I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on promoting the Bill. As you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, it is no easy task to get a private Member’s Bill on to the Order Paper. It involved quite a few days and evenings sitting and sleeping in the corridor upstairs to ensure that this Bill was selected for one of the 13 sitting Fridays. However, this is not its first appearance, because it was submitted in my name in its original form in 2013 when my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough, for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and I suggested some 40 private Members’ Bills upstairs in what was dubbed by some commentators as the alternative Queen’s Speech.
I had wanted to call the Bill the “Foreign National Offenders (Send Them All Back) Bill” but that was not allowed by the parliamentary authorities, so it is now called the Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the UK) Bill, and it does what it says on the tin. It is designed to address a serious issue that this country has failed to tackle over the past 10 years, namely that we simply have far too many foreign nationals in our prisons who have committed serious criminal offences. The scale of the problem is quite frightening.
You will not be surprised to know, Mr Speaker, that there are some 85,000 prisoners in total in jail in this country. In fact, the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice are that there were 85,886 prisoners in our jails as of September 2015; that number was given to me in answer to a parliamentary question tabled at the end of January this year. Of those 85,886, 75,010 are British nationals, 10,442 are foreign nationals and, bizarrely, there are 434 whose nationalities are somehow not recorded. Frankly, it escapes me how 434 individuals could be imprisoned in our country and yet no one seems to know where they came from. I find it worrying for our national security that there is this large number of people in our prisons about whom we know nothing. How many more are there not in our prisons about whom we know nothing and of whose nationality we have no record at all?
There are 10,442 foreign national prisoners in our prisoners out of a total of 85,886—12% of the prison population. You will perhaps be surprised to learn, Mr Speaker, that those 10,442 come not just from one, two, three, four, half a dozen or a dozen countries, but from some 160 countries from around the world. Indeed, 80% of the world’s nations are represented in our prisons. We are truly an internationally and culturally diverse nation, even in our imprisoned population. Very worryingly indeed, something like a third of them have been convicted of violent and sexual offences; a fifth have been convicted of drugs offences; and others have been convicted of burglary, robbery, fraud and other serious crimes.
It is a good thing that the crimes have been detected, the evidence has been gathered and these people are being punished for their offences. It is, however, completely wrong that the cost of that imprisonment should fall on British taxpayers, because these individuals—every single last one of them—should be repatriated to secure detention in their country of origin, so that taxpayers from their own countries can pay the bill for their incarceration and punishment.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a very compelling case. Does he have any idea of the annual cost to British taxpayers of imprisoning foreign nationals? I know that many of my constituents are very concerned about this issue, and thank him for raising it.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his pertinent intervention and question. He demonstrates not only his attention to detail and his determination to ensure that he represents his constituents here on a Friday, but that he can get straight to the nub of the issue. He is as concerned as I am about the cost to his constituents of any aspect of Government expenditure. The answer to his question is that if there are 10,500 foreign national offenders in our prisons, the estimated cost is something like £300 million a year. The Home Office figure for the cost of imprisoning a prisoner is something like £26,000.
I would be delighted to give way to my hon. Friend in just a moment, once I have answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. I did promise to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker)—I keep thinking of Hebden Bridge, which is in his constituency—but then I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North. I think that the figure is £26,000.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is, as has been said, making a very compelling case. I just want to clarify one point: it is the Ministry of Justice, not the Home Office, which deals with prisoner figures. I would be very happy, later on, to provide the figures, but it is the Ministry of Justice that has the figures. I am sure that he would like to correct the record.
I am delighted to be corrected by my hon. Friend, who is doing a fantastic job in her role as a Minister of the Crown in the Home Office. I am slightly concerned that, as we are talking about foreign national offenders in Her Majesty’s prisons, we do not have a representative from the Ministry of Justice here today.
Again, Mr Speaker, I would just like to clarify that point. The Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) is in the building, and will be attending the Chamber shortly. I think that she had a couple of things to do beforehand.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I share your sentiments, but at least it is reassuring that the Minister will turn up to the debate. Let us hope that we can ask questions of her later on. Before I take the interventions that I promised, let me say that part of the problem is that foreign national offenders and their deportation, removal, transfer, repatriation, or whatever we want to call it, is a major policy issue that falls between two stools. There are two major Departments of State that are basically responsible for this area, and all too often one blames the other for why the situation is not being tackled. That is why it is the Prime Minister himself who needs to take on board this issue. Indeed, he promised the House that he would, yet six years into his premiership, the problem is not going away. If anything, it is getting worse.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He has obviously done a great deal of research, as he has some impressive figures. I think that he said there are 10,442 foreign national prisoners from more than 160 different nationalities. Can he enlighten the House on the mix between EU and non-EU foreign nationals who are in our prisons?
The forensic analysis of my hon. Friend’s brain is illustrated to us all, because that is exactly the question that needs to be addressed. According to the figures that I was sent in response to my parliamentary question at the end of January, the breakdown, continent by continent, is as follows: 20% of foreign national offenders in our country come from Africa; 18% from Asia; 1.5% from Central and South America; a whopping 47% from Europe; 7% from the West Indies; and a negligible percentage from Oceania.
One of the difficulties is that, under article 8 of the Human Rights Act, we are not allowed to deport people to so-called unsafe countries. If 40% of these people come from Europe, by definition they do not reside in unsafe countries. Therefore, we need a Bill such as this so that they can all be sent back immediately to France, Italy, Germany or wherever.
I agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for that intervention. He is far more expert than I am in legal matters, given his extensive parliamentary experience, legal training, and great deal of common sense, but I am not sure whether he is correct. My understanding is that, in our bizarre human rights system, even member states of the European Union are not deemed to be safe countries to return to. I believe that Greece is classified as a country to which it is not safe to return individuals, either under the asylum regulations or the prison regulations. That is a country to which millions of our fellow citizens go on holiday every year—
I just wanted to answer specifically the question that my hon. Friend posed a moment or two ago regarding the exact costs of placing a prisoner in secure accommodation. The latest figures are taken from the National Offender Management Service annual report and accounts for 2014-15, which was released on 29 October last year. They reveal that the costs per place are £36,259 a year, and the costs per prisoner are £33,291 a year.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that informative intervention. I congratulate him, as I always do, on the extent of his reading in his own private time outside of this place. If he is reading national offender management statistics with that level of detail, it shows that he spends a great of his own personal time researching issues that are important to his constituency.
That is an interesting question. It is probably a combination of political correctness, Government incompetence, human rights legislation and an obsession with not upsetting our friends in the European Union. It is probably a combination of those four factors, with some other issues thrown in.
I will happily give way to my hon. Friend after I have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).
It is probably about a combination of those four factors, and the fifth point, which is important, is that this issue falls between two major Government Departments and needs to be seized by the Prime Minister himself if we are to make any substantial progress on this issue. The number of foreign national offenders in our prisons first rose substantially during the last period of office of the previous Labour Government, triggered in part by their acceptance of human rights legislation. The problem stems from that time, but to be fair neither the coalition Government nor the present Conservative Government have, in my view, addressed the issue sufficiently to see any meaningful progress.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and apologise for going back to the point that was first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) about the cost of foreign national offenders, because I can trump the figures that were given earlier. The National Audit Office estimated the cost of administering foreign national offenders in the UK for 2013-14, including police costs, Crown Prosecution Service costs, legal aid costs and prison costs, to be between £769 million and £1 billion a year. The most likely estimate was £850 million a year.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and frankly I am shocked, and my constituents will also be shocked, by those figures. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of what he has just told the House, but I am disappointed that those figures should come from him during a debate on one of the 13 sitting Fridays when the Government themselves should be flagging up this information about the huge financial burden to British taxpayers of incarceration, prosecution, capturing these people, and sorting them out after they leave. All of that together adds up to nearly £1 billion, which is an awful lot of money.
I will happily give way to every hon. Member, but I just want to finish this point before giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). At a time when each and every year this country is spending more money on public services than it raises in taxation, a state of affairs that has been true ever since 2002 and which the Chancellor himself said will not be fully addressed until 2019—here we are in 2016, spending more money each year than we raise in taxation and we still have an annual deficit—this issue is costing this country £1 billion a year, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, and I am sure that he is absolutely right. That is a shocking state of affairs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on this Bill, which is extremely important. May I raise a sixth point that might be in the Home Office’s mind and that will concern all of us? Victims of crime want to see justice and sometimes people are a little concerned that if someone is repatriated they might go to a country where, through a bribe or something else, they might suddenly be on the street despite having committed a very serious offence. How does my hon. Friend propose to deal with that? Justice must be done, and victims of crime need to see people pay the price for what they have done to them.
My hon. Friend makes a very intelligent intervention—naturally, because he is that sort of fellow, but also because he has in his constituency HMP Stafford, so he is more attuned than most Members of this House to issues involving prisoners, their families, deportation, repatriation, punishment and rehabilitation. He makes an extremely good point. The Bill does not seek to send convicted foreign national offenders back to their country of origin only to see them released in that country, and potentially able to come back to our shores. There would need to be a system in place—a Government-to-Government agreement—whereby individuals can be transferred, often against their own wishes, to their country of origin, and it is guaranteed by that Government that they will then serve the requisite time in incarceration in that country.
I will happily give way, but I just want to finish this particular point. The other crucial aspect of the Bill, which might not now be as explicitly mentioned in it as it might be after we have had a go at it in Committee, is that in my view and that of my constituents, if foreign national offenders are sent back to their country of origin they should be banned from returning to this country. Their personal details—their name, date of birth, fingerprints and all the rest of it—should be with our Border Force so that if they ever attempt to gain re-entry into this country they are stopped from doing so.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most generous and diligent in how he is taking interventions. His account has been forensic in its detail, and he is making a compelling case. I am absolutely shocked at the figure of £850 million, but this is not just about numbers or forensic analysis. It is also about individual stories and individual victims, and a country that is wronged. I draw his attention to the case of William Danga, 39, a Congolese national and convicted rapist who, while challenging his deportation proceedings on human rights grounds, went on to abuse two children in this country. Will my hon. Friend reflect on that?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us a specific and individual example of how rotten the system has become. How has it come to pass that in Britain in 2016 we are unable to deport a Congolese rapist? It should be one of the first duties of Government to keep our country and our citizens safe, and we need to send back to their country of origin people who believe they can get away with such horrendous crimes in our country. My hon. Friend has given us an individual and specific example of why we need to change the system.
