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Prisons: Foreign National Offenders

Volume 837: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the proportion of foreign national offenders incarcerated across the prison estate.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to raise this important and timely matter—one that has been debated at some length both here and in the other place over recent months. My aim in this debate is to seek clarity and an understanding of not merely the policy direction of His Majesty’s Government, which is commendably clear, but whether they have the determination, political will, focus and resources to achieve their publicly stated objectives. This will of necessity involve me asking a number of questions of the Minister, for which I beg your Lordships’ indulgence.

At the outset, I would make the point and concede that issues relating to foreign national offenders are clearly linked to bigger economic, social and geopolitical issues in respect of immigration and displaced persons, which affect almost every country in Europe and will be a big problem for whichever party is elected to government at the general election later this year.

The most recent figures indicate that we have a foreign national offenders population of 10,423 in our prison estate—approximately 12% of the total population of more than 87,000. That is an increase of 13.6% since 2019. Each FNO costs an average of approximately £40,000 per annum to keep incarcerated and, of course, takes up valuable prison places, which, as we know, are at capacity or near capacity—notwithstanding the Government’s ambition to deliver 10,000 additional prison places by the end of next year.

However, the Government are removing significantly fewer foreign national offenders than they did even five years ago. In 2023, only 3,936 removals took place, compared to 6,437 in 2016, 6,292 in 2017 and 5,518 in 2018. In 2012, we removed more than 15,000 foreign prisoners. The Government are to be congratulated on their initiatives to address this situation—such as the May 2023 prisoner transfer agreement with Albania, which accounted for 37% of removals last year—but it prompts a wider question as to why so many Albanian criminals, who are easily the biggest cohort of FNOs in the prison estate, were admitted to the United Kingdom in the first place, especially as they were never able to exercise their rights as members of the European Union. The National Crime Agency has warned that Albanians have driven organised crime in Greater London and other parts of the UK.

On the subject of Albanians, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the German Government are quite content to derogate parts of the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent multiple vexatious and spurious claims by Albanian criminals? Why have we not done the same and saved the British taxpayer millions of pounds? In addition, the Germans are seeking to legislate with tough proposals to deport gang members with proven criminal links, even if they have no criminal convictions. The German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, has visited a number of countries, such as Morocco, Kenya, Colombia, Moldova and Uzbekistan, in order to secure potential deals to receive migrants. She stated that the package

“is necessary so that we can continue to meet our humanitarian responsibility to people we have to protect from war and terrorism”—

such as the 1.1 million refugees from Ukraine—and said:

“In order to protect the fundamental right to asylum, we have to clearly limit irregular migration”.

Why have our Government not considered similar measures, as a close neighbour and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights?

Close to a third of FNOs are citizens of an EU country, most of whom exercised their rights under the free movement directives of 2004 and 2008 and committed offences for which they were given a custodial sentence, prior to the United Kingdom formally leaving the EU in 2020. May I press the Minister to tell the Committee how many of them have been removed using the public policy, public health and public security provisions of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, which still obtain?

While much is made of bilateral prisoner transfer agreements with over 100 countries, the actual results are disappointing. Why, for instance, have we not deported any Jamaican prisoners, as I understand it, under the prisoner transfer agreement concluded nine years ago with that country, and with a sweetener of £25 million to build a new jail on the island? Why do we routinely not deport prisoners to the Republic of Ireland, our closest neighbour? Between them, the two countries represent an FNO cohort of over 1,000 prisoners. Why are Irish criminals treated as special cases?

Can the Minister confirm that any new prisoner transfer agreements will be centred on compulsory repatriation, rather than voluntary or those with the prisoners’ consent? The latter has resulted in not much more than a pitiful one prisoner a week being sent home to their own country to complete their sentence. More generally, will my noble friend update the Committee on progress in respect of existing prisoner arrangements, including the new one with the Philippines?

