I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bone on promoting the Bill. As you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, it is no easy task to get a private Member’s Bill on to the Order Paper. It involved quite a few days and evenings sitting and sleeping in the corridor upstairs to ensure that this Bill was selected for one of the 13 sitting Fridays. However, this is not its first appearance, because it was submitted in my name in its original form in 2013 when my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough, for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and I suggested some 40 private Members’ Bills upstairs in what was dubbed by some commentators as the alternative Queen’s Speech.
I had wanted to call the Bill the “Foreign National Offenders (Send Them All Back) Bill” but that was not allowed by the parliamentary authorities, so it is now called the Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the UK) Bill, and it does what it says on the tin. It is designed to address a serious issue that this country has failed to tackle over the past 10 years, namely that we simply have far too many foreign nationals in our prisons who have committed serious criminal offences. The scale of the problem is quite frightening.
You will not be surprised to know, Mr Speaker, that there are some 85,000 prisoners in total in jail in this country. In fact, the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice are that there were 85,886 prisoners in our jails as of September 2015; that number was given to me in answer to a parliamentary question tabled at the end of January this year. Of those 85,886, 75,010 are British nationals, 10,442 are foreign nationals and, bizarrely, there are 434 whose nationalities are somehow not recorded. Frankly, it escapes me how 434 individuals could be imprisoned in our country and yet no one seems to know where they came from. I find it worrying for our national security that there is this large number of people in our prisons about whom we know nothing. How many more are there not in our prisons about whom we know nothing and of whose nationality we have no record at all?
There are 10,442 foreign national prisoners in our prisoners out of a total of 85,886—12% of the prison population. You will perhaps be surprised to learn, Mr Speaker, that those 10,442 come not just from one, two, three, four, half a dozen or a dozen countries, but from some 160 countries from around the world. Indeed, 80% of the world’s nations are represented in our prisons. We are truly an internationally and culturally diverse nation, even in our imprisoned population. Very worryingly indeed, something like a third of them have been convicted of violent and sexual offences; a fifth have been convicted of drugs offences; and others have been convicted of burglary, robbery, fraud and other serious crimes.
It is a good thing that the crimes have been detected, the evidence has been gathered and these people are being punished for their offences. It is, however, completely wrong that the cost of that imprisonment should fall on British taxpayers, because these individuals—every single last one of them—should be repatriated to secure detention in their country of origin, so that taxpayers from their own countries can pay the bill for their incarceration and punishment.
Several hon. Members rose—
My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a very compelling case. Does he have any idea of the annual cost to British taxpayers of imprisoning foreign nationals? I know that many of my constituents are very concerned about this issue, and thank him for raising it.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his pertinent intervention and question. He demonstrates not only his attention to detail and his determination to ensure that he represents his constituents here on a Friday, but that he can get straight to the nub of the issue. He is as concerned as I am about the cost to his constituents of any aspect of Government expenditure. The answer to his question is that if there are 10,500 foreign national offenders in our prisons, the estimated cost is something like £300 million a year. The Home Office figure for the cost of imprisoning a prisoner is something like £26,000.
I would be delighted to give way to my hon. Friend in just a moment, once I have answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. I did promise to give way to my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker—I keep thinking of Hebden Bridge, which is in his constituency—but then I will give way to my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall. I think that the figure is £26,000.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is, as has been said, making a very compelling case. I just want to clarify one point: it is the Ministry of Justice, not the Home Office, which deals with prisoner figures. I would be very happy, later on, to provide the figures, but it is the Ministry of Justice that has the figures. I am sure that he would like to correct the record.
I am delighted to be corrected by my hon. Friend, who is doing a fantastic job in her role as a Minister of the Crown in the Home Office. I am slightly concerned that, as we are talking about foreign national offenders in Her Majesty’s prisons, we do not have a representative from the Ministry of Justice here today.
It is very reassuring that the hon. Lady is able to drop in on us. We will be deeply grateful to her.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I share your sentiments, but at least it is reassuring that the Minister will turn up to the debate. Let us hope that we can ask questions of her later on. Before I take the interventions that I promised, let me say that part of the problem is that foreign national offenders and their deportation, removal, transfer, repatriation, or whatever we want to call it, is a major policy issue that falls between two stools. There are two major Departments of State that are basically responsible for this area, and all too often one blames the other for why the situation is not being tackled. That is why it is the Prime Minister himself who needs to take on board this issue. Indeed, he promised the House that he would, yet six years into his premiership, the problem is not going away. If anything, it is getting worse.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He has obviously done a great deal of research, as he has some impressive figures. I think that he said there are 10,442 foreign national prisoners from more than 160 different nationalities. Can he enlighten the House on the mix between EU and non-EU foreign nationals who are in our prisons?
The forensic analysis of my hon. Friend’s brain is illustrated to us all, because that is exactly the question that needs to be addressed. According to the figures that I was sent in response to my parliamentary question at the end of January, the breakdown, continent by continent, is as follows: 20% of foreign national offenders in our country come from Africa; 18% from Asia; 1.5% from Central and South America; a whopping 47% from Europe; 7% from the West Indies; and a negligible percentage from Oceania.
One of the difficulties is that, under article 8 of the Human Rights Act, we are not allowed to deport people to so-called unsafe countries. If 40% of these people come from Europe, by definition they do not reside in unsafe countries. Therefore, we need a Bill such as this so that they can all be sent back immediately to France, Italy, Germany or wherever.
I agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for that intervention. He is far more expert than I am in legal matters, given his extensive parliamentary experience, legal training, and great deal of common sense, but I am not sure whether he is correct. My understanding is that, in our bizarre human rights system, even member states of the European Union are not deemed to be safe countries to return to. I believe that Greece is classified as a country to which it is not safe to return individuals, either under the asylum regulations or the prison regulations. That is a country to which millions of our fellow citizens go on holiday every year—
I just wanted to answer specifically the question that my hon. Friend posed a moment or two ago regarding the exact costs of placing a prisoner in secure accommodation. The latest figures are taken from the National Offender Management Service annual report and accounts for 2014-15, which was released on
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that informative intervention. I congratulate him, as I always do, on the extent of his reading in his own private time outside of this place. If he is reading national offender management statistics with that level of detail, it shows that he spends a great of his own personal time researching issues that are important to his constituency.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting speech. What is the reason for the Government not deporting these people to their countries of origin, particularly to Europe?
That is an interesting question. It is probably a combination of political correctness, Government incompetence, human rights legislation and an obsession with not upsetting our friends in the European Union. It is probably a combination of those four factors, with some other issues thrown in.
It is probably about a combination of those four factors, and the fifth point, which is important, is that this issue falls between two major Government Departments and needs to be seized by the Prime Minister himself if we are to make any substantial progress on this issue. The number of foreign national offenders in our prisons first rose substantially during the last period of office of the previous Labour Government, triggered in part by their acceptance of human rights legislation. The problem stems from that time, but to be fair neither the coalition Government nor the present Conservative Government have, in my view, addressed the issue sufficiently to see any meaningful progress.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and apologise for going back to the point that was first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley about the cost of foreign national offenders, because I can trump the figures that were given earlier. The National Audit Office estimated the cost of administering foreign national offenders in the UK for 2013-14, including police costs, Crown Prosecution Service costs, legal aid costs and prison costs, to be between £769 million and £1 billion a year. The most likely estimate was £850 million a year.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and frankly I am shocked, and my constituents will also be shocked, by those figures. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of what he has just told the House, but I am disappointed that those figures should come from him during a debate on one of the 13 sitting Fridays when the Government themselves should be flagging up this information about the huge financial burden to British taxpayers of incarceration, prosecution, capturing these people, and sorting them out after they leave. All of that together adds up to nearly £1 billion, which is an awful lot of money.
I will happily give way to every hon. Member, but I just want to finish this point before giving way to my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy and then to my hon. Friend Julian Knight. At a time when each and every year this country is spending more money on public services than it raises in taxation, a state of affairs that has been true ever since 2002 and which the Chancellor himself said will not be fully addressed until 2019—here we are in 2016, spending more money each year than we raise in taxation and we still have an annual deficit—this issue is costing this country £1 billion a year, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, and I am sure that he is absolutely right. That is a shocking state of affairs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on this Bill, which is extremely important. May I raise a sixth point that might be in the Home Office’s mind and that will concern all of us? Victims of crime want to see justice and sometimes people are a little concerned that if someone is repatriated they might go to a country where, through a bribe or something else, they might suddenly be on the street despite having committed a very serious offence. How does my hon. Friend propose to deal with that? Justice must be done, and victims of crime need to see people pay the price for what they have done to them.
My hon. Friend makes a very intelligent intervention—naturally, because he is that sort of fellow, but also because he has in his constituency HMP Stafford, so he is more attuned than most Members of this House to issues involving prisoners, their families, deportation, repatriation, punishment and rehabilitation. He makes an extremely good point. The Bill does not seek to send convicted foreign national offenders back to their country of origin only to see them released in that country, and potentially able to come back to our shores. There would need to be a system in place—a Government-to-Government agreement—whereby individuals can be transferred, often against their own wishes, to their country of origin, and it is guaranteed by that Government that they will then serve the requisite time in incarceration in that country.
