will know, we have always made it clear that we will continue to consider whether there is any prospect of our prosecuting Abu Qatada here in the United Kingdom. The Metropolitan police are investigating the issue of the breach of bail conditions, and the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on an ongoing police investigation.
The Home Secretary has rightly said that Abu Qatada is a dangerous man who should remain behind bars. How confident is she that the bail conditions can be sustained for a lengthy period, given that the appeals will no doubt continue for many months? If she is not able to sustain them—because they will be challenged by Abu Qatada’s team—does she intend to impose a terrorism prevention and investigation measure on him, involving the maximum restrictions, so that we can ensure that he is not free to walk the streets of this country?
Given her experience, the right hon. Lady will know that we do not comment publicly on whether or not we intend to impose TPIMs on individuals. If an application for bail is made, the Home Office will vigorously defend its belief, and my belief, that Abu Qatada should remain behind bars.
What is the worst thing that could happen to us if we did just put Abu Qatada on a plane? If it is a fine or incurring the displeasure of the European Court of Human Rights, would it not be best for us to withdraw temporarily, put him on a plane, and then rejoin?
My hon. Friend and others have been raising for some time the possibility of our simply defying our international legal obligations and putting Abu Qatada on a plane. My answer to her today is the same as the answer that I have given to others in the past: I believe that the UK Government should abide by the rule of law.
This has turned into a political and judicial farce. The Home Secretary has spent a huge amount of time on the issue, and she must feel very let down by the Home Office silks who kept telling her that there was enough evidence to remove Abu Qatada. While of course I welcome the treaty that she has signed, it does seem extraordinary that we have conducted a treaty with a foreign Government just to remove one individual. Is she satisfied that that will be enough, or does she think that it will be necessary for her to go to Jordan to deal with any other outstanding points? Can she also assure us that if the Court wants to hear from the Jordanian Government as an amicus curiae, the Jordanian Government will be able to put representations directly to it?
I have made it clear at every stage that we should continue to talk to the Jordanian Government, and should do our utmost to ensure that we can achieve what is wanted by every Member in the Chamber, and, I believe, by all members of the public, namely the deportation of Abu Qatada. We have been clear about our twin-track approach, and we continue that approach.
I must challenge the right hon. Gentleman on one point. As I said, we have signed a wide-ranging mutual legal assurance agreement with the Jordanian Government, which will affect the deportations of individuals in both directions regardless of whether or not they are Abu Qatada. It so happens that within that agreement are fair trial guarantees that could be applied in the case of Abu Qatada, but the agreement itself is a wider document, which has been signed by the two Governments and which, following full ratification in both the Jordanian Parliament and our Parliament, will take the status of a treaty.
All that my constituents see are judges who are ignoring the will of Parliament, ignoring the cost to the taxpayer, and ignoring the victims of terrorism. Is it not time for us to change the law and extricate ourselves from all the human rights legislation, so that this sort of thing never happens again?
As I have made clear both in the Chamber and outside it, I believe that we need to think about our relationship with the European convention on human rights and European Court of Human Rights. I believe that while we are members of the convention and subject to the Court, we should abide by the rule of law—that is what people would expect the Government to do—but I also believe that we need to change the relationship, and that everything should be on the table in that regard.
Does the Home Secretary recognise that the influence of the European convention on human rights over many years has been beneficial in outlawing questioning under torture and protecting the human rights of many people throughout Europe, including people in this country? Does she also recognise that persuading Jordan to accept a non-torture clause in the putative treaty that she has presented to the House was a product of the values of the European convention? Is it not the case that we should be talking not about leaving it, but about extending the values contained in it to the rest of the world if we can possibly do so?
The European convention was signed for a particular purpose. Over the years, the European Court has itself interpreted the convention in particular ways, and I believe that when it raised the issue of Abu Qatada and article 6, it moved the goalposts.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned torture in connection with Jordan and the agreement that has been signed. I remind him that the Jordanian Government themselves changed their constitution to outlaw torture. The case of Abu Qatada went before SIAC, and SIAC reached the judgment that it did, because the case law had not been tested at that stage. The Jordanian Government themselves took the step of outlawing torture, and I think that we should congratulate them on the changes that they have already made in their legal system.
The Home Secretary has to convince the Supreme Court that her case raises an arguable point of law of general public importance. Should she not therefore put the key constitutional question: is Strasbourg entitled to move the goalposts, or does our Supreme Court have the last word?
My hon. Friend and I have had a number of discussions and question-and-answer sessions relating to this issue, not least in the Home Affairs Committee last week. At the heart of the point that he has raised today is the issue of the relationship between Britain and the European Court of Human Rights.