These are, broadly speaking, bipartisan issues. I trust that we are beyond the spectacle of Labour Members of Parliament, Peers and others who should have known better attaching their names to letters imploring the Government, as in December 2020, not to deport prolific and violent offenders, murderers, rapists and drug dealers to their own country.

I note the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Removal of Prisoners for Deportation) Order, debated last year in your Lordships’ House, which increased the early removal window in the early removals scheme from 12 to 18 months. It appears sensible and reasonable, but it has naturally prompted a number of important questions six months on. What are the costs of the policy against the benefits? What legal challenges have materialised and how many prisoners have been removed as a result of the new scope of the policy? Furthermore, what steps are being taken to advise and communicate with the victims of these crimes, who might reasonably expect criminals to be incarcerated for as long as possible, as per the decision of a court and due process?

I find it odd that we are quite content to incarcerate foreign criminals for a custodial sentence of less than 12 months and then, upon their release, allow them to claim asylum as if they are good citizens, rather than individuals who have grievously abused the hospitality of British taxpayers. How can this outdated policy, the 12 months’ cut-off for deportation, be allowed to continue without review? After all, between 2007 and 2017, 13,000 individuals were convicted of rape or sexual assault and were not sentenced to immediate custody—not 12 months, 12 weeks or 12 days. In the case of EEA citizens, the Home Office could remove them immediately on grounds of public safety. Why does it not? In the case of others, we have measures contained in the Immigration Act 2014 which can be exercised to remove foreign nationals who are “persistent offenders” or have committed offences which resulted in “serious harm”.

I raised the issue of asylum-seeker criminal convictions in the House on 8 February in the wake of the notorious Abdul Ezedi case and was told rather indignantly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that reports of religious conversions by the Church of England to assist bogus applicants were untrue and unsubstantiated. Imagine my surprise a few weeks later to learn that an announcement had been made in the General Synod that an urgent inquiry by the Church hierarchy had been commissioned to look at these same allegations. Perhaps my noble and learned friend the Minister will discuss this issue with his colleagues in the Home Office, as I understand that they have undertaken to thoroughly investigate these well-sourced claims.

There is a fundamental reason we are not deporting more foreign national offenders: it is as a result of chronic and endemic mismanagement in the criminal justice system. It is why we have, according to the CPS, nearly 12,000 such individuals living in the community who should have been removed—an increase of 192% in the past 12 years.

I also ask my noble and learned friend the Minister to look favourably on the amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled by my right honourable friend Robert Jenrick in the other place, which would compel Ministers to report regularly on the nationality, visa status and asylum status of every offender convicted in England and Wales, and therefore allow the Home Office to amend its policies to respond to operational needs, as has happened in countries such as Denmark.

I will finish with some comments about the report published in June last year by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. As we know, it highlighted the endemic problem of poor data collection, information systems and management to the extent that the inspectorate could not ascertain key data on either the early removal scheme or the facilitated return scheme. The report’s most egregious example was:

“To facilitate the case sampling exercise, FNORC provided inspectors with a spreadsheet containing 558 lines of data. Following initial analysis of the information, inspectors removed 242 duplicate records”.

Half the data in this audited sample was incorrect. The report noted that:

“It is unacceptable that the department cannot produce clear and reliable data on the FNOs for whom it is responsible”.

Time is short, so I finish by saying to my noble and learned friend that I welcome the key recommendations in the report on data management, performance reporting, casework review and case ownership and management. I hope that he can update us on efforts to address these serious failings and the actions taken thus far by both his own department and the Home Office in response to the report published last year. The public expect their elected Government to fulfil the most basic function: to protect their citizens and subjects and safeguard their borders in so doing. At present, we are negligent in discharging those duties, and taxpayers rightly expect us to do all we can to face up to these problems and fix a broken and dysfunctional system.

My Lords, if a foreign national offends while being a guest in our country, we have every right to deport them, but we must not pretend that this is any more than a flea bite compared with the challenges of prison overcrowding and court backlog, which are at the heart of the crisis in our criminal justice system. Nevertheless, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, for securing this debate, and at a time that gives those of wishing to take part a goodly time to expound our views.