I will happily give way, but I just want to finish this particular point. The other crucial aspect of the Bill, which might not now be as explicitly mentioned in it as it might be after we have had a go at it in Committee, is that in my view and that of my constituents, if foreign national offenders are sent back to their country of origin they should be banned from returning to this country. Their personal details—their name, date of birth, fingerprints and all the rest of it—should be with our Border Force so that if they ever attempt to gain re-entry into this country they are stopped from doing so.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most generous and diligent in how he is taking interventions. His account has been forensic in its detail, and he is making a compelling case. I am absolutely shocked at the figure of £850 million, but this is not just about numbers or forensic analysis. It is also about individual stories and individual victims, and a country that is wronged. I draw his attention to the case of William Danga, 39, a Congolese national and convicted rapist who, while challenging his deportation proceedings on human rights grounds, went on to abuse two children in this country. Will my hon. Friend reflect on that?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us a specific and individual example of how rotten the system has become. How has it come to pass that in Britain in 2016 we are unable to deport a Congolese rapist? It should be one of the first duties of Government to keep our country and our citizens safe, and we need to send back to their country of origin people who believe they can get away with such horrendous crimes in our country. My hon. Friend has given us an individual and specific example of why we need to change the system.
I do not apologise for coming back to the issue of cost, as it is first and foremost in the minds of my constituents. We have heard a variety of different figures cited today, so perhaps we can explore the issue a little further. Has my hon. Friend considered that with 10,000 fewer prisoners we could have fewer prisons, so the costs that we have heard cited could in fact be higher still?
That is a very intelligent observation from my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on being in the Chamber to listen to today’s proceedings. I know that he represents his constituents with great assiduity. Obviously the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think we now have two prisons devoted wholly and specifically to housing foreign national offenders. Clearly, if we did not have any foreign national offenders in our prisons that would be two prisons we could either not have or free up to imprison our own offenders. That would be a cost saving—we are talking about a potential sum of £1 billion—but some of us in the Chamber today would see the saving of that cost as an opportunity to implement a proper penal policy for our domestic offenders. We believe that if an offender is caught, convicted and sentenced to a term of four or five years, or whatever it is, they should then serve that amount of time in prison. We are constantly told that we cannot afford to do that, but here we are presenting the Government with £1 billion of savings that would enable us to implement a far more realistic and effective criminal justice policy.
My hon. Friend is always skilful in the Chamber, and as always he is being very courteous. I am grateful to him for allowing me a second intervention.
I want to come back, if I may, to the personal effects of foreign national offenders in this country. In the last Parliament, I had a constituent who was the victim of a rape by somebody from north Africa. After the offender had served his sentence, he was released back into my local community and not deported. Will my hon. Friend reflect on how such a situation could come about? I suggest that the problem lies in article 8 of the European convention on human rights, as set out in the Human Rights Act. Perhaps we should repeal that Act and replace it with a British Bill of rights and responsibilities that better protects our constituents.
My hon. Friend speaks not just for Crawley and its good citizens, but for the nation. He is spot-on. We need to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Magna Carta-like domestic Bill of Rights that we can all understand and that implements justice in the way that the British people would like to see it implemented.
My hon. Friend probably has more foreign national offenders going in and out of his constituency than any of the rest of us, because of the location of Gatwick airport. I am shocked and appalled, as I know his constituents will be, that such a violent offender was released back into his local community. That cannot be right on any level. Such people need to be sentenced and convicted, serve their time in jail in full in their country of origin and not be let back into our country. Then the citizens of Crawley and the rest of the United Kingdom would be able to sleep safe in their beds at night.
We are now hearing nothing about the repeal of the Human Rights Act. What has happened to that? A moment ago my hon. Friend mentioned the return of foreign criminals. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, I hope to deal with that in more detail later, but the problem with the present system is that there is nothing to prevent deported foreign criminals—however few are deported—from returning later, because no biometric information is kept. That is one of the points made by Migration Watch, and the Government should change it. As biometric visas are introduced in the future, we will be able to track people who have been convicted and sent to jail here and then sent back to their country of origin.
My hon. Friend is correct. We could strengthen the Bill in Committee with specific clauses to that effect. In Justice questions this week I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Raab, whether it was true that as a member of the European Union, we are not allowed to deport EU foreign nationals who are in prison in our country and ban them from ever returning, and he confirmed that that is the case. We can therefore say without fear of contradiction in the Chamber today that it is not absurd to say that if we remain a member of the European Union, crime will be higher and we will have more criminals in our country. Under the rules of free movement we are not able to stop EU criminals coming into this country, and we are not able to deport back to EU countries those who have been convicted of serious offences and imprisoned.
I thank my hon. Friend for showing characteristic generosity in taking interventions. I echo his views on the Human Rights Act. It seems anathema to me that as a country with the best part of 1,000 years of common law, we have to accept a Human Rights Act designed for countries that have experienced fascism within living memory. We did not go down that road. We are Britain and we have the common law.
The point about increased capacity in prisons is interesting. That would allow us to pursue a more vigorous justice regime, particularly in the case of burglary. My hon. Friend is aware that it is becoming commonplace that many burglars are not receiving custodial sentences, which is an appalling state of affairs. Burglary is a crime that impinges on people’s lives. Will he reflect on the need for greater capacity in our prisons?
Interventions of such quality will, I hope, earn my hon. Friend a place on the Bill Committee. We could put a robust clause in the Bill specifically to deal with burglars and burglaries. He is right—for some reason, the seriousness of burglary has gone down the Home Office’s agenda.
The same is true of the breaking of shop windows in our high streets. I remember 20 years ago speaking to my local police commander, who said, “Philip, it’s an absolute rule of mine that we will not accept shop windows being broken in high streets, and we are going to clamp down on this really hard.” I think most hon. Members would say that shop windows are broken regularly in their high streets, perhaps even monthly. That shows that when we do not keep pursuing such problems vigorously, the seriousness with which they are taken declines.
That is a concern for our constituents, who are frightened about burglaries. Even if nobody is injured in a burglary, somebody’s home is tainted permanently by the intrusion and the theft of articles. Particularly for elderly people, that can often lead to a deterioration in health, and ultimately, in some cases, the old person sadly dies, not directly at the hands of the burglar but as result of the trauma of having been a victim of burglary. My hon. Friend speaks for his constituents and the country in highlighting that issue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. I want to correct a potential misapprehension. My direction of travel for reducing the prison population of foreign national offenders holds true for the prison population as a whole. There may be a divergence of views here. I believe we should have a vigorous justice system, and I believe that the Bill is right about foreign national offenders, but I also believe that this should be the direction of travel for our entire prison population. I may have caused a misapprehension about that earlier. We can have both a vigorous justice system and a smaller prisoner population overall. This point of view may get me off the Bill Committee, but it is one that I hold firmly.
Order. I have no objection to the number of interventions—that of itself is perfectly orderly and many would say that it should be encouraged. But if Members could have some regard to their length—shortening thereof—that would greatly assist our deliberations.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for your ever wise guidance, but I am sure you will agree that the interventions have been most illuminating, helpful and constructive.
I thank my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson for his intervention. I can see that we might disagree on aspects of justice policy, but I believe that Bill Committees should be inclusive. Members who hold a range of different opinions should be included, so my hon. Friend is back on the Committee. That is one of the mistakes that the Government are making, most recently with the Enterprise Bill, where all those who were against extending Sunday trading suddenly found they were not on the Bill Committee. The result was the events of this week, when the Government lost that part of their legislation. Given his views, which might be contrary to those of other Members, my hon. Friend would play a very constructive role in debating these issues on Committee, so I encourage him to pursue his views with great vigour.
It is shocking that 160 countries around the world are represented in our prisons.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity. I noticed that one continent was missing from his list—Antarctica. I do not mean to make light of a serious issue, but it illustrates the seriousness of the matter if every part of the globe except the most inhospitable part is represented in our prison population. That is an untenable situation.
I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend’s attention to detail, which he has just demonstrated, is legendary in this place. He gives me a good ideal. I have been struggling to think of somewhere to send the 434 individuals who refuse to declare their nationality. I wonder whether the prospect of a prison place in Antarctica unless they state where they originally came from might encourage them to reveal their true identity.
At the top of the list of shame is Poland, because 951 Polish nationals are incarcerated in our prisons.
Is my hon. Friend aware that before we had the free movement of people within the European Union, which Polish people took advantage of, the number of Polish people in our prisons was only in double figures? Indeed, I think in 2002 it was as low as 45.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely helpful point. It demonstrates one of the major themes that I want to get across today, which is that by being a member of the European Union we are importing crime into this country. Our membership of the European Union means that we have more crime and more criminals on our streets. The fact that Poland is in first place on the list of shame does that country no credit at all.
My hon. Friend is talking about a very serious matter. I must declare an interest, because I believe that I have some Polish ancestry. Does he not agree that an awful lot of Polish people make a big contribution to this country? In Stafford I have a Polish club that resulted from the sacrifice and service that many free Poles gave to the allies during the second world war. Indeed, the Poles who come over and work hard on fruit farms and in factories around Stafford do a tremendous job. What we are talking about is a very small minority who abuse this country’s hospitality.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am second to none in my admiration for the Polish people, the Polish nation and individual Poles. The Polish work ethic, frankly, would give many of our own citizens an example of how to behave in life. We have a lot to learn from them. My criticism is not of Polish people; it is of the EU system. Under EU rules, we are unable to prevent Polish citizens with criminal records from coming into this country, we are unable to send back to Poland the few Polish citizens who are convicted of criminal offences and imprisoned in our country, and we are unable to prevent them from returning. I am full of praise for the Polish nation and for hard-working Polish citizens. As on so many issues, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, but we must not ignore the fact that of the 160 countries represented in our prisons, Poland is in first place.
