Steve Baker (Con) Wycombe
Karen Bradley (Con) Staffordshire Moorlands
Tom Brake (LD) Carshalton and Wallington
Chris Bryant (Lab) Rhondda
David Burrowes (Con) Enfield, Southgate
Menzies Campbell (LD) North East Fife
Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) Islington North
Nick de Bois (Con) Enfield North
Richard Drax (Con) South Dorset
Jane Ellison (Con) Battersea
Charlie Elphicke (Con) Dover
Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab) Poplar and Limehouse
Hywel Francis (Lab) Aberavon
Richard Fuller (Con) Bedford
Sheila Gilmore (Lab) Edinburgh East
Zac Goldsmith (Con) Richmond Park
Damian Green (Con) Ashford
David Heath (LD) Somerton and Frome
Sadiq Khan (Lab) Tooting
Charlotte Leslie (Con) Bristol North West
Caroline Lucas (Green) Brighton, Pavilion
Fiona Mactaggart (Lab) Slough
Penny Mordaunt (Con) Portsmouth North
Yasmin Qureshi (Lab) Bolton South East
Dominic Raab (Con) Esher and Walton
Andrew Rosindell (Con) Romford
Gavin Shuker (Lab) Luton South
Dennis Skinner (Lab) Bolsover
Andy Slaughter (Lab) Hammersmith
Keith Vaz (Lab) Leicester East
George Young (Con) North West Hampshire
If your MP did attend and made representations then please remember to email them to thank them.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse, Labour): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. During the course of his research, has he had the chance to look at the case of Babar Ahmad, who is a constituent of my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary? My right hon. Friend is in his place in this Chamber, but protocol restricts him from speaking in this debate. Babar Ahmad has been in detention for seven years. Can the hon. Gentleman qualify the validity of the fact that Babar Ahmad has not been able to be extradited, deported or tried in the UK, but languishes in a detention centre?
Dominic Raab: I want to be careful about what I say about the Babar Ahmad case. We must bear in mind the fact that, whatever the nature of the allegations-some of the individuals in the cases that I have mentioned are plainly and demonstrably innocent-we are dealing with that basic principle of British justice that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We are losing sight of that in this country. Irrespective of the nature of the allegations against Babar Ahmad, and I do not deny for one second that they are grave, the period of pre-trial detention is unacceptably high and should be looked at carefully within the scope of the UK-US treaty in relation to both the “most appropriate forum” safeguard and the other safeguards that might be available.
Jane Ellison (Battersea, Conservative): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I wonder whether it is helpful to intervene on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. As there is such enormous interest in this debate and in the issue of Babar Ahmad, we are more than happy to take further representations from other Back-Bench Members for time in the Chamber to return to this subject in the event that all Members do not get the chance fully to explore the issue today.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour): Given the number of hon. Members present today, does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that this is a matter that should be debated on the Floor of the House? We need to debate both this issue and the issue of Babar Ahmad, for which an e-petition of more than 140,000 signatures was collected.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South, Labour): My hon. Friend mentioned that there were 140,000 signatures, and it would be easy to assume that many of the people who supported the petition came from one particular community-the British Muslim community; but is he aware, as I am, that many people across this country who do not come from that background are equally chilled by the experience of Babar Ahmad, particularly as he has been held for seven years?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour): Mr Raab, who secured this debate, quite rightly concluded his remarks by saying that the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for so long was damaging to the image and traditions of British justice; that is absolutely true. I think that the media have missed the point; perceptions, particularly in the Muslim community across the whole country, are that Babar Ahmad has been so badly treated because of his faith and religion, suffering terrible abuse as a result. I have had a large number of contacts and e-mails from people who attend local mosques, as well as from people who attend churches and other organisations, and who are deeply concerned that somebody should languish for eight years in prison on a case that cannot be brought to court in this country, all because of the very strange arrangement that we have with the United States. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do not mend the arrangement, this will be the image of British justice, not what we want it to be?
