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Deportation Flight to Jamaica

Volume 671: debated on Monday 10 February 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary, as she leaves the Chamber, if she will make a statement on the suppression of the Windrush lessons learned review and its implications for the deportation flight that is set to leave the country on Wednesday.

Righting the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation has been an absolute priority for this Government. People who arrived in this country as little more than infants, and who built lives and raised families here, were told they were no longer welcome. That should never have happened, and it was a terrible mistake by successive Governments and by the Home Office.

Since these injustices came to light, the Government have moved swiftly to give those affected the certainty they need. That is why we set up a taskforce to help people confirm their status. I can confirm that over 8,000 people have been granted some form of documentation, including over 5,000 grants of citizenship, under the scheme.

We have also launched a compensation scheme to address the financial hardship suffered by those left unable to work or unable to access other support systems. To ensure nothing like this ever happens again, the previous Home Secretary commissioned an independent lessons learned review.

In recent days, news coverage has referenced extracts of a draft report, which were leaked in June 2019, in the context of a planned deportation charter flight to Jamaica. I am not going to comment on leaks, but let me be very clear that the lessons learned report has not been suppressed. The report has yet to be submitted to Ministers by the independent adviser, Wendy Williams. It will be for the Home Secretary to publish her report once it has been received.

It is vital that we allow Wendy Williams the time and space to produce her report without political interference. When it is available, the Home Office is committed to publishing it as soon as practically possible and will take its findings and any recommendations very seriously.

With regard to tomorrow’s charter flight, the Home Secretary is required by law to issue a deportation order for anyone who is a serious or persistent foreign national offender. It does not matter what part of the world they are from. Whether it is the United States, Jamaica, Australia or Canada, it is criminality, not nationality, that counts.

That legal requirement is set out in the UK Borders Act 2007, which was introduced under a Labour Government, and I remind the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) that he was a member of that Government and did not, as far as I can recall, raise objections at the time to the Act’s provisions.

We cannot breach the Act, and we will not allow foreign nationals who are convicted of the most serious offences, including rape and child sexual abuse, to remain in Britain. Tomorrow’s flight is about keeping the public safe, and it cannot and should not be conflated with the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation.

I regret the tone with which the Minister has responded to this urgent question. It is two years since there was consensus in this House on how the Windrush generation had been treated in this country. This is a generation of people, thousands of them, who came to this country after the second world war and gave so much but took so little.

Let me just remind the Minister: 164 people were detained and deported, which the Government say they got wrong. On the back of that, 5,000 people were denied access to public services, healthcare, pensions and education—all that they were entitled to. Against that backdrop, he is correct that the Government rightly set up the independent lessons learned review led by Wendy Williams. In the wake of that, they suspended flights to Jamaica. The question today is why have the Government resumed those flights?

In light of the scandal of people who arrived in this country as children, how can the Minister guarantee to the House that there are not people on this flight who are actually British nationals? In the wake of the leak, in which Wendy Williams herself says Ministers should not deport people under the age of 13, can he confirm that there are people on that flight who arrived in this country aged two, three, five or 11? He gives the House the impression that they are murderers and rapists, but he knows that many of them were convicted of non-violent offences.

We in this House cannot condemn county lines and those who would pimp young black children in this country and, at the same time, send those same children back to Jamaica for such drug offences. So I ask the Minister: when will we see this lessons learned review? It was promised in March last year. It was then delayed until September. We are almost two years on now, and people watching see the way in which this Government hold in such disrespect the contribution of West Indian, Caribbean and black people in this country. When, when will black lives matter once again?

Let us start with the review and when it will come. Ultimately, this is an independent review and the timing is in the hands of the reviewer. Ministers cannot compel it to be produced by a particular date. Let us be clear: on the status check, there are no British nationals on that flight. Let us also be clear that the foreign national offenders on the flight have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison. As we said, the offences relate to everything from sex offending to serious drug trafficking offences, violent offences and firearms offences. That is what is happening in this instance and, aside from two cases, it is based on legislation passed under a Labour Government, in 2007. To define the Windrush generation by this particular group of offenders is truly wrong. The Windrush generation should be defined by the midwife who delivered hundreds of babies; the person who travelled thousands of miles, worked hard and provided for their family for decades. The line being adopted by the Opposition now is remarkable: that somehow that generation is defined by serious or persistent criminal offenders who are being deported from this country. Many listening to the exchanges this afternoon will think that the Labour party not only lost an election, but lost the plot as well.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the views and feelings of victims of crime are taken into account in our criminal justice system and how it operates?

