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Terrorism: European Court of Human Rights

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to ensure that decisions of the European Court of Human Rights not related to the commission of terrorist offences as such do not inhibit the introduction in the United Kingdom of counterterrorist measures.

My Lords, when we consider whether new counterterrorism measures are compatible with human rights, we take into account all relevant case law. That includes any decisions of the European Court of Human Rights where these are assessed as appropriate to the measures under consideration. We do not believe that this approach inhibits the introduction in the United Kingdom of counterterrorism measures.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. In the wake of a critical alert and of the evidence up the road at the Old Bailey, should not the following steps be taken to avoid the inhibition: to reclaim the surrender of sovereignty under the European Convention on Human Rights; to enable Parliament to enact and enforce counterterrorist legislation and safeguard sensitive intelligence, and so to that end amend the Human Rights Act; and to seek derogation under the convention? The need for those measures could never have been envisaged in 1953 on ratification, in 1999 on enactment of the Human Rights Act or before 9/11, which transformed the world.

My Lords, I understand where the noble Lord is coming from on this issue and respect his point of view, but it is the duty of all Governments carefully to balance human rights and their counterterrorism strategy. This Government have a proud record of undertaking to do that. I am not aware that human rights legislation has inhibited us in carrying out that sacred duty because it is an important balance to strike.

My Lords, if the Human Rights Act has not inhibited the Government in any way in dealing with these matters, how many terrorist suspects have been deported from this country since 7/7?

My Lords, I have some data on deportation which I am more than happy to share with your Lordships' House. We are committed to deporting and excluding foreign terrorist suspects. Thus far we have excluded 124 individuals on national security grounds since the terrorist attacks in 2005. A further 52 individuals have been excluded for unacceptable behaviour and we are considering several other cases. That is a total of 176 people in the past two years alone, so that rather makes our point.

My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend a direct question rather than go round the mulberry bush with it. As the terms of reference for the European Court of Human Rights were established a long time ago and the world has since changed, does he agree that those terms of reference should now be amended?

No, my Lords, I do not. I have made that case. We approach anti-terrorist measures in a proportionate way and we seek to gather all-party support. Our current endeavours in that direction are well understood by your Lordships' House and that is the right and balanced way and the British way.

My Lords, am I not right in recalling from history that Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Maxwell Fyfe, the leaders of the Conservative Party in 1949, were the main architects politically of much of the convention and that they were very careful indeed to balance individual liberty with national security? Is the noble Lord aware of a single judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that fails to strike that balance?

My Lords, with regard to counterterrorist measures, is it the case that not a single armed police officer was on duty at Glasgow Airport when it was attacked? Does the noble Lord agree that it is very much in the public interest and highly desirable that the same counterterrorist measures should be in place throughout Britain, especially at major airports? The European Court has done nothing that would prevent that happening.

My Lords, I am not sure that it is the right approach, actually. As for the noble Lord’s point, of course we must maintain the utmost vigilance, and our security forces and law enforcement agencies well understand that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, as has been pointed out, we have a very proud history on human rights legislation, which we drew up and insisted that European countries signed up to, even though we did not sign ourselves until some years later? It might also be worth pointing out that the problem of derogation comes from two specific issues, in relation to which continental law is different from British common law. That is the area that we need to look at, but there are ways in which to address it without abandoning the Human Rights Act, which is one of our proudest achievements post-World War II.

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is worried about getting rid of terrorists at the end of sentences in this country, would he not have to denounce the convention against torture, too?

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, which was not how many terrorists have been excluded but how many have actually been deported?

My Lords, I thought that those were the data I gave. Maybe the noble Lord would like to read Hansard tomorrow.

My Lords, after the Statement on counterterrorism, the Minister promised, and we agreed to, cross-party talks on this matter. Can the noble Lord give us some timetable as to when this is likely to happen?

My Lords, my understanding is that it has to take place between now and the autumn. We will want to consider these matters in a balanced and proportionate way, taking into account views from all sides.