My interest goes back to the time between 2010 and 2017 when I was, first, Minister of State and then chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. For the first couple of years, I served with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who was then Ken Clarke and served as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice with the much-missed Igor Judge as Lord Chief Justice. As a non-lawyer, I found my contact with them both extremely educational, although I probably learned more about the goings on of the east Midlands circuit than was strictly necessary. I count it a great privilege to have worked with them both.

When we came into office, we found that prison numbers had roughly doubled since Ken had been Home Secretary in the early 1980s. We sent some modest proposals over to manage prison numbers down to below the 80,000 mark. The message came back from No. 10 that our proposals were “not politically deliverable”. When some of our ideas did surface, a Labour spokesman in the Commons immediately denounced us for planning to liberate all kinds of dangerous criminals.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem that faces Governments. They are always trying to run up the down escalator with prison numbers. We all know that our prisons are full to bursting yet, on 13 March, the Government announced actions on sentencing, with those committing the most serious crimes being sentenced to 40% longer behind bars, increased sentence maximums for the worst offenders and the blocked release of offenders where it would pose an unacceptable risk to society. All this was with the promise of 10,000 new prison places by the end of next year and 20,000 new places overall. That means that, sometime within the next decade, we will see 100,000 people in our prisons.

It is against this background that we look at proposals to reduce the number of foreign national offenders in our prisons. At present, they account for about 10,500 people—12% of the prison population. Each costs £40,000 or more a year.

During my time at the MoJ, we had a number of exchanges and training programmes with Balkan countries, including Albania. They provided for the development of probation and other support services that facilitated the safe repatriation of prisoners.

In the excellent briefing provided on the current state of play, it states that exceptions to the powers to deport in the Borders Act 2007 include an offender being under 18 at the time of the offence. However, cases have been drawn to my attention where offenders have been brought to England as a child, committed a serious offence under the age of 18 and faced deportation to a country when, in many cases, they do not know its language or have any knowledge of it at all. In replying, could the Minister spell out the rules for such offenders? Could we also hear whether any special programmes are available in advance of deportation, akin to those in place before domestic release had been put in place? I refer to how we have continually urged, as I know the department is trying to make sure, that the best chance of rehabilitation is to make proper plans in advance about where a prisoner will go on release, where he will live and, if possible, where he will be employed.

As has already been referred to, the UK has 110 prisoner transfer agreements with other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Jackson, mentioned the one with Albania, and we also concluded one with the Philippines. Are we in negotiations with any other big countries? Is there a big gap? The noble Lord referred to Ireland—but, with a name like McNally, I understand the reasons why Ireland has exceptions, and they go back many decades. It would be interesting to know where we are going.

I find the Albanian agreement encouraging, as I went to Albania as a Minister to help with the establishment of its probation service and with the early stages of an agreement on prisoner exchange. I later discovered that the number of British prisoners in Albanian jails at that time was nil and the number of Albanian prisoners in our jails who voluntarily wanted to return to the Tirana Hilton was also nil. We do need to beef up these agreements.

The other things that the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, referred to were the early removal scheme and the facilitated return scheme. As he said, these were severely criticised by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, who said that the schemes were “not being administered effectively”. The noble Lord mentioned the four-point plan that was put forward by the Chief Inspector; as the noble Lord requested, could we be updated on those key recommendations?

I quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, who said recently that

“a measure of this kind involves making a series of balances between the possible effects on victims and the possible effect on deterrence”.—[Official Report, 26/10/23; col. 688.]

What consultation takes place with victims of crime before the process of deportation? For us, it may be attractive to say that we are getting rid of somebody who has committed a serious crime; to the victim, that might sound like an easy release from punishment for the crime.

All in all, I enjoyed my seven years at the MoJ. Perhaps “enjoyed” is the wrong word; I certainly came away with great respect for the work that people do with prisoners and in prisons in terms of this difficult task of dealing with foreign prisoners. I hope that the raising of this issue by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, will give the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, an opportunity to assure us that the challenges of this area are well in hand.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is experienced on this subject. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jackson on securing this important and relevant debate and on his many specific questions.