Yes, I do. Given the provisions of the law that have been in place for the past 13 years, many will expect that when someone is convicted of a type of offence that many of those on this flight have committed, deportation may well proceed. Let us be clear: drugs are not a victimless crime; we need only look at the death rates, particularly the tragic figures we had last year in Scotland, to see their impact. As I say, the law is there and the law is clear, and it is not a “might”, a “may” or a “could”; it was legislated in 2007 that it was a “must” issue a deportation order.

The public will note the very dismissive attitude that the Minister has taken to the serious urgent question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). One problem with this deportation flight is that it is not clear how many people on it came to this country as children. The Minister said he will not comment on leaks from the Windrush lessons learned review. Will he accept that the Stephen Shaw review of detention suggests we should not deport people who came here as children? Is the Minister aware that some of the proposed deportees have, in effect, been held incommunicado because of problems with the mobile signal in their detention centre? Is he aware that one thing the Windrush scandal teaches us is that, when we deport people in this way, we need to be absolutely certain about their immigration status? Clearly, none of them is of the Windrush cohort, but some of them may be the children and grandchildren of the Windrush cohort, which would have made it difficult for them to establish their nationality. Is the Minister aware of the very real concern in the community about this mass deportation flight? His dismissive attitude suggests an altogether dismissive attitude to the concerns of the community and what is problematic about this mass deportation flight.

I agree with the shadow Home Secretary that it is right that extensive checks are made before people are listed for deportation on a flight such as the one we are discussing. Let us be clear: these are offenders who have been through the courts and sentenced. There will have been opportunities to make representations against their removal and, as the right hon. Lady will know, there are exemptions in the 2007 Act that apply in respect of, for example, the refugee convention or the European convention on human rights. Those matters have been considered and many of the offenders have lodged appeals. Again, I am clear that the public would look at this debate and say that these are persistent or serious criminal offenders. The law is clear and it is a statutory “must” that the Home Secretary make a deportation order. The law is applied based on the criminality, not the nationality, of the offender. There are regular deportations to many other countries around the world. We will consider the review, but we will also be clear that victims and the public have a right to be protected from serious criminals.

Order. I should tell the House that I am aiming to run the urgent question for around 45 minutes.

Surely voters throughout the country for all parties would expect serious and persistent offenders to be deported in accordance with the law. Will my hon. Friend tell the House the minimum threshold at which somebody becomes classified as a serious and persistent offender, so that we can understand the criteria being applied to put people on these flights?

Normally, the definition of a serious offence would be one that has attracted a sentence of 12 months in prison. On persistence, the nature of the offences would be considered. There is not a particular number that somebody would have to hit; it would be about the nature of their offending patterns. As my hon. Friend says, the public would expect serious or persistent offenders who are liable to be deported under the 2007 Act to be removed from this country unless the exceptions apply.

I agree that it is hugely troubling that the lessons learned review has not yet been published. It is totally unacceptable that this charter flight could proceed before all the lessons of Windrush are learned. Windrush should change everything; instead, the Home Office carries on as if nothing has changed.

Will the Minister admit that the flight will include people who were entitled to British nationality—including one individual who was in the care system—but could not access it because of complicated and expensive nationality procedures? When will access to British citizenship finally be made affordable and simple? Does the Minister accept that many on the flight have a far stronger connection to Britain than to Jamaica? As Stephen Shaw would put it, many are more British than they are Jamaican. Will the Minister confirm that the flight will leave 41 British children separated from their fathers and nine British citizens without partners or husbands? Is it not time to look at the legislation again?

Finally, written answers confirm that the Home Office has taken absolutely no interest in what happened to the people on its last charter flight to Jamaica. Is that not the height of irresponsibility?

Again, I am clear that we have checked that there is no one on the flight who would be eligible for British citizenship or nationality. We would not be able to deport them if they were. The cases have been through the courts. Again, I should make it clear that the law is very clear, the offences committed are very clear and we are very clear that the Home Office applies the rules based on the criminality, not the nationality, of the offender.