As I have already said in answer to other questions, I believe that we should consider all the options, and that that should include leaving the jurisdiction of the Court altogether. However, we are currently signatories to the convention and must abide by its rulings, and I believe that Governments must abide by the law. Even if we were to ignore the Court and put Abu Qatada on a plane regardless of its ruling—and I do not believe that we would be able to do so in practice—we would risk being ordered by the Court to bring him back to Britain and pay him compensation. Worse than that, as soon as we started to ignore our obligations under international law, we would not be able to rely on other countries’ obligations to us under international law. I think that that would jeopardise our national security and, indeed, jeopardise many other deportation cases.
I fully understand the frustration felt by my hon. Friend and others who share his views, but our options involve operating within the law, and I believe that we should operate within the law or change the law. Dare I describe urging the Government to break the law as a rather reckless step?
The Home Secretary has now discovered how difficult it is to put this man on a plane to Jordan. Given the possibility that her latest efforts will be thwarted, has she considered trying to negotiate a fair trial on neutral territory in order to overcome objections, using a model similar to the one that was used to bring the Libyan bomber to justice?
The suggestion that we have suddenly discovered how difficult it is to deport Abu Qatada is wide of the mark. That has been absolutely clear from the beginning. What I myself have made clear from the beginning is that we need to follow the processes of law. It has taken time and it will continue to take time, but I believe that it is the right thing to do, and that it will mean that we can eventually deport him.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on seeking a solution to this vexing situation. Do the fair trial guarantees in the comprehensive mutual legal assistance agreement with Jordan match the standards for fair trial under the English court system? If so, does that not constitute a huge improvement for those who face trial as British subjects in Jordan?
Obviously, the mutual legal assistance agreement, which when ratified will become a treaty, provides for people other than Abu Qatada. It is a general agreement on fair trial arrangements, the exchange of information and other issues. It provides that in all cases, whether for somebody being deported to Jordan from the UK who is not Abu Qatada or for deportations the other way round.
Is it not obvious that this saga will continue for some time and that all the Home Secretary’s efforts have so far failed miserably to get this preacher of hatred out of Britain? Following on from an earlier question and some of the questions I have asked previously, why cannot the appropriate authorities look at prosecution in this country not just for breach of bail conditions but for some of the remarks he is alleged to have made that clearly incite race hatred? Like me, many people must find it difficult to understand why no attempt is being made to prosecute him in the United Kingdom.
I have made it clear on a number of occasions that prosecution has always been alongside the other activities that the Government are undertaking. It is looked at. At the moment, we have an active police investigation, on which it is not appropriate for me to comment. It is not the case, as the hon. Gentleman’s question seems to imply, that prosecution has never previously been considered. I remind him that, as he well knows, prosecution is not a matter for the Home Secretary; it is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Does the Home Secretary realise that she has massive support from the British people for the work she has been doing to get rid of an odious man from this country? She has that support because people recognise the frustrations involved in the processes, thanks to the Labour Government’s human rights legislation. I congratulate her on the mutual legal assistance arrangements with Jordan, and I recommend that she continues on her course; eventually it will succeed and we will rid this country of a dangerous and odious man.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right: everybody wants to see Abu Qatada deported to Jordan. It is frustrating that it has taken so long. As I said in my statement, the process started in 2001, so it is not something that has suddenly come up for this Government. We have been taking steps and we have progressed, in that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission accepted the assurances from the Jordanian Government in a number of areas in relation to a retrial. We still have the single point to deal with, and I believe that the mutual legal assistance agreement will provide widely for deportations between both countries and will also deal with the point about Abu Qatada.
The Secretary of State rightly emphasised that, under present conditions, the SIAC ruling prevents her from deporting Qatada. Presumably, the comprehensive treaty with Jordan is designed to meet the circumstances to which SIAC refers. I assume that we cannot go back to SIAC for a revision of the ruling, although perhaps she will confirm that point, but perhaps we can use at the Supreme Court the arguments she has made today. If we cannot, this saga will run on and on, and will become an increasing farce, to the embarrassment of the whole House and to her in particular.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that as I said in my statement, we continue to adopt a twin-track approach. He referred to the Supreme Court. Obviously, we are seeking leave to appeal direct to the Supreme Court. If the appeal is accepted, the case will be on points of law in relation to the earlier SIAC judgment, and on only those points of law. Assuming that the treaty is ratified in both the Jordanian Parliament and this Parliament, it will enable me to make a fresh deportation decision about Abu Qatada.
As I understand it, this is the first time that a deportation order has been blocked on fair trial grounds under article 6. What assessment, if any, has the Home Office made of the number of claims likely to follow the judicial review, and will my right hon. Friend commit to a Bill in the Queen’s Speech that unequivocally deals in primary legislation with article 6 and article 8 grounds for frustrating deportation orders?