Order. I say very gently to Mr Hollobone that I hope he is not intending to provide biographical details of each of the people from Poland before proceeding to the second of the 160 countries of which he wishes to treat. If that is his intention, it might test the patience of the Chair. I feel sure that he is planning no such mission. On that note, no doubt he will take the intervention from Mr Chope.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Can he explain why the Polish Government are not prepared to allow Polish prisoners sentenced in this country to serve their sentences in Poland, which I understand is possible under the transfer of prisoners legislation promoted by the Council of Europe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I bow to his huge knowledge and experience of the Council of Europe and its various pronouncements. He is right to highlight the EU prisoner transfer agreement, introduced some years ago, which was meant to be the great panacea for the number of EU citizens in our jails. We were apparently going to be able to send EU prisoners in our jails back to their EU countries.
I want to apply a different principle. My hon. Friend has noted that there are 10,442 foreign nationals in our prisoners. Can he tell us how many British nationals there are in prisons around the world? If we applied the same principle to them, how much would it cost us to have them back in our prisons?
My hon. Friend makes a very helpful intervention; his lateral thinking on the issue demonstrates that he is an assiduous Member of the House. In answer to his question, I believe that each year about 4,000 people with British nationality are imprisoned overseas. I got that figure from Prisoners Abroad, which seems a very worthwhile human rights and welfare charity; it provides those people with humanitarian aid, expert advice and emotional support.
I hope that we will get the official figure from the Home Office or the Foreign Office when the relevant person arrives. Some of those British nationals will be in prison not because they have been convicted of any crime, but because they have been detained by the authorities of whatever country they might be in—and most of those countries will have criminal justice systems that are far less rigorous than our own.
It seems to me that, were we to sort this system out, 4,000 British nationals could be repatriated to serve their time here. I am not suggesting for one moment that all 4,000 would return immediately, but my hon. Friend asked for a figure and that is the one I have. In practice, the number of returnees would be a lot lower. Of course, that number is still a lot lower than the number of foreign nationals convicted and imprisoned in this country.
Presumably the figure would be far lower, because many of the people imprisoned overseas will have been imprisoned for short periods of time, and perhaps for relatively minor offences that, for the purposes of the Bill, would not require deportation.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point.
Mr Speaker, you will be relieved to hear that I do not actually know any personal details of any of the Polish prisoners, so I will not trouble the House with that information, but I am grateful, as ever, for your wise counsel and guidance.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the next country, could he say—perhaps he will come to this point later in his remarks—whether the Bill envisages a minimum custodial sentence before somebody is exchanged, perhaps six months, or would it be on the provision of being sent to prison?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about a key issue, and I will answer it, but his intervention has reminded me that I did not answer fully the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on the EU prisoner transfer agreement. Now that we have that agreement, apparently we can send back to EU countries those foreign EU nationals convicted and imprisoned in our country. But it is not working.
Specifically, Poland has a derogation until December 2016. Given that Poland is No. 1 on the list of shame, I would have thought that a key part of our renegotiation of the terms of our membership of the EU would have been for that derogation no longer to apply to Polish citizens living in the UK. As far as I am aware, however, Her Majesty’s Government made no attempt at all to tackle the issue during the renegotiation. Poland has the largest number of foreign nationals in our prisons, yet Her Majesty’s Government have done nothing, as far as I can see, to tackle the issue.
The Polish people are renowned for their sense of family values. Why is it, then, that Poland does not wish to have its own patriots back in their country so that they can serve their sentences with their friends and family, thereby facilitating their rehabilitation?
I may be pre-empting my hon. Friend, but could I encourage him to look in due course at the term “qualifying offence”, because there are some important provisions relating to whether that involves a term of imprisonment, as in the Bill, or whether a foreign offender would have to be in prison to qualify? Perhaps there are some interesting points there to develop. Will my hon. Friend come back to that in due course?
It is okay: my hon. Friend is back on the Committee. He has made an extremely good point, which I hope he can repeat in Committee. My hon. Friend is quite right: we need to define what a qualifying offence is.
Clause 1(1) says:
“the Secretary of State must make provision in regulations for any foreign national convicted in any court of law of a qualifying offence to be excluded from the United Kingdom.”
Subsection (4) of the clause—there are, of course, only two clauses—then defines a qualifying offence as meaning
“any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”
That is important.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way—he is the very model of generosity. I asked specifically whether the clause meant any custodial sentence, because we had an arrival over new year who was a resident of the Netherlands but an Afghan national. He assaulted a member of check-in staff at Gatwick airport. He was then released on to the streets of Crawley without any address. A few days later, he assaulted a female police officer with a hammer. He was then, finally, arrested again. I put it to the House that this foreign national should never have been allowed into this country. He also had a previous murder conviction in the Netherlands. I am therefore pleased to support the Bill, which would mean we were able to remove people from this country at the earliest opportunity.
I knew the situation was bad, but the example brought to the House by my hon. Friend makes me think that it is a lot worse than I had feared. I invite him to intervene on me again to update the House on where this individual is now.
I understand that this man is still being processed through the criminal justice system. I sincerely hope that, for two assaults within a week in my constituency, this Afghan national, who is a convicted murderer in the Netherlands, will receive a custodial sentence. I only wish that my hon. Friend’s Bill were on the statute book so that this man could be deported back to the Netherlands to serve his sentence. Alas, I do not think that your Bill will make it on to the statute book in time, but I hope this case illustrates that the Bill is very necessary.
Order. Two things. First, “pithiness personified” is normally the title that I would accord the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will want to recover that status. Secondly, he referred to “your Bill”. Debate, of course, goes through the Chair—I have no Bill before the House, but the hon. Member for Kettering has.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could tease out a little more the meaning of “qualifying offence”. As drafted, the definition is very wide and would cover even the most minor offences. For example, small, petty shoplifting has a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years and would, therefore, be caught by subsection (1). [Interruption.] I hear a “Hear, hear”, but, on the other hand, this is a very petty offence. Is it really the intention of the Bill to cover such an offence?
I can see that the Bill Committee will be extremely interesting. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point. I would take the view—I think other members of the Committee, although perhaps not all, would too—that a foreign national in this country who shoplifts should be removed forthwith and never be allowed to darken our shores again.
On the definition of “may be” and the point that trivial crimes may be offences
“for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court”,
if foreign nationals commit a crime such as burglary, which is potentially due a custodial sentence in law, but that sentence is not dished out by the court, they would, effectively, come within the remit of the Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I agree with him. That is why we have to be so careful about the wording. It may be that we need to strengthen the clarity of these provisions in Committee, because all too often, sadly, our courts do not impose a custodial sentence, even though they have the opportunity to do so. My understanding, and my intent in the Bill, would be that, even if a prison sentence is not imposed, as long as the offence carries the potential for imprisonment, the person should be deported, removed, transferred or repatriated—whatever the technical term is.
I do not want to put too many flies in the ointment, but the term “may be” is ambiguous, because we also enter the realm of sentencing guidelines. If a sentencing guideline did not indicate that a prison sentence would be given, even though the crime comes, at its worst extent, with a custodial sentence, the term
“may be imposed by a court of law” would be difficult to interpret.
It is that sort of intervention that confirms my view that the Bill would be poorer if my hon. Friend were not on the Committee. He would bring to it a wealth of experience, not only as a Member of this House, but because he has concentrated on justice issues since he arrived here in 2005. The Bill would be far better were he kind enough to serve on the Committee.
I have not received any such helpful indications from the Government, but I do not usually receive helpful indications about very much at all, so I am not necessarily taking the lack of an indication as a negative. I would hope that, given the presence of so many hon. Members here today, the Government might realise that the issue is important to our constituents and needs to be taken seriously.
I am still in a state of shock, having heard the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. We are told that we are safer being a member of the European Union, but my hon. Friend has given the House a clear, explicit example of how we are not safer. Here we have an Afghan national—he is not even a national of the Netherlands, but a resident there—who is a convicted murderer, but who can none the less fly into this country. Border Force does not know anything about him. He then commits an offence and is out on the streets in Crawley before being apprehended again. How on earth can we be safer and more secure in our nation with rules such as that?
Order. Just before the hon. Member for Kettering takes an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, I just remind him that the Bill contains two clauses, the first of which is the only substantive clause, containing four subsections. The second clause is simply the short title and commencement date of the Bill, and the Bill itself takes up a little over one page. As the hon. Member for Kettering has now dilated very eloquently and with great courtesy for 53 minutes, he might perhaps consider focusing, with that laser-like precision for which he is renowned in all parts of the House, upon the first clause of his two-clause Bill.
The Bill, of course, can be amended and, therefore, notably changed in all sorts of ways in Committee, but that cannot be done today. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman considerable latitude to establish the context and to explain the background to the introduction of his Bill, and I have no regrets on that score, but I feel sure that he will have plenty of meat to present to the House in respect of clause 1. On that clause I am sure he will shortly focus.
Before you leave the Chair, Mr Speaker—two esteemed Deputy Speakers are standing nearby—I just want to say that I am very disappointed in myself for not being pithy earlier and not observing the parliamentary protocol, so I offer my sincere apologies. I say to my hon. Friend that I think that one of the reasons why the majority of people in Crawley will vote to leave the European Union on
I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend speaks not only for his constituency, but for the nation in saying that we will have a better, safer, more secure and prosperous future outside the European Union.
I had mentioned No. 1 on my list of shame. I know hon. Members have been anticipating who No. 2 might be, and it is our good friends the Irish Republic. There are 783 Irish nationals in our jails. It seems to me that we have had a number of opportunities to negotiate their repatriation, not least when this country lent, I believe, £7 billion to help bail out—
It was lots of billions to bail out the Irish economy. As part of that agreement for the lending of a substantial amount of money, I am sure we could have done something on repatriating Irish nationals.