Does the Minister agree that shrill virtue signalling and faux outrage ignore the political and legal realities of the issue? My parents emigrated to the UK from Commonwealth countries in the 1960s and could have been caught up in the Windrush issue. Thankfully, they were not. The Government have apologised for this issue and are taking remedial action on it. Will the Minister confirm that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right? Those foreign national offenders who abuse their time here need to face the full force of the law.

Clearly, those with British citizenship would not be liable for deportation, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should not define the Windrush generation by a group of people who have committed serious offences or been persistent criminal offenders. The Windrush generation is the midwife who delivered hundreds of babies, the person who worked hard to provide for their family—that is who defines that generation, not serious offenders.

The Minister’s tone and his response to this urgent question have been quite shameful. My constituent came here from Jamaica when he was five years old and all of his family lives here. He is set to be deported on this flight tomorrow, having served a seven-month custodial sentence in 2015. Given the leaked “lessons learned” review issues, is it not right that the Minister, the Home Secretary and the Government take stock and halt this flight just to make sure that they do not inflict any further harm? This mistake has been made before—people were deported and they ended up dead.

Yes, we do want to make sure that we prevent further harm—further harm to future victims of crime that may be committed by the persistent or serious offenders who are on this flight. As I have said, the law is very clear. It is rather strange that a Conservative Minister should come under this type of attack, as we are defending and outlining legislation that was actually pushed by the Labour party.

It would not be right for me to go into the details of the offences that individuals have committed, yet I can say that those on board include people who have been convicted of rape—rape of children—firearms offences, and serious drug offences. As I have said, the legislation is clear about what the exceptions are, and, again, those will have been assessed before the final deportation notices were issued.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says that it has become aware that potential victims of trafficking have also been served with removal directions. Will the Minister please confirm with a clear yes or no whether there will be victims of human trafficking on this flight?

Any claims made for the protection routes will have been assessed, but, again, we are talking about a planeful of people who have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison and have committed serious offences. Decisions are based on the exceptions under the UK Borders Act 2007, and that is the law with which we will comply.

A number of my Chelmsford constituents have written to me about this case. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the court case that was heard in Chelmsford last year regarding protesters against a previous flight. With that in mind, and given that we do have a legal duty to deport persistent and serious offenders, can he assure me that he personally has looked at each individual case, and that each one involves a persistent or serious offender?

Yes, I have been through the manifest, but it would not be appropriate for me to discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House. Let me be clear: the decisions on all these cases will have been based on professional assessments, on the law and on where they fall around the exceptions, including things such as the right to a family life under the European Court of Human Rights.

“Never again” we were told by those on the Government Benches when they were dragged to this place over the first Windrush scandal. Now we are hearing that lessons learned in that report are again falling on deaf ears. Ultimately, we on the Labour Benches know that this Windrush case is state-sanctioned racism, and it has given permission to racists across this country to attack people day in, day out. When will the Minister understand that this flight must be stopped, or on his head be it?

Well, I do listen to some of the comments from those on the Opposition Benches. It would be on our head if we stopped the flight because we would not be complying with our legal duties. We would be seeing persistent and serious offenders remain in this country when they should have been deported under an Act passed by a Labour Government. I must say that many people listening to this will agree with this Government that it is the criminality, not the nationality, that should be determining what happens in this case.

Does the Minister agree that the legal duty on the Government to do the right thing to keep the public safe by removing serious criminals from this country is completely separate from our duty to do the right thing by the Windrush generation who helped to rebuild this country after the war?

I could not have put it better myself. The Windrush generation has made a huge contribution to this country, and it is absolutely unbelievable that some on the Opposition Benches want to define them by a group of foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison. It is truly remarkable.

A number of those facing deportation tomorrow were found guilty of drug-related offences and have served their time. Meanwhile, we have a Prime Minister who has said that he took cocaine, which is a class A drug. Is it one rule for some and another for others?

No, it is a law that looks at the criminality, not the nationality, of the offender. It is safe to say that possession would not meet the threshold for deportation set in 2007, with the support of some Members sitting opposite me.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the people on the flight tomorrow are not only serious or persistent offenders, but all adults who were convicted as adults and not as young offenders?

