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Foreign Prisoners (Deportation)

Volume 461: debated on Monday 11 June 2007

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Ministry of Justice on measures to deport foreign prisoners following their release from prison. (141124)

Last year the Prime Minister told the House that

“it is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 960.]

However, the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 explicitly rule out deporting people with criminal convictions to the European economic area. Will the Government stop talking tough about deporting criminals while exporting the powers to do so? Or will the Government retrieve those powers to deport criminals and enable the Prime Minister to fulfil the pledge that he made to the House?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman will have looked very closely at those immigration regulations, referred to as statutory instrument No. 1003; however, if he looks at them again he will notice that they say no such thing. The Government are still able to consider all deportation cases, whether the individual is from the European Union or not.

May I take the right hon. Gentleman’s mind back to the free movement of people directive, which was laid before the House? I do not think that any party prayed against it, and therefore I assume that it has all-party support, if not the support of all Members. That directive sets out our policy for deporting people from the EU. We will consider people from the EU for deportation if their offences are serious, and I anticipate that we will deport a good 300-plus this year alone.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping the promise that he made to the House on Report of the UK Borders Bill to review the Home Office policy on informing the victims of crime of the deportation of foreign nationals from prison. When does he anticipate the new policy being in place?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the time that he has taken to brief me on the troubling circumstances of the individual case about which he addressed the House at some length earlier this year. If we are to rebalance the criminal justice system and the immigration system in favour of the victim, it is important that we disclose information when we are able to do so. I hope to put in place a new policy to do so on request from right hon. and hon. Members within the next month.

The Prison Officers Association is on record as saying that it is very concerned that when foreign nationals have completed their sentences, that is the point at which people consider what to do with them. Frequently, they remain in custody for two or three months, which is absolutely wrong on human rights grounds and everything else. Will the Minister assure the House that the planning of what to do with them is started well before their sentences expire?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House last year that we would bring forward considerably the point at which we consider a foreign national prisoner’s case for deportation. We now routinely consider cases six months before the sentence comes to an end. It is because we now consider cases much earlier in the process that we have almost doubled the rate at which we send foreign national prisoners back to where they came from.

I have raised the case of James Bishop with the Minister before. The person who killed my constituent was removed from this country before the trial took place. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is having discussions with the Foreign Office as well as with the Ministry of Justice so that those who are removed will not be able to reapply for entry clearance, and that if they reapply it will be clear to entry clearance managers and entry clearance officers why they were removed from the UK, so they will not be allowed to return?

My right hon. Friend has previously raised the case with me; I have such discussions with my colleagues in the Foreign Office every fortnight. Crucial to making the progress he wants is the introduction of biometric visas in every visa post around the world. We have now introduced them in 67 countries and we already find that thousands of people are reapplying whom we know about through our records. That is why it would be such an error to shut down the biometric identification system in which the Government are investing.

I sit in the London courts and an increasing number of serious crimes are being committed by people who come to the UK from the new EU states. Does the court have the power to order their deportation? Should it not have the power to do so?

In the case of EU nationals, the free movement directive sets the framework for the policy we have to adopt, but for foreign nationals more generally the provisions in the UK Borders Bill are exactly right and mean that people who commit a serious offence in this country will face the prospect of automatic deportation, and if they want to appeal against it they can do so from the country they came from.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if foreign prisoners are held in any devolved part of the UK the devolved body will be consulted when they are being deported?

There are close arrangements for dealing with matters between devolved Administrations. Obviously the detention estate available in Scotland is run by the Border and Immigration Agency, but colleagues in the BIA in Scotland are in close day-to-day contact with officials from the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office.

The Minister’s attempts to reassure the House about the deportation of foreign prisoners are pointless unless he can give us accurate figures about how many former foreign prisoners are still at large in the UK and how many are still under lock and key. He may be aware that when I asked how many former foreign prisoners were in young offender institutions, the former prisons Minister, now the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, replied that the data are

“not available without disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, 8 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 1093W.]

If Ministers cannot say how many former prisoners are still locked up, the Minister needs to clarify whether the Government really do not know, which would be alarming, or know but will not tell us—which would be disgraceful. Which is it?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was clear about the seven or eight key failings in the criminal justice system that resulted in the crisis of foreign national prisoners not being considered for deportation appropriately last year. One issue was the difficulty of identifying whether people in the criminal justice system are foreign nationals. To remedy that, we have set in train work with the police; pilots are under way and the lessons from them will be applied across the criminal justice system. Our determination to deport those who have no right to be in this country is clear, which is why we have invested extra resources and doubled the rate at which we are sending foreign national prisoners home.