I do not apologise for coming back to the issue of cost, as it is first and foremost in the minds of my constituents. We have heard a variety of different figures cited today, so perhaps we can explore the issue a little further. Has my hon. Friend considered that with 10,000 fewer prisoners we could have fewer prisons, so the costs that we have heard cited could in fact be higher still?
That is a very intelligent observation from my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on being in the Chamber to listen to today’s proceedings. I know that he represents his constituents with great assiduity. Obviously the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think we now have two prisons devoted wholly and specifically to housing foreign national offenders. Clearly, if we did not have any foreign national offenders in our prisons that would be two prisons we could either not have or free up to imprison our own offenders. That would be a cost saving—we are talking about a potential sum of £1 billion—but some of us in the Chamber today would see the saving of that cost as an opportunity to implement a proper penal policy for our domestic offenders. We believe that if an offender is caught, convicted and sentenced to a term of four or five years, or whatever it is, they should then serve that amount of time in prison. We are constantly told that we cannot afford to do that, but here we are presenting the Government with £1 billion of savings that would enable us to implement a far more realistic and effective criminal justice policy.
My hon. Friend is always skilful in the Chamber, and as always he is being very courteous. I am grateful to him for allowing me a second intervention.
I want to come back, if I may, to the personal effects of foreign national offenders in this country. In the last Parliament, I had a constituent who was the victim of a rape by somebody from north Africa. After the offender had served his sentence, he was released back into my local community and not deported. Will my hon. Friend reflect on how such a situation could come about? I suggest that the problem lies in article 8 of the European convention on human rights, as set out in the Human Rights Act. Perhaps we should repeal that Act and replace it with a British Bill of rights and responsibilities that better protects our constituents.
My hon. Friend speaks not just for Crawley and its good citizens, but for the nation. He is spot-on. We need to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Magna Carta-like domestic Bill of Rights that we can all understand and that implements justice in the way that the British people would like to see it implemented.
My hon. Friend probably has more foreign national offenders going in and out of his constituency than any of the rest of us, because of the location of Gatwick airport. I am shocked and appalled, as I know his constituents will be, that such a violent offender was released back into his local community. That cannot be right on any level. Such people need to be sentenced and convicted, serve their time in jail in full in their country of origin and not be let back into our country. Then the citizens of Crawley and the rest of the United Kingdom would be able to sleep safe in their beds at night.
We are now hearing nothing about the repeal of the Human Rights Act. What has happened to that? A moment ago my hon. Friend mentioned the return of foreign criminals. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, I hope to deal with that in more detail later, but the problem with the present system is that there is nothing to prevent deported foreign criminals—however few are deported—from returning later, because no biometric information is kept. That is one of the points made by Migration Watch, and the Government should change it. As biometric visas are introduced in the future, we will be able to track people who have been convicted and sent to jail here and then sent back to their country of origin.
My hon. Friend is correct. We could strengthen the Bill in Committee with specific clauses to that effect. In Justice questions this week I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), whether it was true that as a member of the European Union, we are not allowed to deport EU foreign nationals who are in prison in our country and ban them from ever returning, and he confirmed that that is the case. We can therefore say without fear of contradiction in the Chamber today that it is not absurd to say that if we remain a member of the European Union, crime will be higher and we will have more criminals in our country. Under the rules of free movement we are not able to stop EU criminals coming into this country, and we are not able to deport back to EU countries those who have been convicted of serious offences and imprisoned.
I thank my hon. Friend for showing characteristic generosity in taking interventions. I echo his views on the Human Rights Act. It seems anathema to me that as a country with the best part of 1,000 years of common law, we have to accept a Human Rights Act designed for countries that have experienced fascism within living memory. We did not go down that road. We are Britain and we have the common law.
The point about increased capacity in prisons is interesting. That would allow us to pursue a more vigorous justice regime, particularly in the case of burglary. My hon. Friend is aware that it is becoming commonplace that many burglars are not receiving custodial sentences, which is an appalling state of affairs. Burglary is a crime that impinges on people’s lives. Will he reflect on the need for greater capacity in our prisons?
Interventions of such quality will, I hope, earn my hon. Friend a place on the Bill Committee. We could put a robust clause in the Bill specifically to deal with burglars and burglaries. He is right—for some reason, the seriousness of burglary has gone down the Home Office’s agenda.
The same is true of the breaking of shop windows in our high streets. I remember 20 years ago speaking to my local police commander, who said, “Philip, it’s an absolute rule of mine that we will not accept shop windows being broken in high streets, and we are going to clamp down on this really hard.” I think most hon. Members would say that shop windows are broken regularly in their high streets, perhaps even monthly. That shows that when we do not keep pursuing such problems vigorously, the seriousness with which they are taken declines.
That is a concern for our constituents, who are frightened about burglaries. Even if nobody is injured in a burglary, somebody’s home is tainted permanently by the intrusion and the theft of articles. Particularly for elderly people, that can often lead to a deterioration in health, and ultimately, in some cases, the old person sadly dies, not directly at the hands of the burglar but as result of the trauma of having been a victim of burglary. My hon. Friend speaks for his constituents and the country in highlighting that issue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. I want to correct a potential misapprehension. My direction of travel for reducing the prison population of foreign national offenders holds true for the prison population as a whole. There may be a divergence of views here. I believe we should have a vigorous justice system, and I believe that the Bill is right about foreign national offenders, but I also believe that this should be the direction of travel for our entire prison population. I may have caused a misapprehension about that earlier. We can have both a vigorous justice system and a smaller prisoner population overall. This point of view may get me off the Bill Committee, but it is one that I hold firmly.
Order. I have no objection to the number of interventions—that of itself is perfectly orderly and many would say that it should be encouraged. But if Members could have some regard to their length—shortening thereof—that would greatly assist our deliberations.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for your ever wise guidance, but I am sure you will agree that the interventions have been most illuminating, helpful and constructive.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) for his intervention. I can see that we might disagree on aspects of justice policy, but I believe that Bill Committees should be inclusive. Members who hold a range of different opinions should be included, so my hon. Friend is back on the Committee. That is one of the mistakes that the Government are making, most recently with the Enterprise Bill, where all those who were against extending Sunday trading suddenly found they were not on the Bill Committee. The result was the events of this week, when the Government lost that part of their legislation. Given his views, which might be contrary to those of other Members, my hon. Friend would play a very constructive role in debating these issues on Committee, so I encourage him to pursue his views with great vigour.
It is shocking that 160 countries around the world are represented in our prisons.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity. I noticed that one continent was missing from his list—Antarctica. I do not mean to make light of a serious issue, but it illustrates the seriousness of the matter if every part of the globe except the most inhospitable part is represented in our prison population. That is an untenable situation.
I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend’s attention to detail, which he has just demonstrated, is legendary in this place. He gives me a good idea. I have been struggling to think of somewhere to send the 434 individuals who refuse to declare their nationality. I wonder whether the prospect of a prison place in Antarctica unless they state where they originally came from might encourage them to reveal their true identity.
At the top of the list of shame is Poland, because 951 Polish nationals are incarcerated in our prisons.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely helpful point. It demonstrates one of the major themes that I want to get across today, which is that by being a member of the European Union we are importing crime into this country. Our membership of the European Union means that we have more crime and more criminals on our streets. The fact that Poland is in first place on the list of shame does that country no credit at all.
My hon. Friend is talking about a very serious matter. I must declare an interest, because I believe that I have some Polish ancestry. Does he not agree that an awful lot of Polish people make a big contribution to this country? In Stafford I have a Polish club that resulted from the sacrifice and service that many free Poles gave to the allies during the second world war. Indeed, the Poles who come over and work hard on fruit farms and in factories around Stafford do a tremendous job. What we are talking about is a very small minority who abuse this country’s hospitality.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am second to none in my admiration for the Polish people, the Polish nation and individual Poles. The Polish work ethic, frankly, would give many of our own citizens an example of how to behave in life. We have a lot to learn from them. My criticism is not of Polish people; it is of the EU system. Under EU rules, we are unable to prevent Polish citizens with criminal records from coming into this country, we are unable to send back to Poland the few Polish citizens who are convicted of criminal offences and imprisoned in our country, and we are unable to prevent them from returning. I am full of praise for the Polish nation and for hard-working Polish citizens. As on so many issues, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, but we must not ignore the fact that of the 160 countries represented in our prisons, Poland is in first place.
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) that I hope he is not intending to provide biographical details of each of the people from Poland before proceeding to the second of the 160 countries of which he wishes to treat. If that is his intention, it might test the patience of the Chair. I feel sure that he is planning no such mission. On that note, no doubt he will take the intervention from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Can he explain why the Polish Government are not prepared to allow Polish prisoners sentenced in this country to serve their sentences in Poland, which I understand is possible under the transfer of prisoners legislation promoted by the Council of Europe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I bow to his huge knowledge and experience of the Council of Europe and its various pronouncements. He is right to highlight the EU prisoner transfer agreement, introduced some years ago, which was meant to be the great panacea for the number of EU citizens in our jails. We were apparently going to be able to send EU prisoners in our jails back to their EU countries.
I want to apply a different principle. My hon. Friend has noted that there are 10,442 foreign nationals in our prisoners. Can he tell us how many British nationals there are in prisons around the world? If we applied the same principle to them, how much would it cost us to have them back in our prisons?
My hon. Friend makes a very helpful intervention; his lateral thinking on the issue demonstrates that he is an assiduous Member of the House. In answer to his question, I believe that each year about 4,000 people with British nationality are imprisoned overseas. I got that figure from Prisoners Abroad, which seems a very worthwhile human rights and welfare charity; it provides those people with humanitarian aid, expert advice and emotional support.
I hope that we will get the official figure from the Home Office or the Foreign Office when the relevant person arrives. Some of those British nationals will be in prison not because they have been convicted of any crime, but because they have been detained by the authorities of whatever country they might be in—and most of those countries will have criminal justice systems that are far less rigorous than our own.
