I would like to update the House on progress in deporting foreign national prisoners, following the Home Secretary’s statement on 23 May 2006, Official Report, column 77WS, volume 446.
Our objective is that foreign national prisoners should face deportation and deportation should happen as early as possible in their sentence. As an immediate step, we now have an Imminent Release Team in IND, working with HM Prison Service to ensure that foreign national prisoners who meet the existing criteria are not being released from prison without being considered for deportation. My review of the last few weeks confirms that, in order fully to achieve our objective, there is a need for legislation, as well as fundamental reforms in the eight areas identified.
First, the Home Secretary identified that there is today no unique identifier to link individuals who come in contact with the asylum and immigration and criminal justice systems. We have therefore commenced development of a comprehensive approach to identity management across all Home Office areas and will finalise a strategic action plan by the end of September 2006
Secondly, we have identified that the police, Crown Prosecution Service, courts and prisons depend on self-declaration of nationality and that there is no requirement for the police to record nationality of people brought into custody. There is no requirement in law for a detainee to furnish details of their identity or nationality. The immigration and nationality directorate and the criminal justice agencies have now designed and tested proposals for new ways of working, alongside options for new legal requirements to address this. We will conduct detailed field tests with frontline staff over the summer and produce recommendations in October.
Thirdly, work has to be done to ensure that all future instructions are given to all agencies of the criminal justice, asylum and immigration systems and are both consistent and fully implemented. IND needs to work much more closely with the criminal justice agencies. Lin Homer has therefore joined the National Criminal Justice Board to ensure that this is done. Since 23 May, new guidance has been issued to IND and the prison service. Over the summer we will audit related guidance of six key agencies, benchmark implementation and develop recommendations for change, including training provision, by October. This will be followed up by training and awareness events for staff working in the 20 key prisons, which process largest numbers of foreign national prisoners at the earliest stages of their sentences, by the end of 2006.
Fourthly, the Home Secretary asked for an audit of policy criteria and processes; and fifthly that steps should be taken to ensure that all deportation decisions are made according to the most robust interpretation of the requirements of our international obligations. Guidance in May to IND and prisons identified interim criteria, so that all non-European economic area nationals sentenced to 12 months imprisonment or more, either in one sentence or in two or three sentences over five years; and all EEA nationals sentenced to 24 months or more, should be considered for deportation. We are today changing the immigration rules with effect from midnight tonight to confirm the presumption that all such prisoners should be deported. The guidance sets out also that only rarely will factors other than international obligations weigh against deportation.
But the current law does not go far enough to link criminality with deportation in the way that we would want and the public would expect. We need to change the law to make deportation the norm for foreign national prisoners, to remove some in-country rights of appeal; to streamline procedures; and otherwise to remove barriers to deportation and removal, including existing exemptions for some Commonwealth nationals. We shall announce further steps in the wider IND review, to be published before recess.
Sixthly, new formal arrangements are now in place to refer cases for consideration of deportation where the foreign national prisoner is in custody in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Prison authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland have confirmed that these processes are working well. These arrangements involve IND officials and officials in the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Prison Service, the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Agencies are now developing proposals to extend these formal arrangements for referral across the justice systems in these jurisdictions: for example with the police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Scottish courts; and at each stage in the system in Northern Ireland, as approved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The seventh priority area for action is the sensitive issue of mentally disordered offenders, where there has hitherto been no established system of referral, and nationality has not routinely been recorded. As with Scotland and Northern Ireland, arrangements have now been put in place to ensure that cases are referred for consideration of deportation for this particular group, when their formal restriction is due to end. Home Office officials are considering with the Department of Health what other actions we might take to ensure mentally disordered offenders can be considered for deportation at the earliest appropriate opportunity.
Finally, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is conducting targeted interviews with foreign national prisoners who qualify to transfer to serve their sentence in their home country. An urgent amendment is being sought to legislation currently before Parliament to remove the need for prisoner consent in these cases; and prisoner transfer agreements are being negotiated with more foreign Governments. We have agreements with 96 countries and territories. NOMS, IND and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are assembling a package of measures to accelerate this work further.
There remains much to be done. Progress in all these areas will be reported in due course.