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Planned Deportation Flight to Jamaica

Volume 801: debated on Monday 10 February 2020


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the response to an Urgent Question given by my honourable friend the Immigration Minister in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“Thank you, Mr Speaker. 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, who had built lives and raised families here, were told that they were no longer welcome. This should never have happened. 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 task force 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 redress the financial hardship suffered by those left unable to work or to access other support systems. To ensure nothing like this ever happens again, the former Home Secretary commissioned an independent lessons learned review.

In recent days, news coverage has referenced extracts of a draft report that were leaked in June last year 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: the lessons learned report has not been suppressed. The report is 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 is 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 which part of the world they are from, whether it is the United States, Jamaica, Australia or Canada; it is criminality, not nationality, which counts. It is a legal requirement, as set out in the UK Borders Act 2007, introduced under a Labour Government. Just to remind the right honourable Member for Tottenham, he was a member of that Government and did not, as far as I recall, raise objections at the time to its 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. It cannot and should not be conflated with the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer given in the other place to an Urgent Question earlier today. When will the Windrush lessons learned review be published? Why are there delays in getting this report to the Home Office? Can she tell the House what the Government’s position will be when the report is published if it comes to light that, as a consequence of recommendations in the report, individuals on the flight tomorrow, or on other deportation flights, include people in categories that would not be recommended for deportation?

As the noble Lord will know, I cannot pre-empt what the report will say, nor would he expect me to. As to when it will be published, the lessons learned review was commissioned by the Government but we would not wish to interfere in the process and tell Wendy Williams when to hand it over to us. However, as I outlined in the Statement, when we get the report, there will be a full government response.

My Lords, the lessons learned review may well throw up the question of those who came to this country as infants and are therefore more British than they are foreign. Yesterday, on the “Andrew Marr Show”, the Justice Secretary was asked whether the Windrush generation are British, and he said yes. But when asked why some of these people were being deported, he then said, “Because they are foreign nationals.” I think there is some confusion there.

Will the Minister tell us specifically whether reports are true that those facing deportation tomorrow include the vulnerable and those with medical conditions, such as a former UK soldier who was medically discharged and a blind man who has been told that his elderly grandmother can take care of him? Reports from those who have tried to legally represent these people claim that there are potential victims of human trafficking among the 50. Can the House be reassured that victims of human trafficking are not among them? What assessment has been made of those with disabilities and medical conditions, who are vulnerable, of their fitness to fly and whether they should be deported? Should there not be a proper assessment before they are deported tomorrow?

I thank the noble Baroness for those questions. None of them is a British citizen. Those who have been detained and will be removed on the flight are not eligible for the Windrush scheme. It is right—in fact, we are legally obliged—to deport foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK. That ensures that we keep the public safe. As the noble Baroness will probably know, the Home Office removes tens of foreign national offenders each week, applying the same consideration and with the same legal recourses as in these cases. She is absolutely right to point out instances of human trafficking. It will all be done in the round when assessing a decision to deport. She is also right about mental health issues: we have a duty to consider some of those human rights considerations when we deport people.

My Lords, following on from the previous question, will the Minister consider whether or not it is appropriate for this country to seek to deal with the offences and aftermath of those brought up here as children, rather than expel them to countries of which they know little, save in the most exceptional circumstances?

My Lords, all those who will be on the charter flight are foreign national offenders convicted of serious offences. They have had their cases fully reviewed to ensure that no outstanding legal barriers would prevent their removal from the UK. Careful assessment is made of the Article 8 claim of a foreign national offender who is subject to deportation to a family and/or private life, including the length of time that they have lived in the UK, which is an important consideration, but not the only one when weighed against their offending.

My Lords, the UK Borders Act 2007, which relates to foreign nationals, is subject to the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaty obligations. The National Audit Office has found, and Ministers have accepted, that the quality of the Home Office’s decision-making has at times been less than satisfactory. Can the Minister assure the House that in each and every one of these cases, consideration has been given to the UK’s responsibilities under the Human Rights Act? Can she assure us that Ministers have personally reviewed each and every one and taken into account the known recommendations of both the National Audit Office and the independent reviewer as to the importance of making sure that care is taken in these decisions, given that more than 40 British children will be deprived of parents as a result of the Home Office’s decision in this case?

I assure the noble Lord that all those considerations will be taken into account. Each case will be gone through to ensure that the right decision is made, because we are making life-changing decisions for these people. This is not a flippant decision to make. The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise that issue to ensure that we are rigorous in making decisions on who we will deport. Do not forget that these are serious criminals.

My Lords, my noble friend and the Government are right to take a robust line with foreign criminals, but it must be at least doubtful how foreign people are if they have been here for an awfully long time and they probably thought that they were British citizens. Why is there such a contrast between the Government’s robustness on this issue and their failure immediately to deport people who come across the channel from safe countries on the continent who are manifestly foreign and have no legal right to be here? Why do they go through a lengthy process of considering whether they have any right to be here when they manifestly do not?

My noble friend asks a very valuable question. Most of the people we deport go to the EU. He is also right to point out that it is very difficult to deport people to some countries. We would, of course, not deport people to places where they would suffer human rights abuses.

My Lords, new guidance came out in May 2019 from the Home Office on Article 8 being applied to such cases. How does a child who came over here aged five, committed a crime at 17, possibly through being recruited by a gang, has all his family in the UK and is on the plane to be deported meet with that guidance?

My Lords, as I said, human rights considerations are in play for anyone we decide to deport. These people are not British citizens. The Labour Government laid out in 2007 what would happen when such people committed such crimes. The Home Secretary is obliged to abide by the law that they have to be deported.

My Lords, while I very much welcome the Minister’s readiness in contrition to learn lessons as and when they develop, can she give the House an assurance that that same attitude will persist for the administration of the settled status scheme that is now under development as part of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union?

The noble Lord makes a really good point. The scheme is a constitutive, as opposed to declaratory, scheme. We had the Windrush generation in mind when we did this so that identity assurance status is in play for every single one of those people who become British citizens under the EU settlement scheme.