It seems to me that, were we to sort this system out, 4,000 British nationals could be repatriated to serve their time here. I am not suggesting for one moment that all 4,000 would return immediately, but my hon. Friend asked for a figure and that is the one I have. In practice, the number of returnees would be a lot lower. Of course, that number is still a lot lower than the number of foreign nationals convicted and imprisoned in this country.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point.
Mr Speaker, you will be relieved to hear that I do not actually know any personal details of any of the Polish prisoners, so I will not trouble the House with that information, but I am grateful, as ever, for your wise counsel and guidance.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the next country, could he say—perhaps he will come to this point later in his remarks—whether the Bill envisages a minimum custodial sentence before somebody is exchanged, perhaps six months, or would it be on the provision of being sent to prison?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about a key issue, and I will answer it, but his intervention has reminded me that I did not answer fully the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on the EU prisoner transfer agreement. Now that we have that agreement, apparently we can send back to EU countries those foreign EU nationals convicted and imprisoned in our country. But it is not working.
Specifically, Poland has a derogation until December 2016. Given that Poland is No. 1 on the list of shame, I would have thought that a key part of our renegotiation of the terms of our membership of the EU would have been for that derogation no longer to apply to Polish citizens living in the UK. As far as I am aware, however, Her Majesty’s Government made no attempt at all to tackle the issue during the renegotiation. Poland has the largest number of foreign nationals in our prisons, yet Her Majesty’s Government have done nothing, as far as I can see, to tackle the issue.
The Polish people are renowned for their sense of family values. Why is it, then, that Poland does not wish to have its own patriots back in their country so that they can serve their sentences with their friends and family, thereby facilitating their rehabilitation?
I may be pre-empting my hon. Friend, but could I encourage him to look in due course at the term “qualifying offence”, because there are some important provisions relating to whether that involves a term of imprisonment, as in the Bill, or whether a foreign offender would have to be in prison to qualify? Perhaps there are some interesting points there to develop. Will my hon. Friend come back to that in due course?
It is okay: my hon. Friend is back on the Committee. He has made an extremely good point, which I hope he can repeat in Committee. My hon. Friend is quite right: we need to define what a qualifying offence is.
Clause 1(1) says that
“the Secretary of State must make provision in regulations for any foreign national convicted in any court of law of a qualifying offence to be excluded from the United Kingdom.”
Subsection (4) of the clause—there are, of course, only two clauses—then defines a qualifying offence as meaning
“any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”
That is important.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way—he is the very model of generosity. I asked specifically whether the clause meant any custodial sentence, because we had an arrival over new year who was a resident of the Netherlands but an Afghan national. He assaulted a member of check-in staff at Gatwick airport. He was then released on to the streets of Crawley without any address. A few days later, he assaulted a female police officer with a hammer. He was then, finally, arrested again. I put it to the House that this foreign national should never have been allowed into this country. He also had a previous murder conviction in the Netherlands. I am therefore pleased to support the Bill, which would mean we were able to remove people from this country at the earliest opportunity.
I understand that this man is still being processed through the criminal justice system. I sincerely hope that, for two assaults within a week in my constituency, this Afghan national, who is a convicted murderer in the Netherlands, will receive a custodial sentence. I only wish that my hon. Friend’s Bill were on the statute book so that this man could be deported back to the Netherlands to serve his sentence. Alas, I do not think that your Bill will make it on to the statute book in time, but I hope this case illustrates that the Bill is very necessary.
Order. Two things. First, “pithiness personified” is normally the title that I would accord the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will want to recover that status. Secondly, he referred to “your Bill”. Debate, of course, goes through the Chair—I have no Bill before the House, but the hon. Member for Kettering has.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could tease out a little more the meaning of “qualifying offence”. As drafted, the definition is very wide and would cover even the most minor offences. For example, small, petty shoplifting has a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years and would, therefore, be caught by subsection (1). [Interruption.] I hear a “Hear, hear”, but, on the other hand, this is a very petty offence. Is it really the intention of the Bill to cover such an offence?
I can see that the Bill Committee will be extremely interesting. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point. I would take the view—I think other members of the Committee, although perhaps not all, would too—that a foreign national in this country who shoplifts should be removed forthwith and never be allowed to darken our shores again.
On the definition of “may be” and the point that trivial crimes may be offences
“for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court”,
if foreign nationals commit a crime such as burglary, which is potentially due a custodial sentence in law, but that sentence is not dished out by the court, they would, effectively, come within the remit of the Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I agree with him. That is why we have to be so careful about the wording. It may be that we need to strengthen the clarity of these provisions in Committee, because all too often, sadly, our courts do not impose a custodial sentence, even though they have the opportunity to do so. My understanding, and my intent in the Bill, would be that, even if a prison sentence is not imposed, as long as the offence carries the potential for imprisonment, the person should be deported, removed, transferred or repatriated—whatever the technical term is.
I do not want to put too many flies in the ointment, but the term “may be” is ambiguous, because we also enter the realm of sentencing guidelines. If a sentencing guideline did not indicate that a prison sentence would be given, even though the crime comes, at its worst extent, with a custodial sentence, the term
“may be imposed by a court of law”
would be difficult to interpret.
It is that sort of intervention that confirms my view that the Bill would be poorer if my hon. Friend were not on the Committee. He would bring to it a wealth of experience, not only as a Member of this House, but because he has concentrated on justice issues since he arrived here in 2005. The Bill would be far better were he kind enough to serve on the Committee.
I have not received any such helpful indications from the Government, but I do not usually receive helpful indications about very much at all, so I am not necessarily taking the lack of an indication as a negative. I would hope that, given the presence of so many hon. Members here today, the Government might realise that the issue is important to our constituents and needs to be taken seriously.
I am still in a state of shock, having heard the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. We are told that we are safer being a member of the European Union, but my hon. Friend has given the House a clear, explicit example of how we are not safer. Here we have an Afghan national—he is not even a national of the Netherlands, but a resident there—who is a convicted murderer, but who can none the less fly into this country. Border Force does not know anything about him. He then commits an offence and is out on the streets in Crawley before being apprehended again. How on earth can we be safer and more secure in our nation with rules such as that?
Order. Just before the hon. Member for Kettering takes an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, I just remind him that the Bill contains two clauses, the first of which is the only substantive clause, containing four subsections. The second clause is simply the short title and commencement date of the Bill, and the Bill itself takes up a little over one page. As the hon. Member for Kettering has now dilated very eloquently and with great courtesy for 53 minutes, he might perhaps consider focusing, with that laser-like precision for which he is renowned in all parts of the House, upon the first clause of his two-clause Bill.
I genuinely seek your guidance, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for me to suggest during the moving of the Bill’s Second Reading that additional clauses be added to strengthen and clarify aspects that some Members feel are not necessarily covered by clause 1?
The Bill, of course, can be amended and, therefore, notably changed in all sorts of ways in Committee, but that cannot be done today. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman considerable latitude to establish the context and to explain the background to the introduction of his Bill, and I have no regrets on that score, but I feel sure that he will have plenty of meat to present to the House in respect of clause 1. On that clause I am sure he will shortly focus.
Before you leave the Chair, Mr Speaker—two esteemed Deputy Speakers are standing nearby—I just want to say that I am very disappointed in myself for not being pithy earlier and not observing the parliamentary protocol, so I offer my sincere apologies. I say to my hon. Friend that I think that one of the reasons why the majority of people in Crawley will vote to leave the European Union on 23 June is that they are so disappointed with this function of that organisation.
I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend speaks not only for his constituency, but for the nation in saying that we will have a better, safer, more secure and prosperous future outside the European Union.
I had mentioned No. 1 on my list of shame. I know hon. Members have been anticipating who No. 2 might be, and it is our good friends the Irish Republic. There are 783 Irish nationals in our jails. It seems to me that we have had a number of opportunities to negotiate their repatriation, not least when this country lent, I believe, £7 billion to help bail out—
It was lots of billions to bail out the Irish economy. As part of that agreement for the lending of a substantial amount of money, I am sure we could have done something on repatriating Irish nationals.
No. 3, which, given the size of its population, might be a surprise to some, is Jamaica. There are 567 Jamaican nationals in our jails.
It is completely absurd that we cannot deport people back to Jamaica, which is a completely safe country. If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr Speaker’s eye, I shall make the point later that there is a particular case of our not being able to deport somebody back to the West Indies. The situation is so difficult that the British taxpayer is now actually funding a prison in the West Indies so that we can pay for people to go back to a prison for which we are paying.
I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. May I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? It is always a delight to see you grace the Chamber with your presence, and your appearance has certainly made my day.
I have given the House some wrong information—perhaps my eyesight has let me down. I said that Jamaica is No. 3, but it is in fact No. 4. No. 3 is Romania with 629, and Jamaica is No. 4 with 567.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill. I just want to make the point again about the enormous contribution that the Irish people have made to the United Kingdom. I declare again my Irish ancestry, but I hope I will not have to declare ancestry from 160 different countries. It is incredibly important that we do not let this distort the view of the huge contribution that the Irish people make to the economy of the UK, and I hope the same is true the other way around. There are also many British people who commit crimes abroad, and they should be equally castigated. I would just like my hon. Friend to re-emphasise that we are talking about the very, very small minority of people who commit crimes in this country. We are not referring to the people as a whole.
My hon. Friend speaks a great deal of common sense, as always. I have nothing but admiration for hard-working Jamaicans in this country who contribute much to our economy. What I would say, though—this is, in part, the purpose of this Bill—is that the fact that 160 nations around the world are represented in Her Majesty’s prisons is a stain on those countries’ reputations, which I would have thought those countries would want to try to get rid of. The way to get rid of it properly is to come to an agreement with this country, under which they take back their prisoners to prisons in their country. Then we will not have to have debates like this or read out lists of shame. Of course, the numbers from each of the countries involved are small, but as a percentage of our national prison population they are significant, and the cost to British taxpayers, as we have heard, could be north of £875 million a year.