No. 3, which, given the size of its population, might be a surprise to some, is Jamaica. There are 567 Jamaican nationals in our jails.
It is completely absurd that we cannot deport people back to Jamaica, which is a completely safe country. If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr Speaker’s eye, I shall make the point later that there is a particular case of our not being able to deport somebody back to the West Indies. The situation is so difficult that the British taxpayer is now actually funding a prison in the West Indies so that we can pay for people to go back to a prison for which we are paying.
I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. May I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? It is always a delight to see you grace the Chamber with your presence, and your appearance has certainly made my day.
I have given the House some wrong information—perhaps my eyesight has let me down. I said that Jamaica is No. 3, but it is in fact No. 4. No. 3 is Romania with 629, and Jamaica is No. 4 with 567.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill. I just want to make the point again about the enormous contribution that the Irish people have made to the United Kingdom. I declare again my Irish ancestry, but I hope I will not have to declare ancestry from 160 different countries. It is incredibly important that we do not let this distort the view of the huge contribution that the Irish people make to the economy of the UK, and I hope the same is true the other way around. There are also many British people who commit crimes abroad, and they should be equally castigated. I would just like my hon. Friend to re-emphasise that we are talking about the very, very small minority of people who commit crimes in this country. We are not referring to the people as a whole.
My hon. Friend speaks a great deal of common sense, as always. I have nothing but admiration for hard-working Jamaicans in this country who contribute much to our economy. What I would say, though—this is, in part, the purpose of this Bill—is that the fact that 160 nations around the world are represented in Her Majesty’s prisons is a stain on those countries’ reputations, which I would have thought those countries would want to try to get rid of. The way to get rid of it properly is to come to an agreement with this country, under which they take back their prisoners to prisons in their country. Then we will not have to have debates like this or read out lists of shame. Of course, the numbers from each of the countries involved are small, but as a percentage of our national prison population they are significant, and the cost to British taxpayers, as we have heard, could be north of £875 million a year.
In actual terms, I suppose the numbers are small, but is my hon. Friend aware that the Polish figure is just over 900 from a population of, I believe, about 40 million, whereas the Jamaican figure is over 500 from a population of 3 million? That is a stark difference. I also echo the views of my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy on the contribution of the Irish and Jamaican populations.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight those figures. There is a particular issue with Jamaica and drugs, and I think that is where the problem arises. To be fair, Her Majesty’s Government have recognised that. In September 2015, the UK made an agreement with the Jamaican Government to start sending Jamaican prisoners serving time in British jails back to Jamaica. That is exactly the sort of arrangement that needs to be put in place with as many as possible of the 160 countries.
It is expected to save British taxpayers around £10 million over 30 years once the first prisoners are returned from 2020 onwards.
The UK will provide £25 million from the government’s existing aid budget to help fund the construction of a new 1500 bed prison in Jamaica…The prison is expected to be built by 2020 and from then returns will get underway.”
I know many supporters of the international aid budget are present, as are one or two Members who have slightly different views. Whatever one’s views on Britain’s international aid budget, I think we can all agree that it is extremely generous. I believe we are the only major western economy to hit our millennium goal target of spending 0.7% of our economy on international aid. I would hope that we can all agree that spending part of the international aid budget in this way makes a huge amount of sense. If we spend it on building prisons in those countries that have a large number of nationals imprisoned in our country, we can start to send these people back to those prisons, saving British taxpayers’ money being spent on incarcerating them in our jails.
I am disappointed, however, that it seems to take so long to build those prisons. I do not understand why it takes five years to build a 1,500-bed prison in Jamaica. If we asked the Royal Engineers to put up a building, I am sure they could do it in double-quick time, and then we could start shipping these people back pretty soon.
I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to make more such arrangements. They could certainly look at my list of shame for further opportunities. We have got to No. 4 on the list, which is Jamaica. No. 5 is Albania; there are 472 Albanians in our jails. Close behind in equal sixth place is Latvia. Let me get that right—I think it is Lithuania with 471, in equal sixth place with Pakistan. I am not an expert, but I believe the population of Pakistan is a lot bigger than that of Lithuania, so for Lithuania to have the same number of prisoners as Pakistan says something to me about why our membership of the European Union is not doing us any favours.
Is there not an additional problem in relation to the large number of Lithuanian offenders in that they necessitate the use of very expensive translation services in the court system and in prisons?
My hon. Friend is right. I know that he has raised that issue in the Chamber on numerous occasions, and rightly, because there are few issues that enrage our constituents more than the public money spent on translating things for people who, frankly, should learn to speak English if they want to stay in this country.
My hon. Friend is talking about the international development budget and prisons abroad. In the very uncertain world in which we now live, does he not agree that it is good that our Government are spending money on strengthening the legal systems in these countries so that they can deal with their own prisoners?
Clause 1(1) in fact refers to
“any foreign national convicted in any court of law”.
I fear that my hon. Friend Mr Chope may need to introduce a new Bill if we are to seek savings in translation services, because costs will inevitably be racked up in court proceedings to ensure that a foreign national is convicted so that they qualify under clause 1(1).
My hon. Friend is right in part, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is of course talking about translation services as a whole. The longer a foreign national offender stays in this country, the greater the demand for translation services they will inevitably trigger during their incarceration.
They may learn English while they are in prison, but it might not be the sort of English we want to encourage them to learn.
My hon. Friend mentioned Lithuania. I have not detected that I have any Lithuanian ancestry. Does he agree that the fact that Lithuanians are prisoners in this country shows that they have freedom, whereas 20 or 30 years ago, when they were under the Soviet yoke, they were not able to travel to this country to work? As I have said, they and nationals from all the other countries that have been mentioned do a tremendous amount of good for the British economy. I agree that of course a few get into trouble and should be sent home, but does he agree that it is tremendous that the Baltic and other eastern European countries are now free from the Soviet yoke?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is fantastic that eastern Europe is now free from the Soviet yoke. He and I spent much of our political life worrying about the cold war—not seeing how it would end, and perhaps thinking that it would never end. Everyone is delighted that it has ended and that eastern European countries are now firmly on their way to becoming fully developed, westernised economies with democratic values and freedoms. That is all fine, but the problem with our membership of the European Union—this is one of the issues that the Bill seeks to address—is that we are not able to check which of the Lithuanians coming to our shores have got criminal pasts. It is an absolute fundamental of our national security that we should be able to stop anyone coming into this country and check whether they have some kind of criminal record, but our membership of the European Union means that we are simply not able to do that.
Before my hon. Friend gets on to another country and mentions the number of criminals we would like to deport, and before my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy praises that country, may we just establish one fact? Those of us who support the Bill have absolutely no objection to the wonderful work done by Poles, Jamaicans, Lithuanians or Latvians; we simply want to deport people who are convicted criminals. That is all we want to do.
It is not quite all we want to do. We actually want to stop convicted criminals coming into this country in the first place. I readily admit that that is not clear in the Bill as drafted, but that is something that we could strengthen in Committee. I am sure that that would enjoy my hon. Friend’s support. The main aim of the Bill, however, is to send back foreign nationals convicted of offences to wherever they come from.
I encourage my hon. Friend to consider, in Committee, greater controls and information flows from other countries, so that we can stop people who are already convicted criminals in other countries entering the United Kingdom in the first place. Our constituents would assume that that already happens, and if they found out that it does not, they would want—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that what we must discuss this morning are matters in the Bill, not matters that are not in the Bill. The Bill is a short one, and I am well aware of what is in it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that sticking strictly to what is in the Bill is essential.
As my hon. Friend is talking about prisons, I want to point out that the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice is listening to the debate in the Chamber. I know that she will take note of all points that are specific to Ministry of Justice matters and feed them back to her officials.
I am very glad that our hon. Friend is in the Chamber. I hope that she will be so impressed by my remarks that she will invite me to visit the prison in Jamaica, because I am keen to see for myself how our international aid money is being spent. I think that the initiative offers a sensible solution to the problem.
Lithuania benefits enormously from the NATO presence in the Baltics. Is it not a disappointment that, while we are using our public money to help to secure Lithuania against an external threat, it is not prepared to use its resources to secure our people against the threat from their prisoners?
As ever, my hon. Friend sums it up really rather well. He makes the case that his constituents would make, which is that our membership of these international organisations should work both ways. We are spending a great deal of British taxpayers’ money in defending Lithuanians from the Russian threat, and the very least they could do is to take back their 471 nationals from this country to prisons in their own country. After all, we are supposed to have an EU prisoner transfer agreement, from which Lithuania does not have a derogation, so I do not understand why there is a problem.
I am anxious, as I am sure you are, Madam Deputy Speaker, to complete my list so that I can move on to other aspects of the Bill. There are some important countries at the bottom of the top 10. India, with 458, is No. 8, and I am looking for No. 9 on my list—
Clause 1(1) will exclude
“any foreign national convicted in any court of law of a qualifying offence”.
Will my hon. Friend clarify what would be a qualifying offence? We have trivialised things such as shoplifting as minor offences, but, having been a retailer for 30 years, I can assure him that some of us feel that it should be a qualifying offence. I also point out that a former Minister for Crime Prevention said at the Dispatch Box not too long ago:
“Someone might start with shoplifting, but who knows where they will end up?”—[Hansard, 5 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 10.]
He has personal experience of being shoplifted, not being a shoplifter. The point that he makes is absolutely right, and it is an issue that the Committee could explore. Opinions will differ in Committee, but I share his view that shoplifting should be taken seriously. Unless criminal behaviour is nipped in the bud, it tends to get worse. If a foreign national thinks it is acceptable to shoplift in this country, I think most of my constituents would say, “That is not acceptable. Go and do it in your own country.”
