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Prisoners: Foreign Nationals

Volume 687: debated on Monday 27 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many of the 1,023 foreign national criminals who were released from prison between February 1999 and March 2006 without the appropriate consideration of deportation or removal action had served sentences for crimes of violence; and how many have since been deported.

My Lords, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate’s director-general updated the Home Affairs Committee on 9 October regarding the 1,013 foreign national prisoners released without deportation consideration. That update outlined the progress being made in dealing with those who committed the most or more serious offences. The director-general explained that 38 of the 43 most serious offenders and two-thirds of the 146 more serious offenders have had their cases resolved or brought under control.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer, as far as it goes. Of the kidnappers, arsonists, rapists, drug traffickers and murderers who the Government say were among the 1,023 criminals released without proper consideration of deportation, should the public not be told in plain language how many in each category have been rounded up and deported, and how many are still unaccounted for? Is it not correct that such progress as has been made in rounding these people up has been at the expense of the campaign to get rid of failed asylum seekers? In the past few months, the number of failed asylum seekers still in the country has actually gone up.

My Lords, we have made those details available, which is why the director-general made her regular reports. The details were contained in her statement. For the purposes of clarity, 20 individuals from that group have been detained, eight have been granted bail by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, four have been removed from the UK, a decision has been made not to deport seven, and five of the most serious are currently not under control. Those figures were given, and we are determined to drive them down.

We have two important issues. First, we must ensure that offenders are dealt with appropriately and not released until the issue of their deportation has been settled. Secondly, we must deal with the tipping point. Both of those issues are being worked at with great energy.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that what is, after all, just a shortcoming on the part of the Home Office will not be used to undermine the Human Rights Act 1998 in any way?

My Lords, the Human Rights Act is certainly not being undermined. I hear what the noble Lord says about shortcomings at the Home Office. I reassure the House that these issues are decades old, and the Government are tackling them with great energy.

My Lords, is it not within the power of judges, in sentencing, to order deportation at the end of a sentence? Have they been reminded that they have this power?

My Lords, the noble Countess is right that judges have that power. We are making strenuous efforts to ensure that people’s nationality is accurately identified. Many do not disclose their nationality at the inception of proceedings. We are doing as much as we can to ensure that that is changed.

My Lords, what proportion of prisoners are foreign nationals? What was the percentage when the Government came to office some 10 years ago?

My Lords, the figures are fluid and I therefore want to give them accurately. About 10,000 prisoners purport to be foreign nationals. I put it that way because some will be EEA, Irish and Commonwealth nationals who will have rights to reside in this country under rules made under the last Administration, giving permission for people to remain after 1973. I shall write to the noble Lord about the figures for those who were here before 1997.

My Lords, why was the specialist group set up to track down these prisoners disbanded only a few weeks after it was established, when only 86 of the 1,023 prisoners had been found?

My Lords, the group was disbanded to ensure that another took over. The system we put in place was to deal with these issues effectively. We took strenuous efforts to identify all these individuals, and identified the majority.

My Lords, in her answer to me, the Minister referred to a “tipping point”. Will she remind noble Lords what she was talking about? Was it not an undertaking by the Government that they would work for a situation where more failed asylum seekers were being removed from the country than were coming into the system as newly processed failed asylum seekers? Is the truth not that the Government have failed dismally in reaching that tipping point?

My Lords, it is not true that the Government have failed dismally. The noble Lord will know that for two quarters the tipping point was met and, in fact, surpassed. In the past two quarters, there has been more difficulty, and the tipping point has been narrowly missed. But the energy to get us to the stage where we are deporting more people than are making applications is certainly continuing and has been invigorated in the past year to make sure that the target is met.