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour): The word Kafkaesque is somewhat overused in the media and in Parliament too, but it probably does apply to this case, where somebody has been arrested and held in high-security prisons for seven years without-clearly-any charge and without, as far as we are aware, any intention by the British authorities to charge. Therefore, the petition asks that the British prosecuting authorities take the lead and make a decision to go ahead and charge him here, if there is sufficient evidence to do so.
The excellent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that was published in June deals with many of these issues; a key one is forum. We know that there is provision on the statute book that would allow a forum test to be introduced. The introduction of such a test would immediately deal with cases such as that of Babar Ahmad and resolve the issue. Again, I strongly believe that the House should have an opportunity to make a decision on that matter if the Government are not prepared to make that decision.
Babar Ahmad’s situation is intolerable. It has been described by one of the judges who considered the case as an “ordeal”. As I have already said, I am making no comment at all, and indeed the petition makes no comment at all, about the strength of the evidence about the nature of the offences, because that evidence has not been made publicly available. I am making a comment that somebody-a British citizen-has spent seven years in high-security prisons without any charge being brought against them. That fact alone should shock all Members who are present in Westminster Hall today.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough, Labour): My hon. Friend has stressed the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for seven years. I do not think that everybody who is concerned about his case recognises that that is the equivalent of the time served by someone sentenced to 14 years in prison. According to the sentencing guidelines, that is the kind of sentence issued to someone who is found guilty of grievous bodily harm, or carrying a weapon that they had previously brought to the scene, and so on. Normally, it would be very serious offences that would acquire such a long time in jail.
Andy Slaughter: Although I have a great deal of respect and sympathy for other hon. Members who have spoken on behalf of their constituents, or about other issues that have been raised with them, I do not believe that there is any case that is as extreme as Babar Ahmad’s, because of the simple fact that somebody has lost their liberty for that time, which-whatever the outcome-will never be regained…it needs to go further if the Government are not prepared to act. I am afraid that there has been some shuffling of responsibility between the Backbench Business Committee and the Government, particularly in relation to the Babar Ahmad petition, which, with 140,000 signatures is, I think, one of the top three. We have had debates on the Floor of the House on important issues that have arisen from petitions with fewer signatures, so there is a clear case for Babar Ahmad’s detention to be debated there too. We can then see both from Members’ contributions and in a vote whether they feel the same antipathy as me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and others about how the case is proceeding-or rather not proceeding. As things stand, more years could pass without resolution of the case, and we, as people who are here to protect the constitution of this country, should all be deeply ashamed of that. If nobody, including the Backbench Business Committee and the Leader of the House, is able or prepared to deal with the matter, Members collectively should insist that it is debated and voted upon on the Floor of the House. Read Andy Slaughter’s statement in full * Part 2 * Part 3
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative): It is right for us to be deeply interested in the liberty of our electors and citizens, and it is particularly great to see in the Chamber the shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who has remained in his seat throughout the debate and who has been such a powerful advocate for his constituent, Babar Ahmad. There seems to be a strong, cross-party feeling that things are simply not right. To pick up on one issue, if people are in the UK and commit a crime in the UK, the deep, natural sense that we all-the person in the street-have is that such people should be prosecuted in the UK for that act, if it is an offence in this country, and not be taken away from home, loved ones, community and everything familiar to be prosecuted in a foreign country. In particular, I have long found the US-UK extradition treaty troubling.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour, Home Affairs Select Committee): We have heard about the excellent work by my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan. The Home Affairs Committee listened carefully to the evidence given by the father of Babar Ahmad when he appeared. He spoke with great dignity. If someone’s son has been in custody for as long as Babar Ahmad, I would expect anger and outrage, but the way in which he gave evidence to the Committee was absolutely commendable.
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East, Labour): The cases of Babar Ahmad and Gary McKinnon and others have been mentioned, and one interesting thing about all those people is that their alleged offences are deemed to have occurred in this country. What is wrong, therefore, with our prosecuting them? Why cannot our prosecuting authorities do it? If there is evidence, they should be prosecuted. No one says that the people concerned should not be prosecuted. We all believe that if there is evidence against someone there should be a prosecution.