In actual terms, I suppose the numbers are small, but is my hon. Friend aware that the Polish figure is just over 900 from a population of, I believe, about 40 million, whereas the Jamaican figure is over 500 from a population of 3 million? That is a stark difference. I also echo the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on the contribution of the Irish and Jamaican populations.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight those figures. There is a particular issue with Jamaica and drugs, and I think that is where the problem arises. To be fair, Her Majesty’s Government have recognised that. In September 2015, the UK made an agreement with the Jamaican Government to start sending Jamaican prisoners serving time in British jails back to Jamaica. That is exactly the sort of arrangement that needs to be put in place with as many as possible of the 160 countries.
The agreement was concluded at the end of September by the then International Development Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps). The official announcement of 30 September 2015 said:
“The agreement was concluded today after years of negotiations as the Prime Minister made the first visit by a UK Prime Minister to Jamaica in 14 years.
It is expected to save British taxpayers around £10 million over 30 years once the first prisoners are returned from 2020 onwards.
The UK will provide £25 million from the government’s existing aid budget to help fund the construction of a new 1500 bed prison in Jamaica…The prison is expected to be built by 2020 and from then returns will get underway.”
I know many supporters of the international aid budget are present, as are one or two Members who have slightly different views. Whatever one’s views on Britain’s international aid budget, I think we can all agree that it is extremely generous. I believe we are the only major western economy to hit our millennium goal target of spending 0.7% of our economy on international aid. I would hope that we can all agree that spending part of the international aid budget in this way makes a huge amount of sense. If we spend it on building prisons in those countries that have a large number of nationals imprisoned in our country, we can start to send these people back to those prisons, saving British taxpayers’ money being spent on incarcerating them in our jails.
I am disappointed, however, that it seems to take so long to build those prisons. I do not understand why it takes five years to build a 1,500-bed prison in Jamaica. If we asked the Royal Engineers to put up a building, I am sure they could do it in double-quick time, and then we could start shipping these people back pretty soon.
I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to make more such arrangements. They could certainly look at my list of shame for further opportunities. We have got to No. 4 on the list, which is Jamaica. No. 5 is Albania; there are 472 Albanians in our jails. Close behind in equal sixth place is Latvia. Let me get that right—I think it is Lithuania with 471, in equal sixth place with Pakistan. I am not an expert, but I believe the population of Pakistan is a lot bigger than that of Lithuania, so for Lithuania to have the same number of prisoners as Pakistan says something to me about why our membership of the European Union is not doing us any favours.
My hon. Friend is right. I know that he has raised that issue in the Chamber on numerous occasions, and rightly, because there are few issues that enrage our constituents more than the public money spent on translating things for people who, frankly, should learn to speak English if they want to stay in this country.
My hon. Friend is talking about the international development budget and prisons abroad. In the very uncertain world in which we now live, does he not agree that it is good that our Government are spending money on strengthening the legal systems in these countries so that they can deal with their own prisoners?
Clause 1(1) in fact refers to
“any foreign national convicted in any court of law”.
I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) may need to introduce a new Bill if we are to seek savings in translation services, because costs will inevitably be racked up in court proceedings to ensure that a foreign national is convicted so that they qualify under clause 1(1).
My hon. Friend is right in part, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is of course talking about translation services as a whole. The longer a foreign national offender stays in this country, the greater the demand for translation services they will inevitably trigger during their incarceration. They may learn English while they are in prison, but it might not be the sort of English we want to encourage them to learn.
My hon. Friend mentioned Lithuania. I have not detected that I have any Lithuanian ancestry. Does he agree that the fact that Lithuanians are prisoners in this country shows that they have freedom, whereas 20 or 30 years ago, when they were under the Soviet yoke, they were not able to travel to this country to work? As I have said, they and nationals from all the other countries that have been mentioned do a tremendous amount of good for the British economy. I agree that of course a few get into trouble and should be sent home, but does he agree that it is tremendous that the Baltic and other eastern European countries are now free from the Soviet yoke?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is fantastic that eastern Europe is now free from the Soviet yoke. He and I spent much of our political life worrying about the cold war—not seeing how it would end, and perhaps thinking that it would never end. Everyone is delighted that it has ended and that eastern European countries are now firmly on their way to becoming fully developed, westernised economies with democratic values and freedoms. That is all fine, but the problem with our membership of the European Union—this is one of the issues that the Bill seeks to address—is that we are not able to check which of the Lithuanians coming to our shores have got criminal pasts. It is an absolute fundamental of our national security that we should be able to stop anyone coming into this country and check whether they have some kind of criminal record, but our membership of the European Union means that we are simply not able to do that.
Before my hon. Friend gets on to another country and mentions the number of criminals we would like to deport, and before my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) praises that country, may we just establish one fact? Those of us who support the Bill have absolutely no objection to the wonderful work done by Poles, Jamaicans, Lithuanians or Latvians; we simply want to deport people who are convicted criminals. That is all we want to do.
It is not quite all we want to do. We actually want to stop convicted criminals coming into this country in the first place. I readily admit that that is not clear in the Bill as drafted, but that is something that we could strengthen in Committee. I am sure that that would enjoy my hon. Friend’s support. The main aim of the Bill, however, is to send back foreign nationals convicted of offences to wherever they come from.
I encourage my hon. Friend to consider, in Committee, greater controls and information flows from other countries, so that we can stop people who are already convicted criminals in other countries entering the United Kingdom in the first place. Our constituents would assume that that already happens, and if they found out that it does not, they would want—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that what we must discuss this morning are matters in the Bill, not matters that are not in the Bill. The Bill is a short one, and I am well aware of what is in it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that sticking strictly to what is in the Bill is essential.
As my hon. Friend is talking about prisons, I want to point out that the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice is listening to the debate in the Chamber. I know that she will take note of all points that are specific to Ministry of Justice matters and feed them back to her officials.
I am very glad that our hon. Friend is in the Chamber. I hope that she will be so impressed by my remarks that she will invite me to visit the prison in Jamaica, because I am keen to see for myself how our international aid money is being spent. I think that the initiative offers a sensible solution to the problem.
Lithuania benefits enormously from the NATO presence in the Baltics. Is it not a disappointment that, while we are using our public money to help to secure Lithuania against an external threat, it is not prepared to use its resources to secure our people against the threat from their prisoners?
As ever, my hon. Friend sums it up really rather well. He makes the case that his constituents would make, which is that our membership of these international organisations should work both ways. We are spending a great deal of British taxpayers’ money in defending Lithuanians from the Russian threat, and the very least they could do is to take back their 471 nationals from this country to prisons in their own country. After all, we are supposed to have an EU prisoner transfer agreement, from which Lithuania does not have a derogation, so I do not understand why there is a problem.
I am anxious, as I am sure you are, Madam Deputy Speaker, to complete my list so that I can move on to other aspects of the Bill. There are some important countries at the bottom of the top 10. India, with 458, is No. 8, and I am looking for No. 9 on my list—
Clause 1(1) will exclude
“any foreign national convicted in any court of law of a qualifying offence”.
Will my hon. Friend clarify what would be a qualifying offence? We have trivialised things such as shoplifting as minor offences, but, having been a retailer for 30 years, I can assure him that some of us feel that it should be a qualifying offence. I also point out that a former Minister for Crime Prevention said at the Dispatch Box not too long ago:
“Someone might start with shoplifting, but who knows where they will end up?”—[Official Report, 5 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 10.]
He has personal experience of being shoplifted, not being a shoplifter. The point that he makes is absolutely right, and it is an issue that the Committee could explore. Opinions will differ in Committee, but I share his view that shoplifting should be taken seriously. Unless criminal behaviour is nipped in the bud, it tends to get worse. If a foreign national thinks it is acceptable to shoplift in this country, I think most of my constituents would say, “That is not acceptable. Go and do it in your own country.”
My point was not that shoplifting is trivial, but that it is trivial in comparison to other aspects of theft. It is a question of scale. I want to clarify that, because I would hate people to think that my personal view was that shoplifting is trivial. It is not: all crimes are serious, but there is a scale and it is well known that, among thefts, shoplifting is towards the bottom end of the scale.
I suspect that my hon. Friend brings some legal experience to his advice to this House, for which we are all very grateful. That is why he will be such a valuable member of the Committee.
I just want to reach the end of my list before ending my speech and encouraging others to take part. There are two important countries at the bottom of the top 10 list of shame: Somalia has 430 and Nigeria is at No. 10 with 385. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford takes a lot of interest in Nigeria. If he wants to say some nice things about Nigerians, I am happy to give way.
I am most grateful, and I will. All the countries in the top 10 that I have not yet commented on—India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Somalia—have nationals who are in this country legally and who are abiding by the law, as we would want them to. Those people are making a tremendous contribution. My hon. Friend is talking about people who are not abiding by the law. In just the same way, we would expect our own citizens who do not abide by the law in another country to be imprisoned and, perhaps, repatriated to this country.
This might be an issue that the International Development Committee, on which he sits, might want to explore, because when one compares the list of the top 10 countries with the most foreign national offenders in our jails with the list of the 28 countries to which this country gives the most international development aid, three countries stand out—Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia. All three countries are on the list of the 28 countries to which the Department for International Development gives international aid and in the top 10 list of countries with the most foreign national offenders in prison in this country.
Does my hon. Friend accept that many nationals from those countries send a huge amount of their own money back to their country to help their families who are still there? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, those people are good, contributing members of this society because they have chosen to come here and they add to what we have in this country. Obviously the criminals are the worst offenders we could possibly have and we need to get rid of them, but there are so many people here who work hard to help their families back home.
And those people will be very embarrassed indeed that their fellow foreign nationals are clogging up our prisons in this way. They may be keener than us to see a sensible resolution to the problem.
The point that I want to make in drawing my brief remarks to a close is that, if we are giving so much money in international aid to Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, but those three countries are in the top 10 list of shame in respect of having foreign nationals in our prisons, surely we should do in those countries what we are doing in Jamaica—spending the international aid money that we are already giving them on building prisons in those countries, so that the prisoners in our country can be sent back to them.
I am not sure that my constituents are that fussed about the standard of prisons that are built in other countries—they just want the foreign nationals to be sent back to them—but I take the point that my hon. Friend makes.
I want to highlight one other issue that is of concern. I asked the Secretary of State for Justice how many foreign national offenders were serving their sentence in prison, and I have read out to the House the list of shame that I received. However, I also asked how many foreign national offenders were serving their sentence outside prison, and the answer that I got from the Ministry of Justice was:
“The number of convicted foreign national offenders serving their sentence outside prison is not published due to data quality.”