As I said previously, parliamentary time allowing, I intend to bring forward an immigration Bill to deal with the matters that can be dealt with. As my hon. Friend rightly says, although we are focusing on article 6 today, there is also an article 8 issue. Despite the fact that last year the House unanimously approved changes to immigration rules in relation to article 8, Members will know that unfortunately one of the judges in the lower tribunal indicated that it was only a weak parliamentary debate, which is why I intend and expect to bring primary legislation to the House.
It is remarkable that the Home Secretary has had to confirm to the House that she does not intend to break the law. Can she confirm whether she is considering temporary withdrawal from the European convention to deal with the case of one man? What would that do to our international reputation?
I note the comment the hon. Gentleman made at the beginning of his remarks. I think it is important that a Home Secretary is willing to stand in the House and say that the Government should abide by the rule of law. There is an issue about the relationship between the Government and the European Court, but it is wider than this particular case. I believe that in dealing with that issue, all potential aspects should be on the table and should be considered.
The framers of the European convention on human rights never intended that it should usurp the autonomy of UK jurisdiction or the sovereignty of Parliament. The Home Secretary needs to be bold and look at the example of other countries with regard to the efficacy of suspension from the European Court of Human Rights. Apart from the wilder shores of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour left, there is clearly settled consensus on that. My constituents and those of other hon. Members are fed up with waiting; we want proposals at the earliest opportunity.
My hon. Friend raises points and puts a view as he has done in the past. He has been consistent. We too are consistent in accepting that we need to change the relationship with the European Court and that we need to look again at the Human Rights Act. Conservative Members came into the House at the last election with a commitment to repeal the Act and I have every confidence that we will go into the next election with that commitment.
This farce makes the Government look incompetent as well as impotent. Can the Home Secretary tell me whether previously loyal Conservatives will have to vote for the UK Independence party before she pays attention to them?
I am really not sure what relevance that has to the signing of a mutual legal assistance agreement with the Jordanian Government. Over the last three years, the Government have taken every step at every stage to ensure that we reach the end point we all want, which is the deportation of Abu Qatada.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her determination to remove that man, and on her commitment to do so within the law. She will be aware that many people believe that other countries that are signatories to the European convention act differently and can get rid of people who are a clear danger to their society. Does she think that the proposals she has outlined, including the removal of the layers of appeal available to foreign criminals, will reassure the public who hold that view?
While it is a view widely propounded that other countries find it easier to deport people, that view is not always based on as much fact as those who put it forward would like us to believe. It is important for us to shorten the deportation process. The steps we are looking at in relation to removing layers of appeal will both ensure that people have access to justice, which is important, and that we shorten the process so that we can deport people who are a danger to us rather more quickly than we have been able to do so far.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Her frustration is shared by all in the Chamber. In legal circles and in some of today’s press, it is stated that it may be necessary to suspend human rights legislation for six months to enable the deportation to happen. Can she confirm that that strategy is being considered as an option to ensure that the deportation of Abu Qatada can be completed?
In relation to the deportation of Abu Qatada, we are pursuing the twin track that I set out to the House. As I said, an important step has been taken with the signing of the wider-ranging mutual legal assistance agreement, but we retain the intention to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, and we are seeking leave to do so. We are developing that twin track. The relationship between the Human Rights Act, the European Court and the European convention and the views of the UK and the Government is a wider issue and it is right that we look at all the options.
I thank the Home Secretary for yet again coming to the House to keep us informed. Further to the question of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), surely the Secretary of State should be following a third way by giving notice to the Council of Europe that we intend to come out of the convention in six months’ time, meaning that we would be able to withdraw and act legally by deporting Abu Qatada. We would then have six months to see whether the other process that she outlined will work. Does she not think that it would be a good idea to give that notice to the Council of Europe today?
Is it not the case that there would be no human rights in Europe were it not for this country and its empire standing alone in 1940 against the forces of tyranny that threatened our continent, and that we need not be lectured about human rights by anyone else? Given the dysfunctionality of the discredited European convention, it is time for us to leave—and to leave now—and to establish our own Bill of Rights so that we can decide these things for ourselves.
My hon. Friend is right to remind us of the valiant stance that this country took against tyranny. He is also right to comment on the fact that we need to examine the relationship between this country and the European Court of Human Rights, which is of course part of the issue of the convention. I say to him, as I have said to everyone else, that all options are on the table, which include removing ourselves from the Court and the convention.