My point was not that shoplifting is trivial, but that it is trivial in comparison to other aspects of theft. It is a question of scale. I want to clarify that, because I would hate people to think that my personal view was that shoplifting is trivial. It is not: all crimes are serious, but there is a scale and it is well known that, among thefts, shoplifting is towards the bottom end of the scale.
I suspect that my hon. Friend brings some legal experience to his advice to this House, for which we are all very grateful. That is why he will be such a valuable member of the Committee.
I just want to reach the end of my list before ending my speech and encouraging others to take part. There are two important countries at the bottom of the top 10 list of shame: Somalia has 430 and Nigeria is at No. 10 with 385. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford takes a lot of interest in Nigeria. If he wants to say some nice things about Nigerians, I am happy to give way.
I am most grateful, and I will. All the countries in the top 10 that I have not yet commented on—India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Somalia—have nationals who are in this country legally and who are abiding by the law, as we would want them to. Those people are making a tremendous contribution. My hon. Friend is talking about people who are not abiding by the law. In just the same way, we would expect our own citizens who do not abide by the law in another country to be imprisoned and, perhaps, repatriated to this country.
This might be an issue that the International Development Committee, on which he sits, might want to explore, because when one compares the list of the top 10 countries with the most foreign national offenders in our jails with the list of the 28 countries to which this country gives the most international development aid, three countries stand out—Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia. All three countries are on the list of the 28 countries to which the Department for
International Development gives international aid and in the top 10 list of countries with the most foreign national offenders in prison in this country.
Does my hon. Friend accept that many nationals from those countries send a huge amount of their own money back to their country to help their families who are still there? As my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy said, those people are good, contributing members of this society because they have chosen to come here and they add to what we have in this country. Obviously the criminals are the worst offenders we could possibly have and we need to get rid of them, but there are so many people here who work hard to help their families back home.
And those people will be very embarrassed indeed that their fellow foreign nationals are clogging up our prisons in this way. They may be keener than us to see a sensible resolution to the problem.
The point that I want to make in drawing my brief remarks to a close is that, if we are giving so much money in international aid to Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, but those three countries are in the top 10 list of shame in respect of having foreign nationals in our prisons, surely we should do in those countries what we are doing in Jamaica—spending the international aid money that we are already giving them on building prisons in those countries, so that the prisoners in our country can be sent back to them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we did do that, the standard of the prisons we would provide would be far superior to the standard of the prisons that many developing countries provide for their citizens?
I am not sure that my constituents are that fussed about the standard of prisons that are built in other countries—they just want the foreign nationals to be sent back to them—but I take the point that my hon. Friend makes.
I want to highlight one other issue that is of concern. I asked the Secretary of State for Justice how many foreign national offenders were serving their sentence in prison, and I have read out to the House the list of shame that I received. However, I also asked how many foreign national offenders were serving their sentence outside prison, and the answer that I got from the Ministry of Justice was:
“The number of convicted foreign national offenders serving their sentence outside prison is not published due to data quality.”
In other words, “We don’t know.” I am very worried indeed about that.
That answer surprises me because one of the Justice Ministers told us at Justice questions that the number of foreign national offenders in our prisons had declined. It is surely in the public interest to know whether the number has declined because they are serving their sentences outside prison.
That is a very good point. Neither my hon. Friend nor I—nor, indeed, the House—is any the wiser because of Her Majesty’s Government’s obfuscation over providing the data. We can all sense that it is a real problem that we do not know how many foreign national offenders are loose on our streets. We have heard a couple of examples today from my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull and for Crawley of foreign national offenders being at large in our communities.
If this Bill became law, it would send a clear signal to our constituents and to the world at large—if you are a foreign national and you are in our country, you must not break our laws, and if you do break our laws, you will be sent back to the country from where you came and banned from ever returning. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak on this important Bill. The House will be relieved to hear that my comments need not be very long, because my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, with his characteristic courtesy, skill and devotion to the procedures of this House, has made such a comprehensive case in favour of the Bill that I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody would oppose the entirely common-sense proposals that he is elucidating this morning.
As we have heard, this issue is of enormous importance. Some 10,000 of our prisoners in custody are foreign nationals, but only about 1,000 recommendations for deportation are made each year. That is even more surprising given that this has been a matter of national debate for so long. There is immense public interest in this issue. Only this week, Rod Liddle, who is not an hon. Friend but a well-known journalist, wrote a most interesting article in The Spectator on precisely this subject. This is a not just a matter for a quiet Friday morning in the House of Commons, but a subject that is constantly discussed all over the nation.
Rod Liddle, in his inimitable way, portrayed the problem we are dealing with. We have heard that there are all these people gumming up our prisons who are not deported, but at last, apparently, the Home Office had decided to get tough in the case of Myrtle Cothill, a
“South African widow aged 92 who wished to see out her final days with her daughter in the UK.”
But the Home Office said “tough luck, Myrtle” and told her she had to get on the next plane and leave the country.
Last week, I mentioned the case of a leading American Shakespearean scholar, who was frogmarched to the airport by the Home Office because he had stayed a few days longer. What the public cannot understand is why so many good people are being kicked out of our country, not least Myrtle Cothill—although after a national campaign and a huge petition, the Home Office finally relented—and yet all these convicted criminals are not being deported, at a massive cost to our taxpayers of up to £1 billion.
Following our debate on this subject last week, I have received correspondence from people who are not my constituents but who know people—for example from the United States—who are being picked on in most unsatisfactory circumstances. It seems that the Home Office is going for the soft-touch people.
That is the problem. Is the Home Office going for soft-touch people? We had that debate last week with the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees. He gave a skilful performance from the Dispatch Box, but he could not really deny my hon. Friend’s impeccable case. Indeed, the Minister admitted that there are more than 30,000 illegal asylum seekers who cannot be deported, on top of the people we are talking about today, and all that has to do with the Dublin convention and the Human Rights Act 1998.
There was a firm pledge in the Conservative party manifesto to deal with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. There has been massive controversy and publicity about that, and I cannot understand why we are still waiting. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, she will tell us what has happened to our reform of human rights legislation, because this is a matter of great public interest.
Rod Liddle gave some interesting examples of such cases, and others have been enumerated in other newspapers. Let us consider the case of Baghdad Meziane. Baghdad is a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist, with links to the appalling people who committed that atrocity in Paris recently. As Rod Liddle states:
“He was convicted in a British court of raising money for al-Qaeda (and also of the ubiquitous credit-card fraud) and sentenced to 11 years in prison. At his trial the judge pointed out, perhaps unnecessarily, that Meziane was a very dangerous man and recommended deportation once his term of incarceration had expired.”
But no. This “very dangerous” and unpleasant man, was actually released from prison five years early and allowed to return to Leicester. He was not put on the first available plane to Algiers, whence, despite his name, he originates.
“Baghdad argued that to deport him would contravene his human right to a normal family life.”
Therefore this man, this dangerous individual, has been released back into our community in Leicester because he claims a right to family life, and despite lengthy legal battles, all our debates, and the Home Secretary’s attempts at legislation, in Leicester he now resides.
May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to another example where process and legality are failing? Andre Babbage was released from detention by the High Court because there was no prospect of deporting him to Zimbabwe, because he does not have a passport and does not wish to return there, despite a high chance that he will reoffend.
That is what the public cannot understand. People are laughing at our system, and we are asking the Government to take action. Rod Liddle also mentioned the case of J1—we are not told his real name, because that would apparently breach his privacy:
“J1 is known to be a senior organiser for Somalia’s exciting Islamic terror franchise, al-Shabab, and has links to the Muslim extremists who tried to blow up London on
Or how about CS? Again, we do not know CS’s real name because of her right to privacy:
“But at least we know that CS is a Moroccan woman and the daughter-in-law of…Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, now serving a life sentence in the USA for terrorism-related offences. It’s the European Courts of Justice blocking her deportation, because she is the sole carer of her son in this country…She was found smuggling a sim card into Hamza’s Belmarsh cell.”
We cannot kick her out of this country, and we clearly need a Bill such as the one we are discussing. When the Minister replies, she needs to tell the British people why we cannot deal with such people.
Let us leave jihadists for a moment. The article continues:
“There’s always the child rapists. Shabir Ahmed, aged 63, is serving a 22-year sentence for having been the ringleader of a gang of Pakistani paedophiles in Rochdale. Ahmed is petitioning the European Court of Human Rights to prevent his deportation. He claims that his trial was ‘institutionally racist’”.
The Home Office may fight, but I suspect that this man will be staying in a prison in this country.
I would go further than the Bill and say that when a foreign national commits a crime, we should have some sort of arrangement by which we send them back to their own country as soon as their sentence begins. If necessary, we will pay the costs of that, but let us get them out of our country as soon as possible.
I will deal with that point in a moment, and that is precisely what Migration Watch UK—a very respected charity—is arguing. The article continues:
“We can’t even get rid of the criminals who actively want to leave. Mohammed Faisal is a convicted ‘drug lord’ who is reportedly ‘desperate’ to get back to Pakistan.”
However, the Home Office has messed up his papers, so he is staying put in this country.
“And what of the Yardies?” —
Jamaicans have already been mentioned—
“We couldn’t send them to serve their sentences in Jamaica because the prisons are so bad it would breach their human rights.”