In other words, “We don’t know.” I am very worried indeed about that.
That answer surprises me because one of the Justice Ministers told us at Justice questions that the number of foreign national offenders in our prisons had declined. It is surely in the public interest to know whether the number has declined because they are serving their sentences outside prison.
That is a very good point. Neither my hon. Friend nor I—nor, indeed, the House—is any the wiser because of Her Majesty’s Government’s obfuscation over providing the data. We can all sense that it is a real problem that we do not know how many foreign national offenders are loose on our streets. We have heard a couple of examples today from my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull and for Crawley of foreign national offenders being at large in our communities.
If this Bill became law, it would send a clear signal to our constituents and to the world at large—if you are a foreign national and you are in our country, you must not break our laws, and if you do break our laws, you will be sent back to the country from where you came and banned from ever returning. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak on this important Bill. The House will be relieved to hear that my comments need not be very long, because my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), with his characteristic courtesy, skill and devotion to the procedures of this House, has made such a comprehensive case in favour of the Bill that I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody would oppose the entirely common-sense proposals that he is elucidating this morning.
As we have heard, this issue is of enormous importance. Some 10,000 of our prisoners in custody are foreign nationals, but only about 1,000 recommendations for deportation are made each year. That is even more surprising given that this has been a matter of national debate for so long. There is immense public interest in this issue. Only this week, Rod Liddle, who is not an hon. Friend but a well-known journalist, wrote a most interesting article in The Spectator on precisely this subject. This is a not just a matter for a quiet Friday morning in the House of Commons, but a subject that is constantly discussed all over the nation.
Rod Liddle, in his inimitable way, portrayed the problem we are dealing with. We have heard that there are all these people gumming up our prisons who are not deported, but at last, apparently, the Home Office had decided to get tough in the case of Myrtle Cothill, a
“South African widow aged 92 who wished to see out her final days with her daughter in the UK.”
But the Home Office said “tough luck, Myrtle” and told her she had to get on the next plane and leave the country.
Last week, I mentioned the case of a leading American Shakespearean scholar, who was frogmarched to the airport by the Home Office because he had stayed a few days longer. What the public cannot understand is why so many good people are being kicked out of our country, not least Myrtle Cothill—although after a national campaign and a huge petition, the Home Office finally relented—and yet all these convicted criminals are not being deported, at a massive cost to our taxpayers of up to £1 billion.
Following our debate on this subject last week, I have received correspondence from people who are not my constituents but who know people—for example from the United States—who are being picked on in most unsatisfactory circumstances. It seems that the Home Office is going for the soft-touch people.
That is the problem. Is the Home Office going for soft-touch people? We had that debate last week with the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees. He gave a skilful performance from the Dispatch Box, but he could not really deny my hon. Friend’s impeccable case. Indeed, the Minister admitted that there are more than 30,000 illegal asylum seekers who cannot be deported, on top of the people we are talking about today, and all that has to do with the Dublin convention and the Human Rights Act 1998.
There was a firm pledge in the Conservative party manifesto to deal with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. There has been massive controversy and publicity about that, and I cannot understand why we are still waiting. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, she will tell us what has happened to our reform of human rights legislation, because this is a matter of great public interest.
Rod Liddle gave some interesting examples of such cases, and others have been enumerated in other newspapers. Let us consider the case of Baghdad Meziane. Baghdad is a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist, with links to the appalling people who committed that atrocity in Paris recently. As Rod Liddle states:
“He was convicted in a British court of raising money for al-Qaeda (and also of the ubiquitous credit-card fraud) and sentenced to 11 years in prison. At his trial the judge pointed out, perhaps unnecessarily, that Meziane was a very dangerous man and recommended deportation once his term of incarceration had expired.”
But no. This “very dangerous” and unpleasant man, was actually released from prison five years early and allowed to return to Leicester. He was not put on the first available plane to Algiers, whence, despite his name, he originates.
“Baghdad argued that to deport him would contravene his human right to a normal family life.”
Therefore this man, this dangerous individual, has been released back into our community in Leicester because he claims a right to family life, and despite lengthy legal battles, all our debates, and the Home Secretary’s attempts at legislation, in Leicester he now resides.
May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to another example where process and legality are failing? Andre Babbage was released from detention by the High Court because there was no prospect of deporting him to Zimbabwe, because he does not have a passport and does not wish to return there, despite a high chance that he will reoffend.
That is what the public cannot understand. People are laughing at our system, and we are asking the Government to take action. Rod Liddle also mentioned the case of J1—we are not told his real name, because that would apparently breach his privacy:
“J1 is a known friend and colleague of one Mohammed Emwazi, usually referred to by his stage name of Jihadi John”—
that is the Islamic State’s late madman whom we know all about.
“J1 is known to be a senior organiser for Somalia’s exciting Islamic terror franchise, al-Shabab, and has links to the Muslim extremists who tried to blow up London on 21 July 2005. For five years we tried to kick him out, but we have now given up and he is not even under surveillance any more”.
Or how about CS? Again, we do not know CS’s real name because of her right to privacy:
“But at least we know that CS is a Moroccan woman and the daughter-in-law of…Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, now serving a life sentence in the USA for terrorism-related offences. It’s the European Courts of Justice blocking her deportation, because she is the sole carer of her son in this country…She was found smuggling a sim card into Hamza’s Belmarsh cell.”
We cannot kick her out of this country, and we clearly need a Bill such as the one we are discussing. When the Minister replies, she needs to tell the British people why we cannot deal with such people.
Let us leave jihadists for a moment. The article continues:
“There’s always the child rapists. Shabir Ahmed, aged 63, is serving a 22-year sentence for having been the ringleader of a gang of Pakistani paedophiles in Rochdale. Ahmed is petitioning the European Court of Human Rights to prevent his deportation. He claims that his trial was ‘institutionally racist’”.
The Home Office may fight, but I suspect that this man will be staying in a prison in this country.
I would go further than the Bill and say that when a foreign national commits a crime, we should have some sort of arrangement by which we send them back to their own country as soon as their sentence begins. If necessary, we will pay the costs of that, but let us get them out of our country as soon as possible.
I will deal with that point in a moment, and that is precisely what Migration Watch UK—a very respected charity—is arguing. The article continues:
“We can’t even get rid of the criminals who actively want to leave. Mohammed Faisal is a convicted ‘drug lord’ who is reportedly ‘desperate’ to get back to Pakistan.”
However, the Home Office has messed up his papers, so he is staying put in this country.
“And what of the Yardies?” —
Jamaicans have already been mentioned—
“We couldn’t send them to serve their sentences in Jamaica because the prisons are so bad it would breach their human rights.”
So, as I made clear in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, “in desperation”, we are spending £25 million of taxpayers money on
“building them a nice prison there, maybe with views over Montego Bay. There is a plethora of national and supra-national legislation protecting the rights of the foreign criminal: the Human Rights Act, the Dublin Convention, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Courts of Justice. But none protecting the rest of us.”
There are all those conventions and Acts of Parliament, but what about the British people who are paying for all this? They cannot understand how, after 10 years of debates, these people are still with us. They are laughing at us. It is not just a question of money; they are literally laughing at us. Many of them are not just serving time in prison, but they are being let out of prison and back into our communities, having committed appalling crimes. They are not being kicked out. [Interruption.] And no doubt they are indeed receiving benefits. That is why the British people are fed up and want action to be taken. It is unlikely that my hon. Friend’s Bill will get to Committee because it is a private Member’s Bill, but therefore the Government should act, and that is why this debate is important.
There have been many other cases. The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph have run a long-standing campaign, and we owe them a great debt for dealing with this issue and trying to raise it on the national stage. The Daily Telegraph put it well:
“Sixty years ago, with the horrors of the Second World War still fresh and raw, lawyers devised a set of principles designed to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust and other depravities. This was the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined in British law under Labour’s Human Rights Act in 1998. In 1950, those lawyers did not set out to protect an immigrant’s right to bowl a cricket ball on a Sunday afternoon”—
or any of the other absurd examples that we have seen in the press recently—
“nor did they agonise over any of the other absurd scenarios, uncovered by our campaign”.
The tentacles of the Human Rights Act spread far and wide and in ways that are perhaps not obvious at first to the outside observer. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable for the Advocates General of the European Court of Justice to argue that the UK cannot expel a non-EU national with a criminal record who happens to be the parent of a child who is an EU citizen?
Yes. There are so many absurd examples. Those lawyers, who were dealing with a Europe that had been devastated by fascism and Nazism and trying to create a reasonable body of law to protect us all, could not have foreseen how their work in 1950 in setting up the Council of Europe, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and I are proud to have served, would mean that criminals could deliberately misuse and abuse the system.
There are appalling examples. For instance, Lionel Hibbert, a 50-year-old Jamaican criminal who fathered three children by three mothers within four months of one another, claimed he should not be deported because of his right to family life. Hon. Members will think that that is a ridiculous claim, but British judges agreed with it and overturned the Home Office decision because of that man’s claim to family life. In another example cited by The Daily Telegraph, the violent drug dealer, Gary Ellis, a 23-year-old Jamaican, convinced a court that he had a stable family life with his young daughter and girlfriend, when in fact she had split up with him years previously and refused to allow him into her home.
The court’s willingness to believe those stories and attach inappropriate weight to them is a huge problem—I concede that to the Government—but therefore we need more legislation. Ultimately, the courts have to subscribe to legislation passed by this House to make this absolutely watertight: if someone is convicted and if they are a danger to our society, they can be deported. That is what the Bill is about.
Let me deal with the suggestion from Migration Watch, which is very much like what is suggested in the Bill. We know that there are some 10,000 foreign nationals in custody, and that only about 1,000 recommendations for deportation are made each year. We know that something is wrong. Should there not be—this is what the Bill is about—a presumption that deportation will be recommended for a wide range of offences that attract a sentence of 12 months or more, as well as for offenders who are illegal immigrants? The trigger should be lower for a second or third offence. Central records should be kept, including biometric information, which should be available to visa-issuing posts overseas to prevent offenders from applying for a visa under a false identity. I refer again to my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. That is a problem—there is nothing to stop somebody whom we have finally managed to deport from simply changing their identity and coming back.