Many of our prisons are operating at full capacity and at great cost to the public purse. Rehabilitation, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and is a vital function of prisons—I will address mainly this subject in my contribution—is made considerably harder by overcrowding. Deporting foreign national offenders is key to the overall strategy to reduce the proportion held in our jails. However, we must also get better at reducing reoffending among foreign nationals so that those who cannot be deported do not come back in again.

Eligibility for deportation varies with sentence length and severity. There are many grounds for exception, although the ministerial Statement on 11 March laid out a far more stringent approach—particularly to short-sentenced FNOs. I make no judgment one way or another as to whether there are too many or not enough exceptions. I simply draw attention to the reasons why, according to that Statement in March, only 3,600 FNOs might be returned, leaving almost two-thirds of the 10,000 FNOs in place.

Given that many will be released back into the community, their rehabilitation is not an indulgence but an imperative. The “families and relationships” rehabilitation pathway is by far the most successful. In general, prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. Hence, if the relationships are not criminogenic, there are significant benefits to prisoners of retaining close ties with people outside prison; for FNOs, this will often include families overseas.

When I did my two prison reviews, prison governors told me that only about half of the general prison population received family visits and that foreign national offenders’ families can be thousands of miles away. This is why I recommended giving any prisoner whose families would struggle to visit access to video-calling technology. The revolution to do this, fast-tracked by Covid, was game-changing. Is data still collected on the number of social video calls in prisons? In some prisons I have visited recently, this seems to have been deprioritised.

Encouragingly, as part of the reviews’ ongoing implementation, HMPPS now requires family services to include initiatives for prisoners who have no active family ties. However, if the mantra of my review, that the importance of relationships should be the golden thread running through all the processes of prison, is to be more than just a slogan, it requires a systemic shift in how prisons function. I see many signs that the Transforming Prisons directorate has fully taken this on board for the purposes of future training, so it is baked into planning for new builds and refurbished establishments. However, we also urgently need a more relational approach across the existing prison estate and among today’s prisoners and officers.

Just after Covid, I did an addendum to my two original reviews and emphasised the importance of peer-to-peer support programmes, especially in early days of custody. The plentiful resource of sentenced prisoners must be part of the solution. In the chaos of reception prisons, systems can be very confusing, especially for first-timers, yet understanding them is essential for settling in. Basic needs, including for family contact but also for such things as underwear, false teeth and reading glasses, often go unmet. The sense of helplessness and despair is greatly amplified for foreign prisoners, who face language and cultural barriers. One-third of all prison suicides occur within the first week in custody and the sense of isolation can play a decisive role. On my post-Covid visits, I have found that well-supervised peer support schemes greatly increase prisoners’ ability to take responsibility for their own lives and contribute to the well-being of others during this period. Setting the right trends at the reception stage can transform the whole of a prisoner’s journey.

In HMP Bullingdon, for example, “Hear to Help” prisoner mentors, wearing distinctive purple shirts, play a key support role in early days in custody, visiting everyone when they come on to the wing and doing what officers cannot. Officers are time-poor, mentors are time-rich, and they have often learned the hard way what works and what does not work in prison: they are people the men can connect with and relate to. One mentor said, “We have helped a lot of people and saved lives”. Indeed, a first-time prisoner told me he would not have survived the early days of his sentence without the help of his mentor. Many prisoners have a lack of trust for authority, are anti-uniform and have a fighter mentality. One mentor described prisoners’ violent behaviour as their “safety net”, their go-to response. It is where they feel safe, but it does not actually solve things.

Mentors provide a different safety net for prisoners’ frustrations and anger. They bring isolated people out of their cells, and their shells, encourage them to do things and “talk to them straight” about their cases and their trials. Without access to this peer support, it can take men several months to settle in, but with their help and presence, it is a lot quicker. These mentors are building community by being good role models and hubs around which positive behaviours coalesce.