One of the exemptions under the Act to having to make a deportation order is where the offender was under 18 when they were convicted, but there is no one under 18 on the flight tomorrow.

Will the Minister provide the House with some facts, in particular the individual sentences and the offences of those on the flight; the age at which they came to this country; and whether any of them were affected by the lack of mobile phone coverage, which the Home Office recognises was an issue?

The offences all meet the threshold for deportation set under the 2007 Act by the Government the right hon. Lady was a member of. Their cases, including whether there are ECHR rights that apply, have been considered by the courts. We are clear that they have committed serious offences or been persistent offenders, who qualify under the Home Secretary’s legal duty. This is within the law, and, as we say, it is about criminality, not nationality.

Is not the point that there is a difference between foreign nationals who come to this country, who make a contribution and who are law abiding and those who are serious or persistent offenders? Can my hon. Friend confirm that the offences committed by those on the flight include manslaughter, rape, drug dealing and robbery? These are serious and persistent offenders.

Yes, these are all serious or persistent offenders. The offences committed by those on board include rape of minors, rape of adults and serious drugs offences. That is why we are required to issue a deportation notice.

How many of the people scheduled to go on the flight have had their mental state assessed? A number of them are vulnerable. After what happened in the Windrush scandal, does the Minister think it is fair to continue to treat people in this way?

Anyone entering immigration detention is assessed as part of our adults at risk policy where there is a concern, but let me be clear: these are people who have been through the criminal justice process, some on a number of occasions; they have completed sentences and are now liable under the law to deportation. They have been judged on their criminality, not their nationality, but there are exemptions provided for in the 2007 Act.

Parliament in 2007 passed legislation to require the Government to deport those guilty of serious or persistent offences. In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend agree with me that, were the Government not to do it, they would be liable to judicial review?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. As he said, we are under a legal duty to make the deportation order based on the criminality, not the nationality. Potentially, we would have to answer to future victims if we adopted the policy that is advocated by Labour Members now but not supported by some of them when their party was in government.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) noted, in the Windrush scandal British citizens have been wrongly deported. Why will the Minister not consider the possibility that the deportations should be suspended until the lessons learned review has been received and considered?

We have considered whether any of the people involved would benefit from protections under the Windrush scheme. The answer is no, none of them is a British citizen or British national. Ultimately, we have a legal duty to remove serious or persistent criminal offenders, some of whom have committed appalling crimes in this country. I recognise the legal duty this Government have, as does the Home Secretary, and we will fulfil it.

I thank the Minister for confirming that all those set to be deported are not British nationals. Does he agree that it is right that we can deprive foreign offenders of British citizenship when they harm and endanger our communities? Drug offences are not some unconscionable crime, they are serious —look at the scourge of county lines. Can he confirm that the majority of foreign offenders are in fact deported to the EU?

It does have to be said that the majority of deportations are to the EEA, and, as I touched on in my initial answer, we deport criminals who meet the thresholds regularly every week to a range of countries. As we keep on saying—I will say it again—it is the criminality, not the nationality that determines the outcome in each case.

One of the individuals facing deportation tomorrow came to the UK aged five. He committed a crime aged 17 and did the time many, many years ago. Is it fair to punish people for mistakes they have already paid for?

When Parliament passed the UK Borders Act 2007, under the proposals of the then Government it would have considered whether it is appropriate to apply deportation orders to those who are serious or persistent offenders as part of the penalty for the crime. I believe the vast majority of the public think that is right.

Does my hon. Friend agree that attempts to play party political games with the Windrush scandal are shameful, especially given the fact that a National Audit Office report recognised that the hostile environment dated back to 2004 under the previous Labour Government?

I think it is extraordinary to see people wanting to conflate a group of foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to a total of 300 years’ imprisonment with a generation who have made such a huge contribution to this country. The Home Office will be guided by the law, not party political points.

Does the Minister agree that if the lessons learned review that was leaked is correct, in deporting 50 people tomorrow the Government will be going against their own recommendations in their own report, which has reportedly stated that those who have lived in the UK since childhood should not be deported?