We know that the current arrangements for the deportation of foreigners convicted of criminal offences are extremely unsatisfactory. Let us a least agree on that. When the Minister replies to the debate, let her acknowledge that the arrangements are unsatisfactory and that we should do something about it.
There are no clear guidelines for the courts. The general principles have not been revised sufficiently. Only 5,000 to 6,000 recommendations were made annually in recent years. There are no statistics on the number of deportations that are carried out, and no feedback to the courts. An offender cannot only appeal against a recommendation for a deportation; they can also appeal against a subsequent deportation order. They can claim asylum and appeal against a refusal of asylum. They can then seek judicial review of removal instructions following the failure of their claim. Who is paying for all those procedures? Who is benefiting from them? Is it the British public or is it lawyers and the convicted criminal? As I have said, that all happens at public expense.
Deportation cannot be recommended as a sentence in its own right, and nor can it justify a reduction of a sentence. Deportation recommendations are often considered towards the end of a custodial sentence. Why not at the beginning? That is what the Bill is about. If someone is convicted, on day one, this should be part of the sentence: “It’s deportation, chum.” Why are we still arguing about it years into someone’s sentence?
As I have said, there is nothing to stop a deported criminal from returning to Britain under a false identity. A recommendation for deportation is a matter for the courts, but a decision is for the Home Secretary, who takes into account the circumstances in the offender’s country of origin, humanitarian aspects and considerations of public policy. That sounds very fair, but what is being done on the ground?
The offender may appeal to an immigration judge against the Home Secretary’s decision. The current position in law is that the court must consider whether the accused’s presence in the UK is to its detriment. I believe—Migration Watch and many other people believe the same—that that is the wrong yardstick. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to serious criminal behaviour by foreign nationals, which should involve a presumption that deportation will be recommended for any offence that results in a 12-month prison sentence.
That sounds entirely logical, and if the Bill by some miracle becomes law, that is effectively what will happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering talked of the Bill going to Committee, where I am sure he would prepared to accept a compromise. If the Minister comes back to us with a sensible compromise, we will consider it. I am sure he would be prepared to withdraw the Bill if the Minister announces today that we are adopting that policy of zero tolerance that involves a presumption that deportation will be recommended in any offence that results in a 12-month sentence.
That is a moderate proposal—it is the Migration Watch proposal, but my hon. Friends might want to ask for more. Migration Watch and I believe that the trigger should be a six-month sentence on a second conviction and a three-month sentence on a third conviction. Currently, magistrates may impose a maximum sentence of only six months, but that is to be increased to 12 months. Until that change is made, the approach I have suggested would mean that magistrates could recommend deportation for a second offence only. That, too, is a moderate proposal.
It is currently not possible to make deportation part of the sentence. Why? That is what we are asking for in the Bill. The law should be changed to permit that, to reduce the amount of time that foreign prisoners spend in prisons. Our jails are already so heavily overcrowded that we cannot carry out proper rehabilitation—we cannot afford it, and it is bad for prisoners. Surely the approach we are suggesting would be much better for prisoners. It is much better for the welfare of prisoners that those 800 Poles who are currently in our jails, or the 500 Jamaicans or Irish, are sent back to prisons in their countries, particularly when there is a foreign language involved, so that they can be rehabilitated and gradually put back into their own societies. It is not good for them or for our taxpayer that they are kept in our prisons.
That is what we are talking about—10%—so this is a matter of enormous importance.
As I have said, it is vital to avoid lengthy delays in custody, which is what the Bill would do, as I understand it. Deportation proceedings should commence on the very first day of the sentence. That is the key point.
That is an interesting question, and I confess that I do not have an instant response. My hon. Friend the Minister has heard that intervention, and I am sure she can deal with it. That just shows, does it not, how people are deliberately laughing at our system and abusing it? People should be aware of that.
That is a tricky part of the issue—the 434 people who will not declare their nationality. How, on any basis, can we let them out of prison if they are not prepared to tell us where they came from? Do we have to make special provision for them—a prison in a remote location, another country or elsewhere? Surely we cannot have those people walking our streets when they will not tell us where they come from.
If, having been convicted, they are not prepared to tell the authorities where they are from, there should be a presumption that they will remain in prison until they do so. That might actually concentrate a few minds. Again, that is something for the Minister deal with.
As long as the United Kingdom remains a signatory of the 1951 refugee convention, criminals cannot be denied the option of claiming asylum, even after conviction. I believe that any such applicants should remain in detention and be put through the fast-track procedure I am talking about.
A serious weakness of the present system is that there is nothing to prevent criminals from returning to Britain under a false identity. Given that they are criminals, they would presumably have no compunction about changing their identity. To help tackle that weakness in the system, all those convicted should have their biometric information recorded and held centrally. As biometric visas are introduced overseas, visa applicants should be checked against the database. The records would detect those reoffending under a different identity. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the serious point raised today about the return to this country of criminals who change their identity. At the moment, we can apparently do nothing about it. We should keep biometric information so that we can identify them and stop them coming back.
Central records should, at the very least, include the immigration status of all those convicted, the number of recommendations for deportation and the number of deportations carried out. The courts should be informed of the outcome of the recommendations—I understand that at present they are not. I may be wrong about that, but the Minister can correct me if she wishes. There should also be a presumption that deportation is recommended for certain classes of offences, including drug offences, such as importation and supply but not necessarily possession; manufacture of class A drugs; people-smuggling offences; forgery of travel documents; serious violent and sexual offences; firearms offences; fraud; all offences involving the handling of the international proceeds of crime; and all defined immigration offences.
On day one, when someone is convicted under the proposals set out in the Bill, and under my suggestions to toughen it up if necessary, deportation proceedings should start immediately. They would be triggered by a certain length of sentence or a sentence for particularly serious types of crime. That is clear and simple, and it should be done. There should also be an automatic recommendation of deportation for offenders who are illegal immigrants and a presumption of deportation for offenders who are in Britain on a temporary basis, for example for work or study, which was dealt with in the Bill that we discussed last week.
As we know, the whole question of article 8 is a mess. We know why it was originally created, and I talked about how lawyers devised the arrangements in the early 1950s, but they are in urgent need of reform. Actually, article 8 specifically states exceptions to the right to family life. So far as those exceptions are in accordance with the law, they include public safety, the economic wellbeing of the country, the prevention of disorder or crime, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, for instance of law-abiding citizens.
It is difficult to know how many deportations from the United Kingdom are stopped on appeal due to article 8 arguments, as official figures vary depending on who we ask. Again, I hope the Minister deals with this point. The Courts Service says that in 2010—I am sure there are more up-to-date figures, but maybe these give a good example; I have just got them from the Library—223 people won their appeal against deportation. Of those, 102 were successful on the grounds of article 8. The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency said that in the same year 425 foreign national prisoners won their appeal against deportation, primarily on the grounds of article 8. If this debate achieves nothing else, perhaps we can get more up-to-date information on the exact effect of article 8.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting and informative speech. Does he agree that one reason for the opacity of the figures is that it depends on how we ask the question? In researching this topic, I came across the fact that there are deportations, removals, transfers and repatriations. I do not know what the difference is between those four things, but depending on which one we ask about, we get a different answer.
Exactly. This is an absolute minefield, and because of that it is prone to manipulation by clever lawyers—I can put it no other way. Frankly, the law needs to be cleared up. I suspect we cannot clear it up unless we repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and repatriate this whole part of our law into a British Bill of Rights. Lawyers would still argue about the provisions of a British Bill of Rights, but at least we would have created the law in this House and tried to bring some clarity to these matters. Above all, we could try to recreate public confidence. We can become enmeshed in the details, and I am sorry if I have had to go into some of them, but let us focus, laser-like, on what the public are talking about. The public cannot understand that there are 10,000 people convicted of offences sitting in our jails who we are not sending home. Worse, many of them are coming out of our jails and staying in this country. That is what the public want the Government to deal with.
I mentioned lawyers a few moments ago. I declare an interest as a lawyer. Lawyers can find arguments, but the law needs to be clear. The clearer the law is, the less room there is for argument in courts by lawyers and the less reason for judges to make mistakes.
Like my hon. Friend, I, too, am a lawyer. We are only doing our jobs. Give us unclear law and a client to represent, and we will put forward our best case. It is up to the Government to give us clear law. Judges have been known to reconsider deportation on appeal if they feel that it is a punishment disproportionate to the crime committed. That even happened in the case of a crime that resulted in death, in Gurung v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department. If the law is unclear, we open up all sorts of possibilities for lawyers to drive a coach and horses through what we are trying to achieve.
That is an interesting point. As usual, the common law of our country, developed more than 1,000 years ago, has an enormous amount of common sense. Perhaps we should worry less about bringing in more laws and more about enforcing present common law.
I will come to the end of my speech in a moment, to allow others to speak. To be fair to the Government, they have tried to do something because of the massive public debate. When the Minister responds to the debate, I suspect she may say that the Bill is not necessary because there is already legislation to deal with the problem. Is she shaking her head, or she is nodding? It is not fair of me to interpret her sedentary signs. However, that is a common response from Ministers.
Let me end on this point. Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 provides:
“The Secretary of State must make a deportation order in respect of a foreign criminal”
if they have been convicted of an offence and sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment. The Act specifies that in those circumstances the deportation of persons will be
“conducive to the public good”
for the purposes of the Immigration Act 1971. Section 33 of the 2007 Act, as amended, identifies six exceptions to automatic deportation. In addition, section 3(6) of the 1971 Act provides that non-British citizens over the age of 17 are liable to deportation from the UK if they are convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment and their deportation is recommended by the court, although the 2007 Act has somewhat curtailed the scope for criminal courts to make recommendations for deportation. A person cannot return to the United Kingdom while a deportation order remains in force against them, although they can apply for the order to be revoked.