You might think, where do you find the paragons of virtue who will take responsibility to look after other prisoners in a jail? For these “Hear to Help” mentors, the job itself gave them the turning point to pivot. Most were previously in trouble in prison, but the responsibility turned them around, and got them to work as a team and develop a whole new sense of purpose. They need to be well-supervised by dedicated senior prison officers who know how to build teams and are relationally brilliant. The scheme in Bullingdon is led by a woman who previously worked with struggling families in the community.

Foreign nationals serving very long sentences need a completely different type of peer support: less help to navigate the confusing prison system and more help to navigate their minds. They need to come to terms with what they have done and the fact of long-term incarceration. In HMP Dartmoor, there is more of an emphasis on training ordinary prisoners to deliver what are effectively low-level psychological interventions. Can my noble friend the Minister give the Committee an indication of the prevalence of peer support schemes that go way beyond the traditional orderly system and what plans they have to proliferate them? I also take the opportunity to ask about their plans to house prisoners overseas. What proportion would be FNOs? Can the Government confirm that family ties will be a key consideration in determining which prisoners are held overseas?

To reiterate, there are many foreign nationals we will not be able to deport and many will have very high-risk factors for reoffending. What happens in prison can heighten or mitigate those risks. As one senior governor who oversees several prisons told me:

“Some people have never learned how to be relational—how to turn themselves around and take advantage of the positive opportunities prison can provide. It’s not about being soft or hard on crime, it’s about what works”.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, for initiating this debate, which has been very informed. I look forward to the Minister’s response in due course.

The Lords Library briefing explains that under UK legislation, the Government have a duty to consider deporting foreign nationals convicted of an offence in the UK and sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment. They can remove foreign national offenders before the end of their prison sentence through various schemes and through prisoner transfer agreements. Prisons refer all cases involving foreign national offenders to the Home Office’s Foreign National Offenders Returns Command to consider whether deportation based on criminality is appropriate. The FNORC has overall responsibility for the management and removal of FNOs. Prisons which are exclusively used for foreign national offenders or are hub prisons have embedded Home Office caseworkers to help progress immigration casework.

In October 2023, the Government introduced changes to the early removal scheme under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This extended the removal window from 12 months to 18 months, subject to the minimum required proportion of time having been served. Then in March, the Government announced that they will release prisoners up to two months early, to deal with the lack of space in our prisons. Prisoners may be released not 18 days early but up to an unprecedented 60 days early. We have argued that there are consequences to this decision, which are that people who have broken the law and, in many cases, pose an ongoing threat to the law-abiding public are directly benefiting from the Government’s decision to permit early release. Do the Government regret that they were in the position to have to make that decision?

The Government tell us that they will free up more spaces in our prisons by cracking down on the number of foreign national offenders, who are taking up space that we can ill afford to spare when they have no right to be in our country. The number that the Government deported last year are significantly lower than the number they inherited in 2010, when 5,383 foreign national offenders were deported in the last year of the Labour Government. Meanwhile, thousands of foreign national offenders are living in the community, as I think the noble Lords, Lord Farmer and Lord McNally, both said, post release for several years without being removed. Will the Minister acknowledge that this is the result of chaos and incompetence by the Government he represents, and that it is putting the public at risk and leaving Britain less safe?

The noble Lord, Lord Jackson, said—very fairly—that this problem will persist whichever political party is in government; that was a fair point for him to make when he opened his contribution. He went on to say that Albanians form a disproportionately large proportion of the FNOs in our prisons. I hope that the Minister can address specifically what he hopes will happen with the removal of prisoners back to Albania. Of course, we in the Labour Party accept the need to stop irregular arrivals and manage the deportation of FNOs as quickly as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that this problem is a gnat’s bite for the overall problems. I am not sure I agree with that comment. My local prison is Wandsworth Prison and I would say—this is certainly my perception, from everything that I have been told by everyone I know who works around or in that prison—that it is actually a significant problem in certain prisons. It may be a gnat’s bite overall but a very significant problem for certain prisons.