From what I have been reading about the case of Babar Ahmad-he is not my constituent, and I recognise the hard work done on his behalf by my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan-what he did is supposed to have occurred in this country, and he has effectively spent nine years in prison. As my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart said, that is comparable to a 14-year prison sentence, whereas if what is alleged against him had been proved, it might have carried only five or six years maximum. He has thus effectively served a sentence.
The important thing in that case, and in those of Gary McKinnon and others, is that the evidence apparently being used against them was found by the British authorities. That is especially true in Babar Ahmad’s case: when he was arrested there were supposed to be allegations, information or evidence against him, which form the basis of the extradition case. If that evidence is so cogent and good, there is nothing to stop the British authorities prosecuting Babar Ahmad in England. If that is not happening, there is a reason for it, which is presumably the fact that there is insufficient evidence against him. I worked in a prosecuting authority for about 10 years, and if there was evidence we would prosecute. If there was not, we did not. In my opinion, that explains what is now happening.
I understand the sensitivities of the USA because of the problems that it has had, but those sensitivities should not mean that the liberties and rights of British nationals should be put aside for the interests of another foreign state that will not give reciprocal rights. The USA may have its own political agenda, and its own agenda as to why it wants Mr Ahmad. If the extradition goes through, Babar Ahmad will probably spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement or in high-security prisons in the USA, so his life will be destroyed. I therefore urge the Government to rethink the issue of the forum provision and allowing our judges to decide whether cases should be tried here. In cases where there is evidence against someone, our prosecuting authorities should be the ones to try them.
Menzies Campbell (North East Fife, Liberal Democrat):
Like others, I believe that this debate should be held in the main Chamber. We are discussing fundamental constitutional rights. There is only one forum where those rights should be discussed, and that is the Floor of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House was with us a little while ago, and I have no doubt that he heard what many Members said, but I shall make a point of going to see him after this debate to reinforce the view that the Chamber is the place for such issues.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour): It is not for this House to decide whether the British prosecuting authority should prosecute. I wholeheartedly support the idea that we have a proper debate on Babar Ahmad in the main Chamber, and also on the wider issues of extradition, the extradition treaty and the European arrest warrant, probably on a voteable resolution. However, it would be inappropriate to breach the basic principles that I have set out.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green): I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of Babar and Talha’s families in fighting for justice for their sons…the level of grass-roots support for the e-petition on Babar Ahmad. The campaign had no formal organisation; there were no big newspapers behind it and it was basically an outflowing of grass-roots outrage that saw the families involved going from door to door in south London, out in the cold and the rain, standing outside supermarkets, churches andmosques, and making videos of each other signing the petition-many of those videos were posted on YouTube. It was an example of democracy in action.
The petition gained astounding support in such a short time because this is a shocking human rights case. People are rightly appalled at the simple but extraordinary fact highlighted in the petition: a British citizen is being held, without charge and without trial, in a maximum security prison, and that has gone on for over seven years. I have long lobbied for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and as we approach the 10th anniversary of its existence, the cases of Babar and Talha remind us that one of the most fearful things about it-people being held without charge and without trial-is happening on UK soil at the behest of the US.
I appreciate that the Backbench Business Committee may find it difficult to devote parliamentary time to every petition that passes the threshold of 100,000 signatures, but this was a genuine grass-roots campaign. If we do not have a full debate in the Commons, we risk alienating the more than 140,000 people who signed the e-petition following efforts by the families involved. Those families want a debate on a voteable motion in the main Chamber, as do the campaign’s many supporters. Officially, of course, all parliamentary Chambers are of equal standing, but in the eyes of the general public there is a difference between Westminster Hall and the main Chamber of the House of Commons. Critically, that difference comes down to whether there will be a vote and, quite rightly, Babar Ahmad’s supporters want to see their MPs take a stand on the issue.
Babar’s family have been deeply moved that, in the midst of a recession, more people have expressed their concern to Parliament about a British citizen being detained for over seven years without charge or trial, than have shown their anger about rising fuel prices. We will send a negative message to all those who have engaged with the e-petition process if we do not take the matter forward with a debate in the main Chamber.
