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Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman takes us beyond the question of the process to be used and advances an argument against part 4 as a whole. There I leave him, because the Home Secretary and the Government do not currently have a viable alternative. They should develop such an alternative, which returns us to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham a moment ago.
Mr. Letwin: I agree that it ought not to be beyond the wit of the Houseand the other place, which may have a large role to playto devise such a balance in part 4. That should be our primary purpose in Committee and it should be the primary purpose of the other place. I hope that we will devise such a scheme and amend the Bill accordingly. If we are unable to do so, a drastic revision after a year may enable us to correct what we have been unable to get right now. Between those two possibilities, I hope that we will get nearer to having a part 4 with which we feel more comfortable.
We cannot ever feel wholly comfortable with part 4 because it poses two difficulties. The first, which concerns some Labour Members and some of my hon. Friends, is that each time we intern peopleunder whatever procedureindefinitely and without a full trial, we create another precedent that, in the long run after an accumulation of precedents, may prove dangerous to our liberties. That is a worry. Secondly, and ironically, we may cause a risk to our society. The Home Secretary rightly seeks to protect British citizens from attack by means of the Bill, but if people connected with terrorism are interned without trial in our jails, that may be a potential cause of their friends, relations, allies and compatriots taking action from the outside to seek to liberate them through hostage taking, reprisals or other measures. Will the Bill impose an additional risk on us?
For those reasonsthe reason of precedent, which every hon. Member takes seriously, and the reason of increased riskwe should have a viable alternative to putting people in jail indefinitely. In my opinion, there is a viable alternative because the Home Secretary is in an unusual position. Most of our predecessors would have found it astonishing to be told that a British Home Secretary who had serious grounds for believing that an individual posed a threat to the stability of our society and the safety of our population was unable to prevent that individual from entering the country. That is indeed an astonishing state of affairs. It is yet more astonishing that on discovering that such an individual is in this country, the Home Secretary is unable to remove him. He is unable to do those things not because of article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which is often cited, but because of what the judges have decided in cases such as Chahal and Soering, which was not part of the original intention of the drafting of article 3.
The original statements that gave rise to the convention make it abundantly clear that the intention was to make it impossible for a country that subscribed to the convention to engage in inhuman or degrading treatment of its citizens or anyone else in its countrysomething to which I wholly subscribe. The judges extended that doctrine so that it was impossible for the Home Secretary's predecessora man whose politics I do not share but who is, by any standards, a reasonable manto remove to India, which is not in a state of barbarism but has a proper legal system, two individuals whom he conscientiously judged to be a risk to this country. That strikes me and my right hon. and hon. Friends as absurd.
The Home Secretary has today helped enormously to take the debate forward in a constructive fashion by reinforcing the very point to which we have been trying to draw attention. Under articles 57 and 58 of the European convention on human rights, it is clearly possiblewe have taken formal legal opinion on this and no doubt the Home Secretary has employed half the English Bar to consider itto engage in an inelegant manoeuvre to remove ourselves from the convention for a millisecond and re-enter with a reservation, parallel to, though much more restrictive than, the reservation that the French have entered in respect of national emergency. That would enable the Home Secretary to have two weapons at his disposal. I think that the one to prevent entry or remove the person in question will be used more often.
In the extreme circumstance that someone would be sent back to a most ghastly death and the Home Secretary judged that the risk to this country of interning him would not be so great as to make even that tolerable, then it is reasonable, I thinkjust, and with my heart sinkingfor the right hon. Gentleman to put that person in indefinite detention, at least until the country in question becomes reasonable enough for him to return that person there. Instead, the Home Secretary is creating a situation in which he is willing to put at some risk our civil liberty precedents and our safety, as far as reprisals are concerned, simply to avoid that inelegance. I find that astonishing.
I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider this state of affairs and take action. I do not believe that primary legislation is required at this stage. Oddly enough, in the Human Rights Act 1998, the same provisions apply to reservations subsequent as to derogations subsequent. The same kind of order that we will be debating later could apply to reservations. The Home Secretary could take action without any significant primary legislation being necessary in the short term. I hope that he will look again at the question and spare many of us the great anxieties to which part 4 gives rise by providing himself with a proper viable alternative.
Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman's word "inelegant" is an elegant way of describing sending people back to countries where they might be killed, tortured, subject to inhuman treatment or the target of American bombs. The statements of the leaders of the United States make it clear that countries that take into their territories people even suspected of terrorism will be legitimate targets. The hon. Gentleman is not asking my right hon. Friend to do that, is he?
Mr. Letwin: We are talking about a fine balance. I respect the hon. Gentleman's pure position. However, does he really believe that the fact that someone comes from what, by our standards, is an unpleasant countryeven if it has a perfectly proper judicial systemjustifies us opening ourselves to the possibility of an appalling attack on our fellow citizens? The logic of his twin attack on part 4 and on my alternative is that the Home Secretary exposes us to that very risk. I am struggling to preserve so far as possible the fabric of our liberties while giving the Home Secretary the greatest possible scope to protect our public safety. It is that twin actnot so pure, but desperately importantin which we as a Parliament must try to engage.
Mr. Letwin: My mother-in-law left Germany in 1939. Her entire family was wiped out. I am rather grateful that this country received her because it gave me my wife. If she had come here with the intention of blowing up Londoners I do not think that she should have been let in. That is the argument I am making. I am not making it because I do not care about refugees: I dopassionately. I am making it because the Home Secretary has to balance our protection against the protection of individuals who are seeking entry. That seems a rational position.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a great inelegance because in the present circumstances we are saying to countries such as India, which have become independent, that we do not trust them as they should be trusted? We are thus taking a view that they must find immensely offensive. I do not understand why those who are most enthusiastically anti-imperialist should take upon themselves a role that they would not adopt in any other circumstances.
Mr. Letwin: My right hon. Friend is unequivocally right. The case of India shows his point clearly. Let me take him one step further: if Mr. bin Laden were not to be apprehended and eliminated by British troops currently trying to kill himas I understand itbut were to make his way to the UK and to say to the Home Secretary's officials that he was claiming asylum, not only would they have to admit him to this country but it would be impossible subsequently to extradite him to the United States if the Americans insisted on applying the death penalty to him. British troops may hunt someone down to kill him abroad, but if he enters this country we cannot return him to sit on death row in the United Statesirrationality!