I thought I might mention my own experience in visiting foreign prisons, which I have done in various capacities over the years. I have been to a prison in Minsk, a prison in Sarajevo and prisons in Tashkent, and they are variable. It is interesting to me that the buildings in Sarajevo were about the same age as our Victorian prisons here in London. It was not too bad, actually; that was my experience. In the prison in Minsk, while the dormitories were very overcrowded, there was in fact a lot of open space where the prisoners could exercise better, in many ways, than what we see in our own country. The prison in Tashkent had a very good bakery and there seemed to be an active programme in trying to rehabilitate people. So, in my experience, prisons overseas are not as bad as one might fear from reading about them in certain types of documentation.

I think I have heard the themes of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in other speeches which he has given. He opened by saying that rehabilitation is hampered by overcrowding, which is of course true. He talked about social video calls and asked whether they can be kept going; I do not know whether the Minister will be able to comment on that, but that seems to be a desirable thing to keep going as far as possible. The noble Lord also spoke about the work of mentors in prisons. It reminded me that I recently read Chris Atkins’ book about being a prisoner in Wandsworth Prison and the work that he did as a mentor; he literally saved lives while working as a mentor there.

The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, made a lot of pertinent and interesting points. Nevertheless, this debate is about foreign national offenders. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to the questions raised, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate, in particular my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough for raising this most important issue. I am not sure that I shall be able to answer in detail all the questions that I have rightly been asked in this debate, but my officials will go through the transcript and I will write to everybody to make sure that the questions are properly answered.

Briefly, by way of background, noble Lords will see from the House of Lords report that there is a dip in the numbers and that they have started to climb again since the Covid crisis. I am told that, in effect, the dip is accounted for by various difficulties encountered by the Home Office at the time. They include quite a number of legal challenges. One that went to the Supreme Court was on something then called Section 94B, which operated the principle of “deport first, appeal later”; it was lost and, as a result, 700 cases had to be redone. Then, in 2019, there were legal proceedings that, as noble Lords may remember, challenged a lot of charter flights. In the meantime, the modern slavery law came into effect, which increased the number of modern slavery claims being made by prisoners. So a combination of factors led to that decline even before we had Covid, but Covid then had a further adverse effect.

Since then, we have climbed up again, to nearly 4,000 last year—a 27% increase on the year before. I just say that by way of background. I do not accept the stricture that the Government have been in a position of chaos and incompetence; I think those were the words used. The Government have been doing their best with a very difficult situation.

Against that background, briefly, there are, roughly speaking, about 10,000 or so prisoners who are foreign national offenders. About one-third of those are on remand. We cannot do anything about that, so we are talking about 6,500 people or something of that kind. Of course, there are also foreign nationals in the community —that is the number in prison—but we are doing our level best to improve performance in that respect. As I said, we returned nearly 4,000 FNOs from prison last year.

The Lord Chancellor has talked about the new measures that we are introducing; they include the early removal scheme, with which noble Lords are familiar. Between January and March this year, almost 400 foreign national offenders were removed—a 61% increase over the same period last year. Part of this is also due to the increasing use of prisoner transfer agreements. I shall say a word about that because it has, rightly, cropped up in the debate.

The Albanian agreement came into effect, or was improved, in May 2023 in order to speed up prison transfers, with greater numbers of the most serious offenders to be sent back to Albania. That is continuing but, even in the case of Albanian prisoners, there are still procedural difficulties that cause delays in the process. For example, each transfer has to be approved by the Albanian courts, which must sanction the Albanian authorities’ power to hold the prisoners, as it were, when they arrive back in Albania. It is a lengthy process; indeed, quite apart from prisoner transfer agreements, one is wrestling with some difficult issues in physically deporting a foreign national offender. Often, there will be very late appeals and all kinds of claims raised. In many cases, there will be absolutely no documentation, so you do not even know what country they come from; you then cannot prove where to send them or prove to the receiving state that they are indeed nationals of that state. These kinds of difficulties arise, quite apart from the physical problems of having an aircraft, escorting people and all those kinds of difficulties.

