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Prisoners: Foreign Nationals

Volume 771: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public over the last three years have been foreign national prisoners eligible, pursuant to Section 119 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, for removal from the United Kingdom at the end of their tariff terms without a direction from the Parole Board for their release, and what proportion of such prisoners have in the fact been removed without such a direction.

My Lords, from May 2012, when the tariff- expired removal scheme was commenced, up to 31 March of this year, 261 prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection have been removed under that scheme—that is, without a direction from the Parole Board. A further five such prisoners have been eligible for removal but officials decided that they did not meet the criteria, while 16 have been approved for removal but are awaiting the settling of their removal directions.

I am grateful to the Minister for those figures but I am sure that he will readily understand the sense of injustice and frustration, not to say anger, felt by UK domestic IPP prisoners at this preferential treatment which is accorded to foreign national prisoners. It is preferential because, of course, the foreign national prisoners do not have to satisfy the Parole Board that they can safely be released. Would the Minister agree to see the Lord Chancellor and try to persuade him that this is yet another reason for the Lord Chancellor to exercise his powers, also given under Section 128 of LASPO, to modify the test which the Parole Board applies in the case of the domestic IPP prisoners so that, hopefully, some of them, too, may gain the earlier release that at the moment is given only to these foreign prisoners?

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is a champion of those who have been imprisoned under the IPP scheme brought in by the previous Labour Government. The position is that this Government are committed, as I think all Governments before them were, to removing foreign criminals to their own countries where possible. They must be punished but not at the expense of British taxpayers. Therefore they are removed when the relevant section permits their removal. Of course the Secretary of State actively considers the position that he has a power to change the release test but, at the moment, he is not satisfied that it is appropriate to do so.

My Lords, in view of the totally unsatisfactory ongoing position with regard to IPP prisoners, will the Minister convey to the Secretary of State that if the Secretary of State is not willing to take and use the powers at his disposal, he should consider appointing a senior judge to review the working of this system in order to get justice for people who are quite clearly not getting it at present?

We have reduced by 584 the number of IPP prisoners in the last year. There is an indeterminate sentence prisoners co-ordination group, run by NOMS, where close examination is taking place of all serving IPP prisoners. Efforts are made to accelerate their access to the appropriate courses, and we have removed backlogs from the Parole Board. We think that everything is being done to make sure that those who are safe to be released are being released when the Parole Board decides.

My Lords, today we have further evidence of prison overcrowding from another shocking inspection report of Wormwood Scrubs, which holds 35 indeterminate sentence prisoners. It makes the obvious recommendation that single cells should not be used for more than one prisoner. Will the Government now recognise that the injustice of keeping IPP prisoners beyond their tariffs serves only to add to the scandal of holding prisoners in overcrowded, squalid and understaffed prisons?

The noble Lord refers to the report on Wormwood Scrubs, which I entirely accept shows a distressing picture. As he and the House will know, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are determined to improve our prison system, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given £1.3 billion to enable that to happen. It will not happen overnight, but I am sure the House will accept the Government’s sincerity and determination to deal with some of the most unattractive aspects of our prison system.

My Lords, I fully accept that the Government have been trying to find a solution to the problem of these unfortunate prisoners, but the fact remains that it is now coming up to the fourth year since the power to impose IPP sentences was removed. That is far too long a period when, as was indicated at the time, these sentences put on a prisoner the impossible task of proving that he is not a danger. That is the real heart of the problem. Unless something is done to tackle that, does the Minister recognise that there will be a substantial further period before the last of these prisoners are released?

My Lords, the House of course greatly respects the noble and learned Lord for his experience in this area, but it is a matter for the equally experienced Parole Board to decide whether or not it is safe to release these prisoners. It must not be forgotten that, in each of the cases, the relevant judge sentenced the defendant in accordance with the then existing powers for the protection of the public. It therefore becomes incumbent upon the Parole Board to decide whether it is safe to release them, notwithstanding the fact that they may have a short-tariff sentence. It would be easy of course for the Government to wash their hands of this, but they have taken a responsible view to unravelling this unfortunate provision, which was brought in by the previous Labour Government.

My Lords, it is probably not the moment for me to confess that I was the Home Secretary who introduced the idea. The original intention, which I hope is understood, was that only those who posed a really serious risk to the population would be subject to such orders. That did not come about, and I regret that very strongly. But is it not a fact that what is lacking are the courses and therapy to allow the Parole Board to make the necessary decisions as quickly as possible. so that the overly prolonged incarceration of many of these prisoners can come to an end?

I entirely accept that the intention was to protect the public and that this provision caught in the net rather more prisoners than it was expected to catch. It must be remembered, of course, that these courses are important because they can provide evidence that a prisoner has grappled with a particular problem, whether it is sex offending, violence, drugs or whatever it might be. It is not a prerequisite for their release that they have to have attended these courses, although it may provide some evidence. Equally, the fact that you attend a course does not guarantee your release. We have increased the availability of courses to these prisoners. I am aware that a letter was written to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, by my noble friend Lady Evans when this matter was last raised. I will ensure that that letter is placed in the Library. It gives a list of all the various courses which are now available to those prisoners.