So, as I made clear in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, “in desperation”, we are spending £25 million of taxpayers money on
“building them a nice prison there, maybe with views over Montego Bay. There is a plethora of national and supra-national legislation protecting the rights of the foreign criminal: the Human Rights Act, the Dublin Convention, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Courts of Justice. But none protecting the rest of us.”
There are all those conventions and Acts of Parliament, but what about the British people who are paying for all this? They cannot understand how, after 10 years of debates, these people are still with us. They are laughing at us. It is not just a question of money; they are literally laughing at us. Many of them are not just serving time in prison, but they are being let out of prison and back into our communities, having committed appalling crimes. They are not being kicked out.
And no doubt they are indeed receiving benefits. That is why the British people are fed up and want action to be taken. It is unlikely that my hon. Friend’s Bill will get to Committee because it is a private Member’s Bill, but therefore the Government should act, and that is why this debate is important.
There have been many other cases. The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph have run a long-standing campaign, and we owe them a great debt for dealing with this issue and trying to raise it on the national stage. The Daily Telegraph put it well:
“Sixty years ago, with the horrors of the Second World War still fresh and raw, lawyers devised a set of principles designed to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust and other depravities. This was the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined in British law under Labour’s Human Rights Act in 1998. In 1950, those lawyers did not set out to protect an immigrant’s right to bowl a cricket ball on a Sunday afternoon”— or any of the other absurd examples that we have seen in the press recently—
“nor did they agonise over any of the other absurd scenarios, uncovered by our campaign”.
The tentacles of the Human Rights Act spread far and wide and in ways that are perhaps not obvious at first to the outside observer. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable for the Advocates General of the European Court of Justice to argue that the UK cannot expel a non-EU national with a criminal record who happens to be the parent of a child who is an EU citizen?
Yes. There are so many absurd examples. Those lawyers, who were dealing with a Europe that had been devastated by fascism and Nazism and trying to create a reasonable body of law to protect us all, could not have foreseen how their work in 1950 in setting up the Council of Europe, on which my hon. Friend Mr Chope and I are proud to have served, would mean that criminals could deliberately misuse and abuse the system.
There are appalling examples. For instance, Lionel Hibbert, a 50-year-old Jamaican criminal who fathered three children by three mothers within four months of one another, claimed he should not be deported because of his right to family life. Hon. Members will think that that is a ridiculous claim, but British judges agreed with it and overturned the Home Office decision because of that man’s claim to family life. In another example cited by The Daily Telegraph, the violent drug dealer, Gary Ellis, a 23-year-old Jamaican, convinced a court that he had a stable family life with his young daughter and girlfriend, when in fact she had split up with him years previously and refused to allow him into her home.
The court’s willingness to believe those stories and attach inappropriate weight to them is a huge problem—I concede that to the Government—but therefore we need more legislation. Ultimately, the courts have to subscribe to legislation passed by this House to make this absolutely watertight: if someone is convicted and if they are a danger to our society, they can be deported. That is what the Bill is about.
Let me deal with the suggestion from Migration Watch, which is very much like what is suggested in the Bill. We know that there are some 10,000 foreign nationals in custody, and that only about 1,000 recommendations for deportation are made each year. We know that something is wrong. Should there not be—this is what the Bill is about—a presumption that deportation will be recommended for a wide range of offences that attract a sentence of 12 months or more, as well as for offenders who are illegal immigrants? The trigger should be lower for a second or third offence. Central records should be kept, including biometric information, which should be available to visa-issuing posts overseas to prevent offenders from applying for a visa under a false identity. I refer again to my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. That is a problem—there is nothing to stop somebody whom we have finally managed to deport from simply changing their identity and coming back.
We know that the current arrangements for the deportation of foreigners convicted of criminal offences are extremely unsatisfactory. Let us a least agree on that. When the Minister replies to the debate, let her acknowledge that the arrangements are unsatisfactory and that we should do something about it.
There are no clear guidelines for the courts. The general principles have not been revised sufficiently. Only 5,000 to 6,000 recommendations were made annually in recent years. There are no statistics on the number of deportations that are carried out, and no feedback to the courts. An offender cannot only appeal against a recommendation for a deportation; they can also appeal against a subsequent deportation order. He can claim asylum and appeal against a refusal of asylum. He can then seek judicial review of removal instructions following the failure of his claim. Who is paying for all those procedures? Who is benefiting from them? Is it the British public or is it lawyers and the convicted criminal? As I have said, that all happens at public expense.
Deportation cannot be recommended as a sentence in its own right, and nor can it justify a reduction of a sentence. Deportation recommendations are often considered towards the end of a custodial sentence. Why not at the beginning? That is what the Bill is about. If someone is convicted, on day one, this should be part of the sentence: “It’s deportation, chum.” Why are we still arguing about it years into someone’s sentence?
As I have said, there is nothing to stop a deported criminal from returning to Britain under a false identity. A recommendation for deportation is a matter for the courts, but a decision is for the Home Secretary, who takes into account the circumstances in the offender’s country of origin, humanitarian aspects and considerations of public policy. That sounds very fair, but what is being done on the ground?
The offender may appeal to an immigration judge against the Home Secretary’s decision. The current position in law is that the court must consider whether the accused’s presence in the UK is to its detriment. I believe—Migration Watch and many other people believe the same—that that is the wrong yardstick. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to serious criminal behaviour by foreign nationals, which should involve a presumption that deportation will be recommended for any offence that results in a 12-month prison sentence.
That sounds entirely logical, and if the Bill by some miracle becomes law, that is effectively what will happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering talked of the Bill going to Committee, where I am sure he would prepared to accept a compromise. If the Minister comes back to us with a sensible compromise, we will consider it. I am sure he would be prepared to withdraw the Bill if the Minister announces today that we are adopting that policy of zero tolerance that involves a presumption that deportation will be recommended in any offence that results in a 12-month sentence.
That is a moderate proposal—it is the Migration Watch proposal, but my hon. Friends might want to ask for more. Migration Watch and I believe that the trigger should be a sixth-month sentence on a second conviction and a three-month sentence on a third conviction. Currently, magistrates may impose a maximum sentence of only six months, but that is to be increased to 12 months. Until that change is made, the approach I have suggested would mean that magistrates could recommend deportation for a second offence only. That, too, is a moderate proposal.
It is currently not possible to make deportation part of the sentence. Why? That is what we are asking for in the Bill. The law should be changed to permit that, to reduce the amount of time that foreign prisoners spend in prisons. Our jails are already so heavily overcrowded that we cannot carry out proper rehabilitation—we cannot afford it, and it is bad for prisoners. Surely the approach we are suggesting would be much better for prisoners. It is much better for the welfare of prisoners that those 800 Poles who are currently in our jails, or the 500 Jamaicans or Irish, are sent back to prisons in their countries, particularly when there is a foreign language involved, so that they can be rehabilitated and gradually put back into their own societies. It is not good for them or for our taxpayer that they are kept in our prisons.
That would be very good for the other inhabitants of our prisons, who would have more space. Our prisons are so overcrowded, and currently, more than 10% of our prison population are foreigners.
That is what we are talking about—10%—so this is a matter of enormous importance.
As I have said, it is vital to avoid lengthy delays in custody, which is what the Bill would do, as I understand it. Deportation proceedings should commence on the very first day of the sentence. That is the key point.
Does my hon. Friend or Migration Watch have a practical solution on where to send the 400-odd prisoners my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone mentioned, who have not declared where they come from?
That is an interesting question, and I confess that I do not have an instant response. My hon. Friend the Minister has heard that intervention, and I am sure she can deal with it. That just shows, does it not, how people are deliberately laughing at our system and abusing it? People should be aware of that.
That is a tricky part of the issue—the 434 people who will not declare their nationality. How, on any basis, can we let them out of prison if they are not prepared to tell us where they came from? Do we have to make special provision for them—a prison in a remote location, another country or elsewhere? Surely we cannot have those people walking our streets when they will not tell us where they come from.
If, having been convicted, they are not prepared to tell the authorities where they are from, there should be a presumption that they will remain in prison until they do so. That might actually concentrate a few minds. Again, that is something for the Minister deal with.
As long as the United Kingdom remains a signatory of the 1951 refugee convention, criminals cannot be denied the option of claiming asylum, even after conviction. I believe that any such applicants should remain in detention and be put through the fast-track procedure I am talking about.
A serious weakness of the present system is that there is nothing to prevent criminals from returning to Britain under a false identity. Given that they are criminals, they would presumably have no compunction about changing their identity. To help tackle that weakness in the system, all those convicted should have their biometric information recorded and held centrally. As biometric visas are introduced overseas, visa applicants should be checked against the database. The records would detect those reoffending under a different identity. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the serious point raised today about the return to this country of criminals who change their identity. At the moment, we can apparently do nothing about it. We should keep biometric information so that we can identify them and stop them coming back.
Central records should, at the very least, include the immigration status of all those convicted, the number of recommendations for deportation and the number of deportations carried out. The courts should be informed of the outcome of the recommendations—I understand that at present they are not. I may be wrong about that, but the Minister can correct me if she wishes. There should also be a presumption that deportation is recommended for certain classes of offences, including drug offences, such as importation and supply but not necessarily possession; manufacture of class A drugs; people-smuggling offences; forgery of travel documents; serious violent and sexual offences; firearms offences; fraud; all offences involving the handling of the international proceeds of crime; and all defined immigration offences.
On day one, when someone is convicted under the proposals set out in the Bill, and under my suggestions to toughen it up if necessary, deportation proceedings should start immediately. They would be triggered by a certain length of sentence or a sentence for particularly serious types of crime. That is clear and simple, and it should be done. There should also be an automatic recommendation of deportation for offenders who are illegal immigrants and a presumption of deportation for offenders who are in Britain on a temporary basis, for example for work or study, which was dealt with in the Bill that we discussed last week.