I am sorry to have read out those points. I do not want to sound too much like a Minister—[Hon. Members: “No!”] God forbid. But one would think, would one not, that the law was clear, given the 2007 Act, coupled with the Immigration Act 1971 and recent pronouncements by the Home Secretary? One would think that clear powers were available to Ministers to deal with the problem and deport these people. However, that is simply not happening. There are still 10,000 of them in our prisons, and many of them are living in our communities having left prison and not been deported. I am worried about what is happening on the ground. We have in power for the best part of six years, and this has been an issue of public debate for many more years, so I should like the Minister to explain why we are still waiting for action.
The problem involving the European Union has already been mentioned, but I want to say something about European economic area nationals. The scope to deport EEA nationals is restricted by European law. Specifically, directive 2004/38/EC—often referred to as the free movement of persons directive or the free movement of citizens directive—sets out the circumstances in which an EEA national with a right to reside in another member state, or the family member of an EEA national, may be expelled. The directive does not specify any particular sentence thresholds that must apply to expulsion cases. Instead, it requires that expulsion must be proportionate and based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned and the level of threat that they pose to public policy or public security. Previous criminal convictions cannot, in themselves, be grounds for expulsion, nor can expulsion be justified on general prevention grounds. Furthermore, more demanding grounds are required to deport EEA national offenders who have resided in a host member state.
In November, in a letter to Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister set out the United Kingdom’s demands for reform in the area of immigration and social benefits, which included a demand to:
“Crack down on abuse of free movement, e.g. tougher and longer re-entry bans for fraudsters”
—this is the Prime Minister speaking, not me—
“and those involved in sham marriages, stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back”
—some of that is in bold type—
“addressing the inconsistency between EU citizens’ and British citizens’ eligibility to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK, and addressing ECJ judgments that have made it more difficult to tackle abuse.”
Moreover, in the Conservative party manifesto, on which we all stood and which we wholeheartedly endorse in every single respect, we said:
“We will negotiate with the EU to introduce stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back, and tougher and longer re-entry bans for all those who abuse free movement”.
Why is there so much dissatisfaction with politicians? Perhaps it is partly because, despite what we sometimes say in letters to high officials of the European Union or in our manifestos—we stated specifically in the Conservative party manifesto that we would deal with this problem and deport these people, and that a negotiation was taking place—we are still discussing this issue on a Friday. I predict that we will not secure the Minister’s agreement to this Bill, or to a Bill like it, but the matter is urgent and should be dealt with.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on, between them, ensuring that we are debating the Bill this morning, because it deals with a matter that is of great concern to my constituents.
I want to focus on two questions relating to the Bill. The first is the question of whether it is needed, and the second is the question of whether its provisions are satisfactory. It could be argued, in answer to the first question, that the Bill is extremely timely. Members may have seen, only yesterday, an article in The Times which focused on the fact that five foreign criminals leave UK jails every day and stay in the UK. It stated that nearly 6,000 are waiting to be deported. The number of foreign offenders in the community has risen by 53% in five years, despite Government attempts to speed up deportations.
I think that support for the Bill is more widespread than many Members may imagine. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), was quoted in the article as saying:
“The Prime Minister promised to make the speedy removal of foreign national offenders a priority but these figures show the Home Office has failed…The public will be alarmed that 1,800 offenders are still here after five years. This demonstrates either incompetence, inefficiency or both.”
The number of foreign offenders released from jail pending deportation rose from 3,772 in 2011 to 5,789 in the final quarter of last year, and, as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee made clear in his remarks—I think that this needs to be reiterated—more than 1,800 of them have been living in the community for five years or more. That is a disgrace. Moreover, a further 1,300 have been living here for between two and five years, and of 416 prisoners who were released in the last three months of last year, only six were deported. That is an absolute disgrace. The Bill is, as I said, very timely.
Probably the most shocking thing of all—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering will be particularly shocked by this—is that the Home Office figures that were released showed that foreign offenders convicted of 16 murders, 56 rapes and hundreds of robberies and violent attacks were still living in the UK at the end of last year. That is the nature of the beast with which we are dealing. I am afraid that, whatever the Government are doing, it simply cannot be seen as good enough. Those figures should shock all of us, and I hope that they shock the Government.
The widespread support for the Bill is also made clear by an intervention, during questions on an urgent question in 2014, from the former shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who said:
“When people come to Britain, they should abide by the law, and the whole House wants to see foreign criminals being deported.”—[Official Report, 27 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 903.]
She said that only a couple of years ago, from the Labour Benches. I look forward to seeing support for the Bill not just from Conservative Members, but from Members on both sides of the House.
Given that the EU referendum is to take place on 23 June, and given that EU national offenders make up an increasingly large part of our prison population each year, I think it right for people to be informed of the realities of our EU membership, and of what control this country actually has over the removal of foreign national offenders, particularly those from the EU.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In my view, it is the failure of those countries to take back foreign offenders that is undermining diplomatic relationships, rather than the release or otherwise of the information.
The Bill clearly aims to do something that I think most people would consider to be common sense: to deport criminals who are not citizens of this country if they commit an offence that is serious enough to warrant a prison sentence. I think that it is important to establish whether someone qualifies for deportation, but I shall come to that when I go into the details of the Bill.
Governments have not resisted the principle of deporting foreign criminals. In fact, it was the last Labour Government who introduced measures for their automatic deportation in certain circumstances, in the form of the UK Borders Act 2007. I do not propose to bore everyone rigid by quoting from its provisions here and now, but suffice it to say that it made a clear attempt to define foreign criminals and to ensure that, in certain circumstances, they were removed from prison. The key part of that Act, the first condition, was that a person is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of “at least 12 months”—along the same lines as what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) mentioned in his speech. The Labour Government introduced that provision back in 2007.
There were some exemptions within the Act. I shall not bore everybody rigid by going through every single one, but there were quite a few, if anyone would like to look through the legislation. The exceptions included where deportation would breach a person’s convention rights under the ECHR; where people were covered by the refugee convention; where the offender was under 18 years old at the time of offending; where the deportation breaches the offender’s rights under Community treaties; and where the foreign criminal is subject to the Extradition Act 2003 or to the Mental Health Act 1983.
Herein lies the problem, because the exemptions make it virtually impossible to deport anybody. That is the key issue. It is all very well saying, “We’re going to have an Act of Parliament with this particular provision in it”, but if people cannot be removed because of a potential breach of the Human Rights Act or rights under the Community treaties, which provide for the free movement of people, we are in big difficulties. Given the high proportion of EU citizens who count as foreign offenders, the legislation is barely worth the paper it is written on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and he explains why that part of the Bill is essential. I shall come on to some of the detail in the Bill later.
Our former colleague and the former Member for Wells, David Heathcoat-Amory, in his book “Confessions of a Eurosceptic”, reminded us of what happened when it was reported that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners were released without being considered for deportation when Charles Clarke was the Home Secretary. That particular scandal cost Charles Clarke his job. The public believed it was a huge scandal, which it is. The release of 1,000 foreign prisoners without being considered for deportation was sufficient for the Home Secretary to resign, yet as a newspaper reported yesterday, 1,800 of them have been here for more than five years. If 1,000 was enough for the Home Secretary to resign, one wonders what the trigger point for a scandal is these days.
A fair deportation system should, it seems to me, treat all foreign offenders in the same way. I do not think there can be any justification for saying that a foreign offender from one country should be treated differently from a foreign offender from a different country. This has become a growing problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said, there have been more than 10,000 foreign national offenders in prison since 2006. This is not a new problem. Given current levels of immigration into the UK, of course, there is no prospect at all of the number going down anytime soon.
My hon. Friend is quite right to cite these statistics on the number of foreign national offenders in our jails, which has been over 10,000 for about 10 years. The obvious and simple point to make is that these are not the same 10,000, because each year there is a rotation of foreign national offenders through our prisons. People who commit offences in our country are then released back into our country, so the scale of the problem of foreign national offenders in Britain committing crimes amounts to more than 10,000.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Someone could argue that it is no good deporting foreign nationals if border control has no way of knowing whether people have got a criminal conviction; they will simply re-enter the country in no time at all. If deportation is to be meaningful, it seems to me that we have to do something different at the border control to make sure that these people cannot come straight back into the country again.
The 10,000 figure relates to prisoner numbers, but according to clause 1(4), far more than that would be caught by these provisions. It is not those who are sentenced that counts on the face of it, but those for whom a term of imprisonment for an offence “may be imposed” by a court, which means far more than 10,000.
Yes, indeed—and that is good news, as far as I am concerned. I am not sure that my hon. Friend would agree, but it is good news for me. I shall come back to the detail of that provision later because it raises an important point.
Interestingly, when it comes to this Bill, my hon. Friends have removed the provisions that make it applicable to someone sentenced only for 12 months or more, which was the intention of the 2007 Act. There had to be that trigger point, and the issue was raised in interventions earlier. I believe it important that the Bill removes the 12-month criterion. There are many reasons, but basically, I do not think we want any foreign criminals in the UK—whatever the length of prison sentence, which should be irrelevant.
This issue has led in some cases to what I would call dishonest sentencing. Sentences have been deliberately manipulated in order to avoid the deportation trigger. In the case of the Crown v. Hakimzadeh in 2009, the Court of Appeal approved an adjustment in the structure of the sentence in order to avoid the automatic deportation criterion, imposing instead two consecutive sentences of nine months and three months. This not only promotes dishonesty in sentencing, but undermines the basic principle of abiding by the law. In another case, a drug dealer was sentenced in the Inner London Crown Court in 2011. In sentencing him, the judge said:
“The sentence I have had in mind was 12 months, but it seems to me that it isn’t necessary for me to pass a sentence of 12 months, because a sentence of 11 months will have the same effect, and it would take away the automatic triggering of deportation. I have taken into account that if you were to be deported it is bound to have a devastating effect on your three children, who I’m told are lawfully here in the UK.”
So we have judges who are not giving the sentences they think should be given, on their admission, in order to avoid the 12-month trigger. That cannot be right.
My hon. Friend has highlighted two important and interesting cases where judges have explicitly stated their reasoning for giving a sentence lower than they might otherwise have done. Again, however, we are in danger of criticising lawyers and judges—a very popular thing to do—when it is in fact the law that must be clear. If this Bill is to pass, it must be absolutely clear, and it should be this place that determines the policy, not our judges.
