Richard North, 03/05/2006  

Having today watched the Prime Minister's Questions, the subsequent statement by Charles Clarke and the debate following, I am assailed by that familiar feeling attendant on such occasions of not being on the same planet.

More to the point on this occasion, watching the interplay between Blair and the Boy King, you got the impression that the pair were actually in parallel universes, the Boy asking questions, Blair answering and then the Boy responding with pre-prepared clutch of sound-bites that bore no relation to the answers he had been given.

The details with have to wait for Hansard but my impression is that, to one of the questions posed, Blair actually responded with what sounded like a reasoned and plausible answer, packed with statistics and information, only to have the Boy bounce up and declare –from his script – "that doesn’t even begin to answer my question…".

Thus did Blair escape any mortal damage from the attack of the Boy King, as did indeed Clarke, under more a more focused but non-the-less "soundbitish" attack from his shadow, David Davis. Despite the dismal performance of his department, therefore, Clarke looks set to live another day.

However, had the attack been properly directed, it could have been mortally damaging, because the centre-piece of Clarke’s counter-attack was a proposal for legislation that created a "presumption for deportation" in the event of any foreigner committing and imprisonable offence. This, he maintained, would replace the current rules which had no provision for automatic detention, with foreign criminals being merely "considered" for deportation.

But, as we pointed out in our earlier, this is not possible. The UK is bound by both the EU Treaties and law, and by the European Convention on Human Rights, which seriously limit his ability to act.

So complex are these rules that, have spent the best part of several days researching them, I am still not fully au fait with the provisions and, therefore, will have to save the details for a later post.

Suffice to say, at this stage, that these details also seemed to elude the MPs present, so that none thought to mention that the Home Secretary simply could not do what he claimed he would do. In all, this was a classic example of the "elephant in the room" which gave the debate a surreal texture, making it definitely not of this world.

Not least, although the murder of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky was raised by a number of MPs – including David Davis, none of them got the point. The Home Office had been claiming that Mustaf Jama had been considered for deportation in 2005, but could not be sent back to Somalia because of the political situation then. Because of this, he was not included in the 1000 plus offenders that had been released.

However, this was a gigantic smokescreen, trying to conceal that Mustaf was released without deportation being considered – in January 2003, after he had served 18 months of his three-year prison sentence. Under the normal rules for third-country nationals, anyone having been handed down a sentence of a year or more should have been considered for deportation and, had this been the case with Mustaf in 2003, he could have then been deported as the situation in Somalia was relatively stable.

The trouble was, though, that Mustaf was not an ordinary immigrant. He had been awarded "refugee status". Under the European Convention of Human Rights, amplified by the case of Moustaquim v. Belgium, he could only be expelled after having been convicted and received a prison sentence of five years or more – unless he was a "persistent offender".

That latter status is effectively determined by an immigrant being convicted three times and thus, it was only after his third prison sentence, in the Spring of 2005, that Mustaf was considered for deportation. By that time, the political situation in Somalia had deteriorated and he remained free in this country.

Clarke, was in fact asked whether, had his provision for "automatic deportation" been in force, people like Mustaf would have been deported. The home secretary blustered, but the answer was, effectively "no". This was not picked up though, and the unreal world continues, with none of us any further forward - or better protected.


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