Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to reports that five foreign nationals who were due to be deported to Jamaica have since been reprieved.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, it would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases, particularly those subject to ongoing legal proceedings. It may be helpful to know that a number of factors impact on a person’s planned removal from the UK. This does not mean that the original decision to remove the individual was incorrect. If barriers to their removal are resolved and they are not granted a form of leave, the person remains subject to deportation as required under the UK Borders Act 2007.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Yet, lawyers representing some of those due to be deported say that the reprieve is permanent. Yesterday, I asked the Minister how the Government could be sure that those they intended to deport as foreign national offenders were actually foreign nationals, bearing in mind the mistakes that had been made with the Windrush generation. The Minister said that she had been assured that all those being deported were foreign nationals. Yesterday, in the other place, the Home Secretary said that the law required him to deport foreign nationals convicted of serious offences and that if he did not deport them, he would be breaking the law. As I say, overnight it has been reported that five of those due to be deported are no longer going to be deported. Can the Minister explain: did the Government mislead the House, or has the Home Secretary broken the law?
I have not misled the House, nor has the Home Secretary broken the law. I thought I had made clear in my original Answer that the original decision to remove an individual is not incorrect, but there may be factors that need to be resolved, such as fresh asylum claims and other reasons why a fresh appeal might be lodged, which might mean that someone is not deported but might ultimately be deported. Therefore, neither is true.
My Lords, while I accept that deportation must remain an option for the Government, some of the decisions to deport people that I have seen reported look extremely harsh. How can we be confident that the Home Office is being just in its application of the deportation policy generally?
My Lords, I have to say that it was under a Labour Government that the UK Borders Act 2007 was brought in. A deportation order must be made in respect of a foreign criminal sentenced to a period of more than 12 months, and we will not resile from that—I am sure the noble Lord would not expect us to do so. This was what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was referring to when he made his comment yesterday about not wanting to break the law.
My Lords, the implication of what the Minister said, a bit like what the Home Secretary said yesterday, is, “Oh, this is a law that Labour brought in. We are being forced to do it, because Labour did it”. If you do not agree with that law, why have you not got rid of it? Why use petty party points on a serious issue like this?
My Lords, there was a very good example of petty party points in the other place yesterday. It is not that the Home Secretary does not agree with the law; the Home Secretary is abiding by the law.
My Lords, within the last few days I met a man who has lived in the UK for 41 years, since the age of four. He was due to be deported to Jamaica, but then his deportation was cancelled, which is obviously good news. Does the Minister think this is a just way for this country to conduct its deportation policies? How many more people are in the pipeline to be deported day after day, and which we are only hearing about in the newspapers? Somehow the Government are in denial that they have any responsibility to take care of these people.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will understand that I will not comment on an individual case. She is absolutely right that deportations go on all the time. Although this flight has come to the fore in the media this week, it is nothing unusual. I cannot comment on whether this deportation has been cancelled or not.
Does the Minister agree that one of the weaknesses in the Government’s position over the Windrush scandal was that it demonstrated evidence of a “Gotcha!” culture in the immigration service and in the Home Office? Achieving a deportation was chalked up as a victory by the staff concerned. Can she reassure us that that culture has now gone and that some of the worst aspects of the Windrush problem will not recur?
The noble Lord is right to make this point. When the Home Secretary first took up his post, he made it a central priority that that culture of a hostile environment—which had grown up over the years, if we are to be honest—would be far more attuned towards talking about a compliant environment and that the culture in the Home Office would be changed to be far more humane. That was demonstrated in the aftermath of what happened to the Windrush people. I hope this continues towards those who genuinely have a right to be in this country.
My Lords, while it is welcome that the new Home Secretary has made this a central plank, there is continuing concern as these cases continue to bubble up. Can the Minister assure us that the Home Secretary is having a series of meetings not just with the high commissioners of these various Caribbean islands, but also with community representatives? May I remind my noble friend that a considerable proportion of these people, particularly of this generation, are involved in faith communities? Maybe reaching out to these leaders would help resolve some of these cases more swiftly.
My noble friend makes a good point. The Home Secretary has been in touch with the high commissioners. Of course, local—particularly Caribbean—communities are best placed to know where people who need help can seek it and where cases can be dealt with. We have reached out to all these Caribbean communities and beyond in order to encourage people to come forward to get the help which they might need to resolve their status.
My Lords, there is a real need to have cultural understanding of individuals who are being investigated. There needs to be public confidence that people are being treated fairly. How many BAME people are Home Office officials working on these cases to give the public the confidence they need?
I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Baroness’s exact question, but I will find out what proportion of BAME staff work in the Home Office and let her know that.
My Lords, just for clarification, will the Minister explain that, when a foreign national is convicted of a criminal offence and receives a sentence of, I think, more than two years, they then qualify for deportation? It is probably a matter for the judge to make a recommendation and then the Home Office takes over to see whether there are any mitigating circumstances. Is that correct?
It is actually a sentence of more than 12 months, but certainly Article 8 considerations are taken into consideration before someone is deported. The provision exists under the UK Borders Act to deport people who have been sentenced to 12 months’ or more imprisonment.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will return to her previous answer on the subject of the hostile environment, which I think she described as having grown up over many years. My recollection—on which I am sure she will correct me if I am wrong—is that in fact the policy may have had a number of aspects, but it was named and prosecuted under the previous Government, and the Home Secretary at the time was the current Prime Minister.
We could have a debate about this, but I understand that the phrase was actually coined by Alan Johnson, but I shall not start on party-political exchanges because, the phrase having been coined, the culture of hostility grew up over a number of years. We could argue the semantics of it, but it grew up over a number of years. Compliance on immigration matters is far more important than a hostile culture within the Home Office or anywhere else.
My Lords, it is certainly my experience from business that it takes several years to change a culture in a company. Can the Minister explain to the House what is practically been done—I do not want to use the phrase re-education—in terms of training? Are programmes under way, or is this just Ministers telling people not to enforce the policy any longer?
The noble Lord will know from his experience that the person who sets the culture in an organisation is the leadership, and I think the Home Secretary made it abundantly clear when he came into post that the hostile environment was no longer to be, but the noble Lord is right: it takes time for these things to change.