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Foreign National Prisoners

Volume 472: debated on Thursday 21 February 2008

I have for some time been seeking more ways to remove foreign prisoners from our prisons, and to remove them earlier. I believe this will work to the benefit of our system, and today I can bring forward proposals that will help us to do this. The early removal scheme established under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 enables the Government to remove foreign national prisoners liable to deportation or administrative removal up to 135 days before the halfway point of their sentence. Since its introduction in June 2004, over 3,000 prisoners have been removed under the scheme. This has made a significant contribution to reducing the number of foreign national criminals in our prisons and on our streets. Given this success, the Government now believe the scheme can contribute more.

As of December 2007 there were 11,310 foreign national prisoners within the prison system, representing 14 per cent. of the total prison population. Foreign national prisoners represent a significant proportion of the prison population, although at 14 per cent. it is low in comparison to most other European countries. Of 17 western European states, the UK’s proportion is the third lowest. France has 21 per cent., Germany 28 per cent., Italy 34 per cent., Greece 42 per cent. and Austria 43 per cent.

The early removal scheme applies only to those foreign national prisoners who are able to be removed to their country of origin. Such prisoners only benefit from the scheme if their removal from the UK can be given immediate effect. We have been working to ensure that arrangements are in place so as to enable us to remove prisoners to their country of origin.

Prisoners serving a life or indeterminate sentence are not eligible to be considered for removal under the scheme. Determinate sentence prisoners serving a sentence of four years and over under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for a sexual or violent offence are removed under the scheme only if the parole board considers that they would present an acceptable risk to the community.

Details of prisoners removed under the scheme are placed on the Home Office’s warnings index. Should they seek to return to the United Kingdom during their sentence they can be detected by the border control officer on arrival at the UK border and returned to prison custody until the point at which they would have been released had they not otherwise been removed.

Based on the successful experience of the last three and a half years, and in particular our increasing experience of and success in securing travel documents from overseas countries and making other arrangements with them that enable us to remove prisoners, I believe the scheme can make an even greater contribution to removing criminals from our shores. I have therefore decided to extend the early removal scheme so as to enable prisoners to be removed 270 days early rather than the current 135. I will be laying the appropriate draft Order, which is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and time will be found for a debate shortly.

The measure is entirely consistent with our strategy and with our earlier announcements, and I commend it to the House.