As we know, the whole question of article 8 is a mess. We know why it was originally created, and I talked about how lawyers devised the arrangements in the early 1950s, but they are in urgent need of reform. Actually, article 8 specifically states exceptions to the right to family life. So far as those exceptions are in accordance with the law, they include public safety, the economic wellbeing of the country, the prevention of disorder or crime, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, for instance of law-abiding citizens.
It is difficult to know how many deportations from the United Kingdom are stopped on appeal due to article 8 arguments, as official figures vary depending on who we ask. Again, I hope the Minister deals with this point. The Courts Service says that in 2010—I am sure there are more up-to-date figures, but maybe these give a good example; I have just got them from the Library—223 people won their appeal against deportation. Of those, 102 were successful on the grounds of article 8. The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency said that in the same year 425 foreign national prisoners won their appeal against deportation, primarily on the grounds of article 8. If this debate achieves nothing else, perhaps we can get more up-to-date information on the exact effect of article 8.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting and informative speech. Does he agree that one reason for the opacity of the figures is that it depends on how we ask the question? In researching this topic, I came across the fact that there are deportations, removals, transfers and repatriations. I do not know what the difference is between those four things, but depending on which one we ask about, we get a different answer.
Exactly. This is an absolute minefield, and because of that it is prone to manipulation by clever lawyers—I can put it no other way. Frankly, the law needs to be cleared up. I suspect we cannot clear it up unless we repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and repatriate this whole part of our law into a British Bill of Rights. Lawyers would still argue about the provisions of a British Bill of Rights, but at least we would have created the law in this House and tried to bring some clarity to these matters. Above all, we could try to recreate public confidence. We can become enmeshed in the details, and I am sorry if I have had to go into some of them, but let us focus, laser-like, on what the public are talking about. The public cannot understand that there are 10,000 people convicted of offences sitting in our jails who we are not sending home. Worse, many of them are coming out of our jails and staying in this country. That is what the public want the Government to deal with.
I mentioned lawyers a few moments ago. I declare an interest as a lawyer. Lawyers can find arguments, but the law needs to be clear. The clearer the law is, the less room there is for argument in courts by lawyers and the less reason for judges to make mistakes.
Like my hon. Friend, I, too, am a lawyer. We are only doing our jobs. Give us unclear law and a client to represent, and we will put forward our best case. It is up to the Government to give us clear law. Judges have been known to reconsider deportation on appeal if they feel that it is a punishment disproportionate to the crime committed. That even happened in the case of a crime that resulted in death, in Gurung
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the ancient English principle of equity should be applied in these cases—that people cannot seek justice unless they come with clean hands?
That is an interesting point. As usual, the common law of our country, developed more than 1,000 years ago, has an enormous amount of common sense. Perhaps we should worry less about bringing in more laws and more about enforcing present common law.
I will come to the end of my speech in a moment, to allow others to speak. To be fair to the Government, they have tried to do something because of the massive public debate. When the Minister responds to the debate, I suspect she may say that the Bill is not necessary because there is already legislation to deal with the problem. Is she shaking her head, or she is nodding? It is not fair of me to interpret her sedentary signs. However, that is a common response from Ministers.
“The Secretary of State must make a deportation order in respect of a foreign criminal” if they have been convicted of an offence and sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment. The Act specifies that in those circumstances the deportation of persons will be
“conducive to the public good” for the purposes of the Immigration Act 1971. Section 33 of the 2007 Act, as amended, identifies six exceptions to automatic deportation. In addition, section 3(6) of the 1971 Act provides that non-British citizens over the age of 17 are liable to deportation from the UK if they are convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment and their deportation is recommended by the court, although the 2007 Act has somewhat curtailed the scope for criminal courts to make recommendations for deportation. A person cannot return to the United Kingdom while a deportation order remains in force against them, although they can apply for the order to be revoked.
I am sorry to have read out those points. I do not want to sound too much like a Minister—[Hon. Members: “No!”] God forbid. But one would think, would one not, that the law was clear, given the 2007 Act, coupled with the Immigration Act 1971 and recent pronouncements by the Home Secretary? One would think that clear powers were available to Ministers to deal with the problem and deport these people. However, that is simply not happening. There are still 10,000 of them in our prisons, and many of them are living in our communities having left prison and not been deported. I am worried about what is happening on the ground. We have in power for the best part of six years, and this has been an issue of public debate for many more years, so I should like the Minister to explain why we are still waiting for action.
The problem involving the European Union has already been mentioned, but I want to say something about European economic area nationals. The scope to deport EEA nationals is restricted by European law. Specifically, directive 2004/38/EC—often referred to as the free movement of persons directive or the free movement of citizens directive—sets out the circumstances in which an EEA national with a right to reside in another member state, or the family member of an EEA national, may be expelled. The directive does not specify any particular sentence thresholds that must apply to expulsion cases. Instead, it requires that expulsion must be proportionate and based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned and the level of threat that they pose to public policy or public security. Previous criminal convictions cannot, in themselves, be grounds for expulsion, nor can expulsion be justified on general prevention grounds. Furthermore, more demanding grounds are required to deport EEA national offenders who have resided in a host member state.
“Crack down on abuse of free movement, e.g. tougher and longer re-entry bans for fraudsters”
—this is the Prime Minister speaking, not me—
“and those involved in sham marriages, stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back”
—some of that is in bold type—
“addressing the inconsistency between EU citizens’ and British citizens’ eligibility to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK, and addressing ECJ judgments that have made it more difficult to tackle abuse.”
Moreover, in the Conservative party manifesto, on which we all stood and which we wholeheartedly endorse in every single respect, we said:
“We will negotiate with the EU to introduce stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back, and tougher and longer re-entry bans for all those who abuse free movement”.
Why is there so much dissatisfaction with politicians? Perhaps it is partly because, despite what we sometimes say in letters to high officials of the European Union or in our manifestos—we stated specifically in the Conservative party manifesto that we would deal with this problem and deport these people, and that a negotiation was taking place—we are still discussing this issue on a Friday. I predict that we will not secure the Minister’s agreement to this Bill, or to a Bill like it, but the matter is urgent and should be dealt with.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on, between them, ensuring that we are debating the Bill this morning, because it deals with a matter that is of great concern to my constituents.
I want to focus on two questions relating to the Bill. The first is the question of whether it is needed, and the second is the question of whether its provisions are satisfactory. It could be argued, in answer to the first question, that the Bill is extremely timely. Members may have seen, only yesterday, an article in
The Times which focused on the fact that five foreign criminals leave UK jails every day and stay in the UK. It stated that nearly 6,000 are waiting to be deported. The number of foreign offenders in the community has risen by 53% in five years, despite Government attempts to speed up deportations.
“The Prime Minister promised to make the speedy removal of foreign national offenders a priority but these figures show the Home Office has failed…The public will be alarmed that 1,800 offenders are still here after five years. This demonstrates either incompetence, inefficiency or both.”
The number of foreign offenders released from jail pending deportation rose from 3,772 in 2011 to 5,789 in the final quarter of last year, and, as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee made clear in his remarks—I think that this needs to be reiterated—more than 1,800 of them have been living in the community for five years or more. That is a disgrace. Moreover, a further 1,300 have been living here for between two and five years, and of 416 prisoners who were released in the last three months of last year, only six were deported. That is an absolute disgrace. The Bill is, as I said, very timely.
Probably the most shocking thing of all—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering will be particularly shocked by this—is that the Home Office figures that were released showed that foreign offenders convicted of 16 murders, 56 rapes and hundreds of robberies and violent attacks were still living in the UK at the end of last year. That is the nature of the beast with which we are dealing. I am afraid that, whatever the Government are doing, it simply cannot be seen as good enough. Those figures should shock all of us, and I hope that they shock the Government.
“When people come to Britain, they should abide by the law, and the whole House wants to see foreign criminals being deported.”—[Hansard, 27 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 903.]
She said that only a couple of years ago, from the Labour Benches. I look forward to seeing support for the Bill not just from Conservative Members, but from Members on both sides of the House.
Given that the EU referendum is to take place on
Is it not depressing that the Government are not even prepared to name and shame the member states of the EU that are not taking back foreign prisoners? Their excuse is that publishing such data could undermine diplomatic relationships with those countries.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In my view, it is the failure of those countries to take back foreign offenders that is undermining diplomatic relationships, rather than the release or otherwise of the information.
The Bill clearly aims to do something that I think most people would consider to be common sense: to deport criminals who are not citizens of this country if they commit an offence that is serious enough to warrant a prison sentence. I think that it is important to establish whether someone qualifies for deportation, but I shall come to that when I go into the details of the Bill.
Governments have not resisted the principle of deporting foreign criminals. In fact, it was the last Labour Government who introduced measures for their automatic deportation in certain circumstances, in the form of the UK Borders Act 2007. I do not propose to bore everyone rigid by quoting from its provisions here and now, but suffice it to say that it made a clear attempt to define foreign criminals and to ensure that, in certain circumstances, they were removed from prison. The key part of that Act, the first condition, was that a person is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of “at least 12 months”—along the same lines as what my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh mentioned in his speech. The Labour Government introduced that provision back in 2007.
There were some exemptions within the Act. I shall not bore everybody rigid by going through every single one, but there were quite a few, if anyone would like to look through the legislation. The exceptions included where deportation would breach a person’s convention rights under the ECHR; where people were covered by the refugee convention; where the offender was under 18 years old at the time of offending; where the deportation breaches the offender’s rights under Community treaties; and where the foreign criminal is subject to the Extradition Act 2003 or to the Mental Health Act 1983.
