When people come to Britain, they should abide by the law. Mr Bone is right that those who abuse our hospitality and commit serious crimes have no place in this country. Indeed, in my own constituency, if I am approached by someone seeking leave to remain in the country who, for example, has committed a serious crime and in particular has gone to prison, it is my practice to refuse to take the case up with the Home Office. It is true to say, I think, that the whole House wants to see foreign criminals deported.
The Prime Minister said that this would be a priority for his Government, but as with so many promises he has made, he is not keeping to his word. Last year more than 500 fewer foreign criminals were removed than in Labour’s last year in office in 2009. On top of that, the National Audit Office released a scathing report in October 2014 on the Home Office’s management of foreign national offenders. It found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within Home Office control. The factors included poor use of IT, a lack of communication, failure to use the powers available, cumbersome and slow referral processes and inefficiency in processing—the list goes on. A third of failed removals could otherwise have been dealt with quickly and properly.
Worse still, more criminals have absconded under this Government—a 6% increase since 2010. In its very interesting report, the NAO stated that we have worse systems in our country than other European countries for preventing foreign criminals from entering in the first place, due in part to the delay in joining the second-generation Schengen information system, which we finally joined only a month ago. Our joining was delayed because of the Home Secretary’s decision to exercise the opt-out on co-operation with Europe—a fact that put border security at risk and has longer-term consequences for the safety and security of our country.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, therefore, to make the argument that he makes today, and we agree that there need to be more stringent controls on foreign offenders, but we do not agree with the proposals in the
Bill, even if we agree with the intentions. It would put Britain in contravention of the European convention on human rights at the very time we are arguing in foreign policy terms that countries such as Russia and Ukraine should respect the European convention, and that countries such as Belarus should sign up to the convention. The Government’s legal advice on the matter has been clear. We agree with that advice and consequently cannot vote for something that is illegal.
A similar proposal was debated in the course of the Immigration Bill. The Home Secretary stated that it was incompatible with the European convention on human rights, and that she was concerned about the practical application of the new clause, arguing that it would
“effectively hinder our ability to deport people for a period of time because there would be considerable legal wrangling about the issue.”—[Hansard, 30 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 1051.]
We support the principle behind the Bill that more foreign criminals should be deported, especially given how poor the Government’s track record has been, but if the Bill were passed it might well have the unintended consequence of creating legal barriers to deportation as foreign criminals tied up the courts with challenges to their deportation.