Home Office and Ministry of Justice Ministers have frequently discussed the issue of foreign national prisoners, and our officials are in regular contact. The removal of foreign national prisoners and offenders awaiting deportation is a mutual priority.
The Department says that it wants to reduce the prison population. I am dealing with a case where a long prison sentence was rightly given, the tariff has been reached and the UK Border Agency is trying to deport the man, but the Minister is letting the Parole Board block this. What benefit is there to the British taxpayer or the safety of the British public in keeping him here? Can we have some joined-up government on this?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that this is the kind of thing we want to address, and I understand that it is being addressed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. We wish to improve our performance on the removal of prisoners. I should point that out that more than 5,000 foreign national prisoners were removed last year. We intend to continue to take every possible step both to reduce the foreign national prisoner population and to remove prisoners from this country.
One of the problems with removing convicted foreign prisoners is an interpretation put by the courts on their rights, such as their right to a family life—they are absolute, rather than conditional. What steps are the Government taking to recognise in law that people have rights which can be qualified by their own bad behaviour?
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concern and that of the House about this issue and about whether it is appropriate in such circumstances that the removal of offenders is being blocked. I hope that the commission we have announced on the Human Rights Act 1998 will pay the closest possible attention to the operation of the human rights legislation in such cases, because it is in the public interest that we remove foreign national prisoners who have forfeited their right to remain in this country.
I understand from my hon. Friend the prisons Minister that the number is about 2,000. The EU prisoner transfer agreement will come into force in December and will alleviate the position as regards the number of foreign national prisoners in our jails. The principle should be that if someone has committed a serious crime in this country, they cannot expect to remain at the end of their sentence. We seek the removal of prisoners in such circumstances.
It is laudable that the total number of foreign nationals in prison has gone down since Labour left office from 11,000 to 10,000, but does the Minister agree that that is 10,000 too many? Is it not time we sent the whole lot of them home?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to make greater progress and that is why we have set out provisions in the sentencing Bill on, for example, conditional cautions, which will be available as an alternative disposal to remove foreign national prisoners in some circumstances if they agree not to return for a period of time. The question of whether foreign national prisoners could serve their sentences abroad relies on the consent of other countries. We are attempting to negotiate more agreements, but even if we no longer need the consent of the offender, we cannot remove them without the consent of the country that receives them.