Does the Minister agree that the Opposition should focus on the appalling criminal behaviour of the perpetrators, and not on the Government for simply implementing the law?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I think many people across many constituencies will be stunned by the attitude that some Labour Members are taking today.

Will the Minister confirm that 50 people are booked on the flight to Jamaica tomorrow, and will he tell us how many of those have been in the UK since childhood?

I will not get into individual cases or numbers, but I am clear that all those due for deportation meet the legal threshold supported by the House in 2007.

I think we need to clarify that we are in a situation where Opposition Members are seemingly campaigning against Labour policy, so does my hon. Friend agree that foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes in Britain should be in no doubt about our intention to deport them?

Absolutely. Those committing criminal offences in this country should have no doubt that I and the Home Secretary will ensure that they face the penalties prescribed by law, and they will be judged on their criminality, not their nationality.

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, I am deeply concerned by some of the implications of this flight. The Minister did not answer the question from the Chair of the Select Committee, so can I ask whether he is aware of the outages of phone signal at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration removal centres exposed by Detention Action, and whether all the people on the flight had access to functioning mobile phones so that they might access legal representation?

It has to be said that one of the people on the flight did a TV interview this morning, so there is provision for communications. Again, we have met the legal thresholds and the legal test. Ultimately, this is about whether we wish to deport serious or persistent offenders who have committed a range of offences. Many people will be watching with astonishment the attitude on the Opposition Benches.

Can the Minister tell us whether any of the people scheduled for deportation tomorrow have had access to legal advice and representation?

As I have touched on, they have all been through the criminal justice system. Many have had quite extensive legal provision afterwards, and they have been assessed on everything else. I say yet again that we are complying with the law set in 2007. The hon. Lady can shake her head, but it is the law that her Labour predecessors voted for.

What reassurance can the Minister give us that those who needed legal aid had access to it, given the background of cuts to legal aid over the last 10 years?

In the criminal process, there would have been opportunities to access legal aid. We have met our legal duties, and we have met the appropriate assessment around whether any of the individuals meet any of the exemptions. Ultimately, these are serious or persistent criminal offenders who, in some cases, present an ongoing threat to people in this country. We will put our legal duties first and protect the public, despite the calls from the Labour party.

I deeply regret the wilfully obtuse attitude taken by the Minister and others on the Government Benches regarding this issue. He should not hide behind the 2007 law on deportation when he knows full well that our concerns relate to our expectation that the independent review will say, when it is published, that those who came to this country as children should not be deported. This flight should not go ahead before that review and its recommendations are officially published in full. Surely he can see that that is the only way we will know that we have not deported our own citizens.

I repeat that there is no British citizen on that flight, and the potential eligibility for Windrush protections has been checked. As a Minister I remember that not so many months ago we were getting lectures from the Opposition about following the law and the rule of law, but now we are hearing the argument that we should not. We are not hiding behind the 2007 law; it is our duty to implement the 2007 law. It is really quite extraordinary to see the reactions from the party that brought it in.

Will the Minister describe to the House exactly how the Government have carried out their duty under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to ensure that any child affected by an immigration decision has their welfare properly considered? Does he know how many of those who are leaving the country on this flight have the care of, responsibility for or close family relationships with children in Britain?

When matters have been raised around family or dependent children, they have been professionally assessed before the decision has been taken to put someone on a deportation flight. Of course, when that is done, the nature of the criminality and the offences of some of those involved will be taken into account.

The problem with all the Minister’s answers is that he is asking us to trust a Department and a system that have been found to have had repeated and costly failures. He admitted to me himself in answer to a written question just a couple of weeks ago that the Home Office had wrongly detained 312 people at a cost of £8.2 million in compensation in just one year, 2018-19. That was up from 212 cases, costing £5 million, in 2017-18. He still refuses to give us the statistics on wrongful deportations and the costs associated with them. When will he come clean about how much money the Department has paid out for wrongfully deporting people—including, as it has done in the past, one of my own constituents?

Let me be clear about the facts of tomorrow’s flight, which are: a total of about 300 years of sentences of imprisonment for those on board, the nature of the offences committed and the existence of the legal duty. The Government will follow the law. Our system is based on criminality, not nationality. Ultimately, the real failure would be if we left the public to face the consequences of our not removing some persistent and serious criminals.