I am not in a position to give my hon. Friend a figure for the costs at this stage, although certain legal aid costs have been published. I undertook to inform the Home Affairs Committee of the position as best I can, because I was asked such a question at its sitting last week.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement; her evident exasperation will be widely reflected in my constituency. Even if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ruling, what grounds are there to believe that the Supreme Court will overturn that decision, given that the Court of Appeal’s judgment stated that the contention that SIAC had erred in law was “particularly difficult to sustain”?
We will continue to argue on a point of law that we believe is arguable before the courts, notwithstanding the view taken by the Court of Appeal, but I cannot prejudge the decision that the Supreme Court will take. It is right that the Government continue to ask for leave to appeal directly to the Supreme Court so that, if the appeal is accepted, the case can be tested in the very highest court in the land.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the way in which she has dealt with terrorists and suspected terrorists, because in the past three years, she has rescinded the British nationality of 16 individuals due to acts linked to terrorism that make it not conducive for them to be in this country, which is far more than any previous Secretary of State?
I note my hon. Friend’s comments. When we came into government, we were clear that we needed to ensure that we could act against extremists, including violent extremists, and we have been pursuing that in the way that he sets out, as well as though our policy of exclusions.
May I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that she has done? She has already managed to remove one extremist, Abu Hamza—he has slung his hook off to America—and I have every faith that her work will continue. However, my constituents are frustrated not only because it is so difficult to unpick Labour’s Human Rights Act, but because of reports of the benefits that Abu Qatada might well be receiving in this country. Has my right hon. Friend spoken to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that Abu Qatada is not getting anything to which he is not entitled?
I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks, but may I say that an awful lot of work and effort is also being put in by Home Office officials and the Security Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire)? On the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), I simply say that he should not believe everything he reads in the papers about such matters.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the widespread anger throughout the country about the amount of time it is taking to deal with this, but is she also aware that there is widespread understanding throughout the country, if not among all Members of the House, that there is an obligation on the Home Secretary and the Government to obey the law and abide by the decision of the courts, so we appreciate that she has no choice in the matter? Will she confirm that the Government’s position is made more difficult by the human rights legislation that the previous Labour Government passed in this House, although Labour Members take no responsibility whatsoever for the mess that we are in?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is absolutely right to remind us that the previous Labour Government passed the Human Rights Act. Several Labour Members have spoken about dealing with human rights, but they brought the European convention into British legislation, and we will have to deal with that legislation if we are to sort out the wider issue of our relationship with the European Court.
I welcome the arrangements that the Home Secretary is negotiating with Jordan. Does she agree that it is all very well for Opposition Members to carp and criticise in a typical fit of political opportunism, but that they should reflect on the massive contribution that they made to the mess in which we find ourselves? Indeed, what we would like from them is an apology.
One thing that we never seem to get from the Opposition, in any aspect of their policies, is an apology for what we had to inherit. The deportation of Abu Qatada has been considered by successive Governments since 2001. We have taken several steps that I believe have put us a position in which we will be able to achieve that end. I have been absolutely clear that rights of appeal will be available to Abu Qatada if a new deportation decision is issued, so the process could take many months—it will not be over quickly—but the Government have been absolutely right to take such action. We have reduced the issues that must be dealt with to this single point that we believe the agreement will address.
It is a farce that it has taken so long—it will clearly take a while longer yet—to remove this individual, who we all agree is a danger. That farce damages faith in politics, plays into the hands of extremists and, tragically, undermines my constituents’ support for human rights legislation. In that context, may I warmly welcome what the Home Secretary says about changing the law so that we no longer find ourselves in the ridiculous position whereby the rights of one terror suspect seem to trump our constituents’ rights to live freely and safely?
My hon. Friend is right. We should be able to balance the rights of the individual against the wider rights of society. I understand his point about his constituents’ attitude to human rights. Those who propounded the changes that took place need to understand the risk that the concept of human rights becomes discredited if people see it as being used consistently to stop us from deporting those who are a danger to this country.
My right hon. Friend has extradited several terrorist suspects from Britain, including Abu Hamza, so it is right that she maintains the same strong resolve to see Abu Qatada deported. Does she recall the number of years that the Labour party had in which to remove these dangerous individuals from our country and how it singularly failed to do so?
My constituents consistently ask, “Why don’t we just stick this man on a plane and have done with it, regardless of what the European convention on human rights says?” Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that as much as we all want rid of this dreadful, odious little man, we all have greater benefit from living under a Government who stick to their own laws as they are in place at present?
My hon. Friend is right. Many people say, “Why don’t you just put this individual on a plane?”, but that would not, I believe, be practically possible in relation to the action that the courts would take. Also, it is important—my hon. Friend says there are wider benefits—that the Government are willing to say that we abide not just by our rule of law, but by our international legal obligations.