Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 30 November.
“This charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove foreign criminals. The offences committed by the individuals on this flight include sexual assault against children, murder, rape, drug dealing and violent crime. Those are serious offences, which have a real and lasting impact on the victims and on our communities. This flight is about criminality, not nationality. Let me emphasise: it has nothing to do with the terrible wrongs faced by the Windrush generation. Despite the extensive lobbying by some, who claim that the flight is about the Windrush generation, it is not. Not a single individual on the flight is eligible for the Windrush scheme. They are all Jamaican citizens and no one on the flight was born in the United Kingdom. They are all foreign national offenders who between them have served 228 years plus a life sentence in prison.
It is a long-standing government policy that any foreign national offender will be considered for deportation. Under the UK Borders Act 2007, which was introduced and passed by a Labour Government with the votes of a number of honourable Members who are present today, a deportation order must be made where a foreign national offender has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. Under the Immigration Act 1971, FNOs who have caused serious harm or are persistent offenders are also eligible for consideration.
Let me put this flight in context. In the year ending June 2020, there were 5,208 enforced returns, of which 2,630, or over half, were to European Union countries, and only 33 out of over 5,000 were to Jamaica—less than 1%. During the pandemic, we have continued with returns and deportations on scheduled flights and on over 30 charter flights to countries including Albania, France, Germany, Ghana, Lithuania, Nigeria, Poland and Spain, none of which, I notice, provoked an Urgent Question. The clear majority of the charter flights this year have been to European countries.
Those being deported have ample opportunity to raise reasons why they should not be. We are, however, already seeing a number of last-minute legal claims, including, in the last few days, by a convicted murderer, who has now been removed from the flight.
This Government’s priority is keeping the people of this country safe, and we make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals. Any Member of this House with the safety of their constituents at heart would do exactly the same.”
My Lords, the Government have said that this charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove relevant foreign national offenders. What assurances can the Government give that the mandatory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children left behind—who are innocent in this—has been considered? How many such children will be left behind as a result of the imminent deportations to Jamaica? It has also been reported that some sort of understanding has been reached between the Home Office and Jamaica that people who came to the UK as children under the age of 12 will not be removed on this flight. Is that report correct, or partially correct, and if so does it apply only to the imminent flight or also to all future deportation flights to Jamaica?
The noble Lord will understand that I cannot discuss details of the individuals deported. I cannot, therefore, tell the noble Lord how many children will be left behind, but I can assure him that the welfare of children is of paramount concern to this Government. As for an understanding that might have been reached on under-12s born here, the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 have not changed.
My Lords, 50% of decisions on immigration matters have been overturned on appeal. What can we do to restore confidence in decisions taken by the Home Office, and how can we make sure that those facing deportation have sound legal advice? Secondly, what arrangements are made to meet these folk who have been deported to their home country—or what is considered their home country? Are they supported in any way, or are they just left to their own devices, so that they can easily resume a life of crime?
In answer to the question on immigration, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the high rate of appeal success. Quite often, people bring successful last-minute claims; we are trying to get those figures down. This Urgent Question is, however, about the deportation of some pretty serious criminals. On the noble Lord’s other question, people who face deportation have legal advice whenever they need it and arrangements are made for them when they arrive back in their countries of origin.
My Lords, either we believe and trust in our legal system or we do not. We should beware of Parliament being seen as out of touch. I am delighted that the welfare of children will be paramount in this Government’s eyes, but what message does my noble friend think it sends to the general public if we are seen to be putting the rights of murderers, rapists, sex offenders and drug dealers ahead of delivering justice for their victims?
I could not agree more with my noble friend. The types of crime that these individuals are being deported for have had a devastating impact on the victims, and of course on their families, which have been left without sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. The trauma of a violent sexual assault is hard for the victim and their family to recover from, and it has a long-lasting impact on communities. The Home Office’s priority will always be to keep our communities safe for everyone, and one of its key objectives, when legislation permits, is to protect the public by removing foreign national offenders who commit dangerous crimes. That is what we are doing by deporting these foreign criminals.
My Lords, I want to press the Minister a little further on her answer to my noble friend Lord Rosser; she was a little evasive, if I may say so. Can she confirm that her department agreed a request from the Jamaican high commissioner that no one on the flight was under 12 when they first arrived in the UK? Is that true or not? If it is true, can she tell the House what is to happen in future? Does she agree that it should really apply to all those who arrived as children, regardless of their country of origin?
I am sorry if the answer was woolly, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 still stand, that any criminal who has served a custodial sentence of more than 12 months will be considered for deportation and that they are considered for deportation regardless of their country of origin.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could confirm a number of things regarding this case: first, that these deportations are taking place under legislation passed by the last Labour Government; secondly, that the deportation of foreign criminals to Jamaica makes up a very small percentage of the deportations undertaken every year; and, thirdly, that it is wholly wrong to conflate the scandal of Windrush with this case. The Government are dealing with the fallout from the Windrush scandal but this case has nothing to do with it.
Perhaps I can turn to my noble friend’s last question first, because he is absolutely right; my noble friend Lord Lancaster also alluded to this point. To conflate this flight, which contains some pretty serious criminals, with the people of the Windrush generation who came to this country to rebuild it after the war is an absolute insult to the Windrush generation, so I absolutely agree with my noble friend.
On the second point about the percentage of deportations, he is absolutely right. It is tiny: in terms of deportations to Jamaica, it is some 1%. Thirdly, he is absolutely right about the legislation: the UK Borders Act was passed in 2007 under a Labour Government.
My Lords, the noble Baroness was unusually unforthcoming about the age of people coming to this country and their deportation. Will she look into this, because it does seem very fair to the Windrush generation that it applies to anyone who came to the UK before they were 12? That seems a very decent thing to do. Will she look into this and see if it can be put in a more formal arrangement?
I would say to the noble Lord that nobody due to be on that flight is of the Windrush generation—that is number one. In terms of the age of people coming to the UK, I keep saying that the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 still stand; I hope that that answers that question. I will go back and confirm that those provisions still stand and that, no matter what age someone came to this country, if they have committed a serious crime and have been jailed for more than 12 months, they will be under the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007.