One of our strongest tools for combating the threat of terrorism is vigorously to protect justice, democracy and human rights. Every time we undermine the values that we purport to protect, with legislation such as the Extradition Act 2003, we run the risk of adding to the sense of alienation that we know is felt by many of our young people. Over 140,000 people have told Parliament that they want MPs to engage more with such issues.
The third reason for having a debate on the Floor of a House and a vote is that we urgently need to change the law. The detention without trial of Babar and Talha undermines our democracy.
…the CPS knew all along that it had not been given all the evidence. However, it let Babar Ahmad languish in a maximum security prison with the threat of extradition to the US, under the false belief that the CPS had seen all the evidence against him. If that is the case, it is appalling and raises serious questions about why evidence that should have been given to the CPS was not produced, and why Babar was not told about it. Who directed and authorised that circumvention of the CPS, apparently in deference to and at the behest of the US? The issue is simple: either there is evidence or there is not. If there is evidence, a prosecution should go ahead in the UK. The CPS must immediately obtain a copy of all the evidence, which was gathered in the UK by UK authorities, and it must then review that evidence together with its decision on whether to prosecute in the UK. Given the new revelation from the CPS, it seems-appallingly-that UK authorities deferred to the US, thereby subverting the process that should have been followed and denying Babar Ahmad a trial in this country. Because of the seriousness of the case, it is appropriate to call today for a full public inquiry into what has gone on…
In addition to enormous public support, this case also has cross-party backing, together with the support of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Committee, and 100 senior barristers and solicitors who wrote to the Leader of the House this week, requesting that the matter be properly debated in the main Chamber of the House of Commons. Today’s revelations by the CPS make the case for a full debate with a vote even more urgent, and I hope that the Government will look favourably at the issue. Read Caroline’s address in full * Part 2
Damian Green (Minister of State (Immigration), Home Office; Ashford, Conservative)The Government note the concern of petitioners on this issue, but it is not for the Government to decide if and when someone should be prosecuted in the United Kingdom. The decision as to whether to bring a prosecution is a matter for the independent prosecuting authorities—To date, the prosecuting authorities have decided not to prosecute Mr Ahmad in the UK and in terms of the extradition request the courts in the United Kingdom have held that authorities in the United States have jurisdiction in relation to the offences of which Mr Ahmad is accused, and that they are entitled to seek his extradition. Mr Ahmad’s case has been exhaustively considered by the UK courts and they have concluded that there are no bars to his extradition.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green) I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he say whether he believes that the latest information we have—that the CPS apparently did not see all the evidence before it went to the US—changes the analysis that he is putting forward? How will his Department follow up the matter? It seems pretty shocking to me if the CPS has essentially been saying that there is insufficient evidence to try Mr Ahmad in the UK, yet now we discover that it has not even seen all the evidence.
Damian Green: The hon. Lady made an extremely interesting point earlier; when she revealed it a few minutes ago, it was the first I had heard of it. Obviously, all involved will need to look very carefully at the evidence that she is bringing forward. Understandably, many concerns have been expressed, both today and over the years, about the length of time that Mr Ahmad has been detained in custody awaiting the outcome of the extradition request. Again, I obviously appreciate the concerns about this issue, but Mr Ahmad has been detained at all times on the order of the court. He may, of course, apply for bail at any time and a decision as to whether to grant any application for bail is also a matter for the court. As I have said, we continue to press the ECHR to reach its decision on the case as soon as possible, and where the Court seeks observations or clarifications from the Home Office on the representations in the case, they are provided as soon as possible. We are acutely aware of the time that has passed since the extradition request was first made and of the importance of dealing with the matters raised as quickly as is consistent with fairness to all sides.
…To clear up a point of confusion, the UK-US treaty covers all types of criminality; it was not agreed simply to ensure that people suspected of terrorist offences could be brought to justice. Indeed, no one has been extradited in either direction for terrorist offences since 2004, because in the case of extraditions to the US, the cases, including Babar Ahmad’s, are being considered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, due to the human rights issues they raise.