I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which he responded. However, one could summarise the first part of his answer as him saying that he hopes from now on that the immigration and nationality directorate will always get things right. If nothing else, I admire his confidence in his own abilities in that regard. I do not want to be unkind to him, but I gently remind him that I heard his predecessors say similar things about the IND. My recollection goes back to 1999, when the present Leader of the House, before certain other reincarnations, was the Home Secretary; I remember him appearing before the Special Select Committee considering the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I remember that his words were that the single most important task that he had in front of him as Home Secretary was to get the IND right, and to make sure that things ran smoothly in future. With no disrespect to the Minister, I do not share his confidence that the IND will always get things right, at least as far as observing that every strict provision and possible interpretation of the law is concerned, and that there will never be a case brought against the IND in future, not least by foreign criminals claiming compensation. I cannot accept that, with the best will in the world.
On the Minister’s point about a prisoner having the right to the remedy of judicial review, that is fair enough; they have that remedy. They can seek judicial review on the ground that they have been unlawfully detained, and the courts may say that they should be set at liberty. That is one thing, but it is altogether another for them to be paid compensation as well, and that is where the statutory bar would come into place.
On the question of the ECHR, if the Government would like to accept the amendment, but feel that they cannot because of their interpretation of the ECHR, I would want to have a very close look at the wording of that convention and the way in which it has been interpreted by the courts. We often find in this country that the problem is the Government’s fear of the ECHR, or their fear of an adverse interpretation of the ECHR. That leads the Government to take a cautious view of when they would be contravening the convention, or not. That cautious interpretation can have the effect of the Government acting in ways that the public find unacceptable. I am a great supporter of human rights, but I do not feel that they should extend so far as compensation for periods spent in custody by foreign criminals as a result of technical deficiencies, which is what happened in the case I cited to the Committee.
I accept what the Minister says, but I am worried that there is a tendency on the part of the Government, which has been present throughout the Bill and which he has done his best to get round, to introduce tough-seeming measures that are then continuously watered down because of fears of the Government’s interpretation of the legal consequences. The lawyers get at what the Government want to do, and it is watered down and watered down, so that automatic deportation for imprisonable offences becomes automatic deportation for imprisonment, which then becomes automatic deportation for 12 months’ imprisonment for certain offences. It is watered down all the way along the line.
There seems to be a paralysis striking the Government, who are afraid of the most far-fetched examples of possible injustices that might mean contravention of the European convention and other conventions. There is a worry there, and if nothing else, I should emphasise the degree of disquiet that the public feel at paying compensation to foreign criminals, who are the architects of their own misfortune in offending in the first place, and at the disparity between the treatment of the criminals and the victims. I would be extremely interested to know if any of the victims of the offenders whom I have quoted—the minor offenders who received just over £6,000 each—received a penny piece in compensation. I do not know the answer, but I suspect that victims of foreign criminals do not always receive much in the way of compensation, if any. In the light of all those matters, I will be pressing this to a Division.