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3 Mar 2003 : Column 593continued
Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that rhetorical question. He knowsas I, and, as it recently transpired, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who is present, also knowthe answer to that question is that the right and sensible procedure is that which we recommended repeatedly when the Bill was going through the House. That procedure is that we should engage in the elaborate dance of denunciation, legislation and reservation to move to the position at which we have so reserved against article 3 that the Home Secretary can do what I am sure that he would have done and what his predecessor, the current Foreign Secretary, sought to do when he was Home Secretary: to deport those people rather than having to retain them indefinitely in detention.
My hon. Friend was right to unearth the point that, at any stage at which it becomes difficult to claim that a generalised state of emergency exists, it will be difficult to maintain the derogation that provides the basis for the legality of the current proceedings. Individuals may remain who are a great danger to the state, however, and it would be appropriate to be able to deport them, as the current Foreign Secretary, who was then the Home Secretary, sought to do in the case of Singh and Singh. As I have said, that will require the reservation for which we have argued.
I hope that, in due timeas we discovered just a few days ago that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is clear about itthe Home Office will also move to adopt that procedure. Of course, the Home Office will have to overcome the difficulty of persuading the Foreign Office, which shows remarkably little inclination towards anything that might protect British interests in its negotiations with foreign powers, but we will leave that be.
Simon Hughes: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept in his heart of hearts that, rather than the highly risky suggestion of leading the way out of the European convention and risking not being allowed back in, it would be far better to use the provisions of the Geneva convention that allow people to be turned or sent away if they have committed a serious crime, and the derogations procedureeven if some of us do not care for itthat allows a temporary exclusion from rights in cases of national emergency?
Mr. Letwin: Mr. Speaker, I am astonished at the latitude that you are allowing me in discussing this issue, and I shall not impose too far on your good will. We have investigated the possibility that the hon. Gentleman raised. It is attractive in principle but falls jurisprudentially. I fear that the judiciary will interpret article 3 as overriding that procedural device. The hon. Gentleman and I could spend a happy half-hour after
I want to do what the Home Secretary asked me to do by implication. He said that anyone who wished to raise a problem, in private or in publicalthough I am not sure which of those the Chamber of the House of Commons is these daysshould do so here and not on the "Today" programme. I cannot fulfil all parts of that request as I have already been on the "Today" programme todayalthough I am aware that the Home Secretary was thinking of others. However, I wish to raise a problem now.
The problem is difficult to describe. It is not a problem of a lack of will. I hope that it has been clear to the Home Secretary that I accept entirely that he and his officialsand, indeed, Ministers and officials in other Departmentsare keen that we should be properly prepared against terrorism. After all, this is not a matter of party political debate: it is not as if any of us is going into the next election on the question of, "Should we, or should we not, be prepared to deal with terrorism?" We all agree that we should be prepared and that Ministers and their officials wish us to be prepared.
It is also not exactly a problem of things being so maladministered as to be heading in the wrong direction. There is no doubt that Ministers and their Departments have gradually been moving towards greater rather than lesser preparedness.
So far, so good, but the problem is that I am not sure whether so far is far enough or fast enough. In fact, I am pretty sure that it is not. Partly because we are dealing with things that may necessarily be secretwhich therefore I do not know or wish to knowand partly because we are dealing with things that are, almost inevitably, intangible and unable to be documented, it is difficult to get at the sense of what is going wrong. At any rate, it was difficult before today. It has become easier today. The Home Secretary has vouchsafed to the House a statement on civil contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks.
The Home Secretary referred to smallpox and smallpox vaccination. For the life of me, I cannot understand why that is not available on demand to all those who wish it. I will never understand that until it ceases to be the case.
Mr. Blunkett: I do not want to take the time of the House, but I shall make two brief points. First, the new website will be designed specifically to put together all the information available, including that from the security services when it is not secret. Secondly, I do not believe that there is a problem with people approaching their general practitioner for the smallpox vaccination. If there is any difficulty with that, I will happily talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Mr. Letwin: That is very constructive. There is a difficulty at present, because people cannot obtain the vaccination, but it is good news that the Home Secretary will speak to the Department of Health. In fact, it would be good for him to think of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Department. We found that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recently felt that it had to do that with the Department of the Health. Have things not come to a strange condition when two Departments of State have to sign memorandums of understanding between them?
The Home Secretary's written statement refers to a range of Ministers and units. As well as referring to the Minister responsible for London resiliencewe already knew that the Minister responsible for the fire service and for destroying local government in the south of England had that roleit refers to a new figure appearing on the scene. Although the post may not be new, its holder is new to the British public. I very much doubt that anyone was aware that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety also doubles as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclearCBRNthreats. As the written statement says, the role has existed since the end of 2001, but no one in Britain knew that. This Minister has been active in dealing with the police; everyone in England knows that he has responsibility for them. However, I do not think that anyone has ever heard him speak about CBRN co-ordination.
Mr. Letwin: I am speaking about the Home Secretary's colleague who has just left the Government Front Benchthe Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety. He has reappeared in the written statement as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to CBRN threats. That was a genuine shock to me. I thought that I was an observer of this scene and would have noticed who was responsible. I thought that the Minister of State, Cabinet Office was responsible for this issue, and then I thought that the Minister responsible for London and who is also responsible for the fire service had responsibility for it.