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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 12:14 GMT
Q&A: Emergency detention proposals

Home Secretary David Blunkett is to take the first steps towards bringing in emergency laws to allow terrorist suspects to be detained without trial.

BBC home affairs correspondent Jon Silverman explains the issues surrounding the proposed legislation.


How quickly could we see this legislation in place?

Well, it's emergency legislation so the aim is to publish the Bill on Tuesday and then move very swiftly to a second reading debate which I think will be early next week. The government's plan is that it should be on the statute book by Christmas.

What will the government have to do to get this legislation through?

Today the home secretary will lay an order before Parliament which in effect says that there is a state of emergency. Now that's important because it means that the government can opt out from the European Convention on Human Rights.


I think that politically most MPs will be prepared to go along with the government's proposal

It is a fundamental right not to be detained without trial so in order for the government to be able opt-out of that part of the European convention, it needs to be able to persuade Parliament that there is a state of emergency or a state of war - there could some argument about that.

But I think that politically most MPs will be prepared to go along with the government's proposal.

How easy is it to just opt-out of the Human Rights Convention?

In theory it is very easy because it is part of the Human Rights Act that we passed last year. It came onto the statute book in this country on 2 October 2000 and there is a clause in that which says that if the government feels there is sufficient emergency or a state of war then we can opt out.

But it is not something that is done lightly and it's something that no other European signatory to the convention has yet done - so we would be the first to do it.

Who exactly will this law target?

It is targeted specifically at those foreign nationals who come to this country against whom there is fairly strong evidence that they've been involved in terrorist activities abroad or might want to get involved here but the UK cannot send them back to their country of origin because they might face torture or death.

So it's a small target group?


It is very specifically aimed at people that are thought to support al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden

Yes, these laws are very specifically targeted because the government realises that there are political objections and if it was a kind of "catch all" bit of legislation, those objections would grow.

It's a small group of people - we think probably no more than a few dozen, possibly from countries like Iran, Libya, Iraq, possibly some of the South East Asian countries.

This is not aimed at everyone who comes to this country who may have some interest in nefarious activities. It is very specifically aimed at people that are thought to support al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Would this be a permanent change?

Again, this is a question for both the government and discussions with opposition MPs. The thinking is that we would have this kind of opt out for up to a year but in order for it to be renewed, certainly the government would have to go back to Parliament - this is not a blank cheque.

Have we used this legislation before?

No. We have introduced internment without trial before but back in the days when we did not have the European Convention incorporated into UK law. So it was much easier. It was entirely up to the government of the day.

We did it most recently during the Gulf War and then before that we did it in the early 1970s when the Heath government - the Tory government - introduced it in Northern Ireland.

Of course it was done during the whole of the Second World War to intern fascists like Oswald Moseley.


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See also:

12 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett seeks terror laws approval
15 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK anti-terror measures unveiled
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