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Prisoners: Foreign Nationals

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many of the 1,013 foreign citizens released from prison without consideration for deportation have since been deported.

My Lords, deportation is occurring at higher volumes than ever before, with 2,240 individuals removed or deported since April 2006. Within the group of 1,013, we are pursuing deportation action against 675 individuals, and 163 have so far been deported.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply, but the latest report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee reveal not just that only 163 of the prisoners referred to in my Question have been deported, but also that, in the effort to get back behind bars the 1,013 who were wrongly released, British citizens have been mistaken for foreign prisoners and carted off to jail, foreign nationals have not been deported even when they have been desperate to return home, with one prisoner becoming suicidal after being wrongly kept in prison for seven months, and 1,300 foreign prisoners are still being detained after the expiry of their sentences, thus contributing to the prison overcrowding crisis. Does not this reveal the worst kind of administrative shambles, as the chief executive of NACRO said, and suggest that the Home Secretary has no better grip on his department than his predecessor?

My Lords, I cannot accept that that is the true reflection of where we are now. Noble Lords will know that no foreign national prisoners have been released without full deportation consideration being given to their case. We are speeding up the process of consideration. Deportation is now being considered four months before release in the majority of deportation cases, and deportations of foreign national prisoners are occurring at a higher volume than ever before. As at 12 February, 2,240 foreign national prisoners had been deported, as I indicated. So I cannot accept the noble Lord’s description. Furthermore, I think that it is right to say that Anne Owers accepted in her report that the system has improved. There is much to do, but much has certainly been done.

My Lords, if the Minister does not recognise my noble friend’s description, is she denying that British citizens have been wrongly targeted for deportation? Is she denying that the Government have on occasions during the past year had to pay out £55,000 in compensation for people wrongly detained? Wherein has my noble friend misdirected the House’s attention?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that Lin Homer, the director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, has now made four very full reports, the last of which was in February, detailing the precise number of those who have been removed and identified. The noble Baroness will see in those figures a small number of prisoners who were initially identified as foreign nationals. When proper investigation was then undertaken, it was demonstrated that they should not have been retained. Those issues have been clearly outlined. To suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, did, that my right honourable friend in charge of the Home Department does not have a grip is very far from the truth, as the House knows.

My Lords, the Minister said that the number was small, but will she say how many British nationals as opposed to foreign nationals were detained after they had completed their sentence? Also, is it not possible to identify the national status of an individual at the beginning of the sentence rather than waiting until the sentence has been completed?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. He will know that we are now adopting a process of early identification. We are looking at a number of systemic changes in order to accurately identify at the beginning of the process the nationality of the individual who is brought through the system. The noble Lord will also know that the difficulty that we have had historically, in each Administration, is that we have had self-identification, so that the individual will not necessarily be able to be challenged about their nationality. The details of the numbers are clearly set out in Lin Homer’s four reports and I invite the House to refresh their memory from those. There are copies in the Library.

My Lords, does the Minister challenge the accuracy of the detailed information given by my noble friend Lord Waddington?

My Lords, some of those figures have to be looked at within the context of the broader figures. My point was that this context is clearly set out in Lin Homer’s four full reports and that it would be far better for us to look at those. The figures were an issue of concern and as a result, as noble Lords will know, it was agreed that the director-general should set out these figures on a regular basis. It is very difficult to correlate figures pulled out from other reports away from the figures that she gives, because different dates give us different figures. That is why, although I am not specifically challenging, I am saying that one has to correlate those figures with the figures given by Lin Homer and the dates on which they were collected.

My Lords, how many prison places are still taken up by asylum seekers, or so-called failed asylum seekers, who have been detained without any charge being brought, purely pending removal? How long do we have to use prison for this purpose?

My Lords, we have no failed asylum seekers who are not foreign national prisoners in our prison estate. The noble Earl will know that there are in the removal centres those who are failed asylum seekers and who have not agreed to go voluntarily.