I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, but he is being kind to judges, which is typical of the legal profession. On the same principle, MPs are always kind to the Speaker because they feel that something bad will happen to them if they start criticising. It seems to me that the law is clear. If someone is sentenced to prison for 12 months, they get deported. There is no problem with the clarity of the law. The problem is the judges manipulating the sentence to show a wilful disregard for the law.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; it is a scandal, whichever way we look at it. The person was given 11 months rather than 12 months, despite the fact that he had arrived in Britain in Christmas 2000— 11 years previously—when he was given permission to stay for only four days! He was convicted 11 years later.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the deliberate frustration of the will of elected parliamentarians in this place on behalf of the people is what brings politics into disrepute, when people subsequently blame us rather than the judges? They say, “It must be the politicians’ fault because our MPs did not put in place sufficiently strong pieces of legislation to stop this from happening.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is incumbent on us to point out when such things happen so that people can draw their own conclusions as to what the problem is. It seems that the law, which is clear and was created with all the right intentions—I do not criticise the previous Labour Government for that—has been thwarted by judges who have clearly decided that they do not agree with it. I have no problem with a judge who does not agree with a particular law, but if that is their position and if they want to affect the law, they should quit being a judge and try to get themselves elected to Parliament. They should not use their position to thwart the will of Parliament. That is not what they are for, but that is clearly what they are doing.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) about the qualifying offence is an issue that has arisen in previous debates in the House on these matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) raised the issue the last time that such a Bill was debated and also thought that the qualifying offence was perhaps a little too wide, which is something that we should consider today. The Bill states that the qualifying offence
“shall mean any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole quite rightly said and as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire said in a previous debate, that does not necessarily mean that the offender has to have been sent to prison, just that they have to have committed an offence that may be punishable with imprisonment.
The problem is that I am not entirely sure what that means. Other people may also not know what it means. Most importantly of all, judges may not know what it means. It could mean that if somebody is convicted of an offence that could lead to a prison sentence, they are automatically deported. That may well be the Bill’s intention; I get the impression from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that that is the intention, and I have no quibble with that. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I would prefer it to go a bit further and say that the imprisonment does not matter and that if anybody commits a criminal offence—full stop—they should be deported from the country. I would make it very simple so that there is no argument at all.
That is precisely the point that I wanted to make when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) to refer to the case in Crawley over the new year, in which an Afghan national, a Dutch resident, committed a violent offence against check-in staff at Gatwick airport and yet was released on to the streets of my constituency. Such measures would have prevented that from happening.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The problem is that we see all the time how difficult it is to be sent to prison in the UK. Someone either has to commit serious offences or be a persistent offender. Even if someone is a persistent offender, the chances are that they may not get sent to prison.
In fact, a while back, I asked a parliamentary question about the proportion who are sent to prison of people who come before the courts with 100 previous convictions. Would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker: if someone goes to court with more than 100 previous convictions, they are statistically more likely not to be sent to prison? If the Bill referred only to people on whom a term of imprisonment is imposed, that would be hopeless, because people will be getting away with crime after crime, being given community sentence after community sentence, and still causing havoc in the community.
As I have already suggested, an awful lot of things on the statute book are not being implemented by judges. Some offences do not carry a prison sentence, so that would not apply no matter how many strikes someone has. We now have a mandatory prison sentence for a second offence of possession of a knife, but we saw just this week that only half of the people to whom that should apply have been sent to prison. The House’s intention is clearly not being followed by the courts, which is why we have to make the law as clear cut as possible to avoid such problems in future.
Rather than bring in yet more legislation, should we not put pressure on judges to follow the current legislation? They are clearly failing in their duty to send to prison the people who should be sent to prison. It is also clear that we are regularly not deporting the people who should be deported.
I apologise to my hon. Friend if during my remarks I stressed my personal point of view, which is that if someone is sentenced to more than 12 months, they should be deported. I am not agonising too much about that. The problem is that so many of the people who are sentenced to more than 12 months are not being deported. Does my hon. Friend see that point? We should just concentrate on doing away with article 8 and getting our own Bill of Rights so that we can actually deport these serious criminals.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
For completeness, I should say that the Court of Appeal stated in R v. Mintchev:
“As a matter of principle it would not be right to reduce an otherwise appropriate sentence so as to avoid the”
automatic deportation provisions. A further clarification stated that
“automatic deportation provisions are not a penalty included in the sentence. They are instead a consequence of the sentence.”
My public service broadcasting message from today to judges is that they should look at the Court of Appeals judgment in that case, so that we do not end up with any other problems like that. There are many crimes for which sentences cannot be appealed, so it is important that judges deal with things the first time. We cannot always rely on the Court of Appeal.
I am sure that most judges in this country have my hon. Friend on their Twitter feed and will be updated instantly with his pronouncements in the House. Might it do a service to the country for the Ministry of Justice to recirculate to judges the findings in that case so that they are reminded of what the Court of Appeal has said?
I apologise for not being clear. The case was from the Court of Appeal in 2011 and was that of R v. Mintchev. I appreciate your seeking clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I fear that my Twitter feed would not be enough. I have 12,000 followers, all of whom hate me, so I am not entirely that the message would get across to my target audience.
As for how effective we currently are in removing foreign national offenders, the Public Accounts Committee released a report in January 2015 called “Managing and removing foreign nationals” that considered the effectiveness and efficiency of managing foreign offenders in UK prisons. I must say that the Committee’s summary was damning. It said:
“It is eight years since this Committee last looked at this issue. We are dismayed to find so little progress has been made in removing foreign national offenders from the UK. This is despite firm commitments to improve and a ten-fold increase in resources devoted to this work. The public bodies involved are missing too many opportunities to remove foreign national offenders early and are wasting resources, through a combination of a lack of focus on early action at the border and police stations, poor joint working in prisons, and inefficient caseworking in the Home Office.”
I will not go through all of the conclusions, but it was a damning report. We can clearly see that the system is not working.
When we consider the success rate of the Home Office in removing foreign criminals, we can see that it falls short of its own figures. The number of removals is very low compared with the number of referrals to immigration enforcement. Of the 5,262 referrals to the immigration enforcement team up to September 2015, only 2,855 people —50%—were removed. The Department was handed these people on a plate, but only half of them were removed.
I will not go into the figures for foreign national offenders in prison, because my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering went through them very clearly. His figures match mine and also match those of the National Audit Office. It is interesting to see why these removals fail. In its 2014 report, the National Audit Office concluded that 523 removals failed because of issues deemed to be within the control of the Home Office, and 930 failed removals were due to factors outside the control of the Home Office.
In 2013-14, of those reasons deemed to be within the Department’s control, 159 removals failed because emergency travel documents, EU letters or other documentation needed to transport the offender were unavailable. In seven cases, they failed because the tickets for travel had not been booked. It is a farce that someone had forgotten to book the tickets—you couldn’t make it up. How on earth that can happen, Lord only knows.
According to the NAO, the largest reason for failed removals that were deemed to be outside the Department’s control was offenders making an appeal outside the 28-day deadline. They might have submitted an asylum claim, a leave to remain claim or human rights claim. There might have been an injunction, a judicial review or representations received from a medical professional, a Member of Parliament or another Government Department. In 2013-14, 323 removals failed due to those reasons.
We have a situation where the Home Office is trying to kick someone out of the country, and another Government Department is working hard to keep them in the country, which does not say a great deal for joined-up Government. Perhaps the Minister can explain that. The National Audit Office produces a list of all the various failures, the reasons and how many there were for each, and I encourage people to look at it.
One problem is litigation. Indeed, in 2014, in response to an urgent question on this very subject, the Home Secretary said:
“The main problem we face is the rise of litigation; we have seen a 28% increase in the number of appeals.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 905.]
With an estimated £81 million spent in legal aid costs for foreign national offenders, it is clear that the whole process is not only time-consuming, but very expensive. In effect, the Government are paying to thwart the Government in deporting people from the country.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough mentioned the case of William Danga in his remarks, but let me explain that Danga was convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl. After completing his prison sentence, he challenged deportation on the grounds that he had a right to a family life. It was deemed that he could remain here because he had a girlfriend and a young child. This is someone who had raped what I would consider to be a child. Commenting on the case in 2011, a judge said that it was remarkable that he had not been deported for committing the rape. Clearly, there are some sensible judges around.
I raised this very issue with the Home Secretary in 2014, and suggested that, because we are not deporting people, we must ensure that we are tougher at the borders; and that we should take the DNA of foreign nationals who want to enter our country, which I thought was a small price to pay for keeping us safe.
Another concern is over foreign national offenders who are subject to deportation orders and who are then moved to open prisons—you couldn’t make it up. A foreign national has committed an offence and the Government clearly want to deport them, but the Ministry of Justice moves them into an open prison, where people can literally just walk out of the gates. Again, the Government have to do something about the scandal of foreign nationals subject to deportation orders doing that. In 2013 alone, 190 foreign national offenders absconded from our prisons. These are schoolboy mistakes in keeping tabs on people we want to deport.
This is the most interesting aspect of the whole subject that my hon. Friend is developing. He said that 190 foreign national offenders absconded from open prisons, but does he have the figures—perhaps the Minister could provide us with them later—for the number of foreign national offenders in open prisons subject to deportation orders at any one time?
I have that information somewhere, but it would try the patience of the House if I were to stand here rifling through my papers in order to find it. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the information is in the public domain. The Ministry of Justice holds that information and publishes it, so I hope that he will find it for himself. If I come across it, I will tell him, but that might be hard.
Perhaps the Minister can update the House when she responds, but what I am trying to get at is whether the figure of 190 is a large or small percentage of the number of foreign offenders in open prisons subject to deportation orders. What is my hon. Friend’s feel for the scale of that part of this problem?
It is not for me to answer for the Ministry of Justice, but it seems that the policy it adopts is that foreign national offenders are treated just like any other prisoner and, even if they are subject to a deportation order, will be sent to an open prison if they meet the criteria. One can understand that logic, but clearly there is a flaw in the procedure when somebody has an easy way of avoiding deportation.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the issue of cost, I want return to his point about lawyers. I am not trying to be kind or nice to lawyers or judges, but simply make the point that the cases he cites emphasise the need for us in this place to pass laws that are as clear and simple as possible so that the will of Parliament can be effected.