One should not underestimate the operational problems here but the Government are determinedly working on them. A better process has been introduced for dealing with foreign national offenders. There is a new task force across the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and we have recruited 400 additional case workers to prioritise these cases; they have been in place since last month and will streamline the end-to-end process. So the Government are tackling the problem in general terms.

With that broad background, I will see whether I can deal with at least some of the questions I was asked. I will write to noble Lords on the problem of derogations from the convention, which was one of the points raised on the ECHR.

I think the problem with Jamaica has been the difficulty of reaching a political agreement with the Jamaican Government—I think that that is the case, but I will confirm it in writing. The Albanian example is working quite well. We have agreements with many other countries, but they are not always effective, because prison conditions in other countries are not very satisfactory. Sometimes, the agreement is to enable British prisoners in the foreign prison to come back—a recent example was from the Philippines—rather than for us to send people there, so it is a complicated area.

I do not think I can comment on the specific case of Abdul Ezedi in a debate such as this.

We will work very hard to implement the recommendations of the chief inspector’s report. Points about that were well made. It is another aspect where there can be improvement, but, as I said, we are well up—I gave the figure of 61%—on the equivalent period last year in our success in deporting foreign nationals.

Incidentally, going back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I once visited the San Miguel prison in Santiago, Chile, with the fabulous penal reform campaign of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. The month before, 81 inmates died in a fire. It was the grimmest prison I have ever been to, but talking about prisons we have known is by the by.

I will press the Minister on the issue of the chief inspector’s report. He know that one of the key issues raised was the routine and repetitive use of manually accessed spreadsheets. There was no IT system that was trustworthy, to the extent that virtually any management data could be easily accessed. Is that a key imperative for the department to work on, as it prepares its formal response to the chief inspector’s report?

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. Yes, that is extremely important. I will write with a further update on what can be done about it. It will be no secret to noble Lords that the problem of data across the criminal justice system and the prison system is ongoing, and we are working with various systems of various ages, including those of elderly status. A great deal needs to be improved.

I will press on, having one eye on the time. One of the various points raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was about the deportation of people who came here as a child. As far as they are protected, those people have to rely on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on family life, which is often a successful defence, because they will have no connections with the country to which they are being sent.

On other countries, the one with which we are the furthest forward at the moment, as far as I know, is Italy. The Lord Chancellor hopes to reach an agreement with Italy in the next few weeks. I do not think that I can go further than that, but there have been encouraging negotiations with Italy, and I hope that that and the Albanian situation will help significantly.

I understand that consultation with victims is conducted through victim liaison units. In the case of an FNO facing deportation, I am told that, where victims have signed up to the victim contact scheme, that consultation takes place.

I fully agree with the points made by my noble friend Lord Farmer about rehabilitation and the importance of social visits. As noble Lords know, he conducted two important reviews not long ago, and I believe the ministry has accepted all his recommendations. An important part of that work was the social aspect of prisoners. I am not aware of any reduction in emphasis being placed on that, but I will investigate and write accordingly. Almost all prisons in England and Wales now have facilities for secure video calls, or in-cell telephony. I do not know whether that is the case in Minsk or Sarajevo, but it is a considerable improvement on what used to be the case. It certainly does not exist in the United States or, I would have thought, San Miguel prison.

There are important efforts to encourage peer-to-peer support. Pilots are in progress at the moment with a particular focus on FNOs, although there are facilities for long-range contact. FNOs with no visitors can get free phone credits for overseas calls and free video calls, which is considerably better than nothing. As I said, all prisons across England and Wales offer secure video calls.

Noble Lords have raised some important issues. I hope we are grappling with them; their importance is in no way neglected. The overall situation is that the Government are making progress in this area. Noble Lords have made very good points which, if I have not already answered, I will answer in more detail in writing. I close by thanking noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Jackson, for raising these important issues.

Committee adjourned at 4.51 pm.