Herein lies the problem, because the exemptions make it virtually impossible to deport anybody. That is the key issue. It is all very well saying, “We’re going to have an Act of Parliament with this particular provision in it”, but if people cannot be removed because of a potential breach of the Human Rights Act or rights under the Community treaties, which provide for the free movement of people, we are in big difficulties. Given the high proportion of EU citizens who count as foreign offenders, the legislation is barely worth the paper it is written on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and he explains why that part of the Bill is essential. I shall come on to some of the detail in the Bill later.
Our former colleague and the former Member for Wells, David Heathcoat-Amory, in his book “Confessions of a Eurosceptic”, reminded us of what happened when it was reported that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners were released without being considered for deportation when Charles Clarke was the Home Secretary. That particular scandal cost Charles Clarke his job. The public believed it was a huge scandal, which it is. The release of 1,000 foreign prisoners without being considered for deportation was sufficient for the Home Secretary to resign, yet as a newspaper reported yesterday, 1,800 of them have been here for more than five years. If 1,000 was enough for the Home Secretary to resign, one wonders what the trigger point for a scandal is these days.
A fair deportation system should, it seems to me, treat all foreign offenders in the same way. I do not think there can be any justification for saying that a foreign offender from one country should be treated differently from a foreign offender from a different country. This has become a growing problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said, there have been more than 10,000 foreign national offenders in prison since 2006. This is not a new problem. Given current levels of immigration into the UK, of course, there is no prospect at all of the number going down anytime soon.
My hon. Friend is quite right to cite these statistics on the number of foreign national offenders in our jails, which has been over 10,000 for about 10 years. The obvious and simple point to make is that these are not the same 10,000, because each year there is a rotation of foreign national offenders through our prisons. People who commit offences in our country are then released back into our country, so the scale of the problem of foreign national offenders in Britain committing crimes amounts to more than 10,000.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Someone could argue that it is no good deporting foreign nationals if border control has no way of knowing whether people have got a criminal conviction; they will simply re-enter the country in no time at all. If deportation is to be meaningful, it seems to me that we have to do something different at the border control to make sure that these people cannot come straight back into the country again.
The 10,000 figure relates to prisoner numbers, but according to clause 1(4), far more than that would be caught by these provisions. It is not those who are sentenced that counts on the face of it, but those for whom a term of imprisonment for an offence “may be imposed” by a court, which means far more than 10,000.
Yes, indeed—and that is good news, as far as I am concerned. I am not sure that my hon. Friend would agree, but it is good news for me. I shall come back to the detail of that provision later because it raises an important point.
Interestingly, when it comes to this Bill, my hon. Friends have removed the provisions that make it applicable to someone sentenced only for 12 months or more, which was the intention of the 2007 Act. There had to be that trigger point, and the issue was raised in interventions earlier. I believe it important that the Bill removes the 12-month criterion. There are many reasons, but basically, I do not think we want any foreign criminals in the UK—whatever the length of prison sentence, which should be irrelevant.
This issue has led in some cases to what I would call dishonest sentencing. Sentences have been deliberately manipulated in order to avoid the deportation trigger. In the case of the Crown v. Hakimzadeh in 2009, the Court of Appeal approved an adjustment in the structure of the sentence in order to avoid the automatic deportation criterion, imposing instead two consecutive sentences of nine months and three months. This not only promotes dishonesty in sentencing, but undermines the basic principle of abiding by the law. In another case, a drug dealer was sentenced in the Inner London Crown Court in 2011. In sentencing him, the judge said:
“The sentence I have had in mind was 12 months, but it seems to me that it isn’t necessary for me to pass a sentence of 12 months, because a sentence of 11 months will have the same effect, and it would take away the automatic triggering of deportation. I have taken into account that if you were to be deported it is bound to have a devastating effect on your three children, who I’m told are lawfully here in the UK.”
So we have judges who are not giving the sentences they think should be given, on their admission, in order to avoid the 12-month trigger. That cannot be right.
My hon. Friend has highlighted two important and interesting cases where judges have explicitly stated their reasoning for giving a sentence lower than they might otherwise have done. Again, however, we are in danger of criticising lawyers and judges—a very popular thing to do—when it is in fact the law that must be clear. If this Bill is to pass, it must be absolutely clear, and it should be this place that determines the policy, not our judges.
I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, but he is being kind to judges, which is typical of the legal profession. On the same principle, MPs are always kind to the Speaker because they feel that something bad will happen to them if they start criticising. It seems to me that the law is clear. If someone is sentenced to prison for 12 months, they get deported. There is no problem with the clarity of the law. The problem is the judges manipulating the sentence to show a wilful disregard for the law.
Is not the first consequence of this that foreign national offenders are getting lighter sentences than a British domestic prisoner would get for the same offence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; it is a scandal, whichever way we look at it. The person was given 11 months rather than 12 months, despite the fact that he had arrived in Britain in Christmas 2000— 11 years previously—when he was given permission to stay for only four days! He was convicted 11 years later.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the deliberate frustration of the will of elected parliamentarians in this place on behalf of the people is what brings politics into disrepute, when people subsequently blame us rather than the judges? They say, “It must be the politicians’ fault because our MPs did not put in place sufficiently strong pieces of legislation to stop this from happening.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is incumbent on us to point out when such things happen so that people can draw their own conclusions as to what the problem is. It seems that the law, which is clear and was created with all the right intentions—I do not criticise the previous Labour Government for that—has been thwarted by judges who have clearly decided that they do not agree with it. I have no problem with a judge who does not agree with a particular law, but if that is their position and if they want to affect the law, they should quit being a judge and try to get themselves elected to Parliament. They should not use their position to thwart the will of Parliament. That is not what they are for, but that is clearly what they are doing.
The point made by my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson about the qualifying offence is an issue that has arisen in previous debates in the House on these matters. My right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight raised the issue the last time that such a Bill was debated and also thought that the qualifying offence was perhaps a little too wide, which is something that we should consider today. The Bill states that the qualifying offence
“shall mean any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole quite rightly said and as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire said in a previous debate, that does not necessarily mean that the offender has to have been sent to prison, just that they have to have committed an offence that may be punishable with imprisonment.
The problem is that I am not entirely sure what that means. Other people may also not know what it means. Most importantly of all, judges may not know what it means. It could mean that if somebody is convicted of an offence that could lead to a prison sentence, they are automatically deported. That may well be the Bill’s intention; I get the impression from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that that is the intention, and I have no quibble with that. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I would prefer it to go a bit further and say that the imprisonment does not matter and that if anybody commits a criminal offence—full stop—they should be deported from the country. I would make it very simple so that there is no argument at all.
That is precisely the point that I wanted to make when I intervened on my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone to refer to the case in Crawley over the new year, in which an Afghan national, a Dutch resident, committed a violent offence against check-in staff at Gatwick airport and yet was released on to the streets of my constituency. Such measures would have prevented that from happening.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The problem is that we see all the time how difficult it is to be sent to prison in the UK. Someone either has to commit serious offences or be a persistent offender. Even if someone is a persistent offender, the chances are that they may not get sent to prison.
In fact, a while back, I asked a parliamentary question about the proportion who are sent to prison of people who come before the courts with 100 previous convictions.
Would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker: if someone goes to court with more than 100 previous convictions, they are statistically more likely not to be sent to prison? If the Bill referred only to people on whom a term of imprisonment is imposed, that would be hopeless, because people will be getting away with crime after crime, being given community sentence after community sentence, and still causing havoc in the community.
As I have already suggested, an awful lot of things on the statute book are not being implemented by judges. Some offences do not carry a prison sentence, so that would not apply no matter how many strikes someone has. We now have a mandatory prison sentence for a second offence of possession of a knife, but we saw just this week that only half of the people to whom that should apply have been sent to prison. The House’s intention is clearly not being followed by the courts, which is why we have to make the law as clear cut as possible to avoid such problems in future.
Rather than bring in yet more legislation, should we not put pressure on judges to follow the current legislation? They are clearly failing in their duty to send to prison the people who should be sent to prison. It is also clear that we are regularly not deporting the people who should be deported.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments, but, given where we are, we are going have to do something to give judges as little discretion as possible, because the more discretion we give them, the more they defy the will of Parliament.
I apologise to my hon. Friend if during my remarks I stressed my personal point of view, which is that if someone is sentenced to more than 12 months, they should be deported. I am not agonising too much about that. The problem is that so many of the people who are sentenced to more than 12 months are not being deported. Does my hon. Friend see that point? We should just concentrate on doing away with article 8 and getting our own Bill of Rights so that we can actually deport these serious criminals.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
For completeness, I should say that the Court of Appeal stated in R v.Mintchev:
“As a matter of principle it would not be right to reduce an otherwise appropriate sentence so as to avoid the” automatic deportation provisions. A further clarification stated that
“automatic deportation provisions are not a penalty included in the sentence. They are instead a consequence of the sentence.”
My public service broadcasting message from today to judges is that they should look at the Court of Appeals judgment in that case, so that we do not end up with any other problems like that. There are many crimes for which sentences cannot be appealed, so it is important that judges deal with things the first time. We cannot always rely on the Court of Appeal.
I am sure that most judges in this country have my hon. Friend on their Twitter feed and will be updated instantly with his pronouncements in the House. Might it do a service to the country for the Ministry of Justice to recirculate to judges the findings in that case so that they are reminded of what the Court of Appeal has said?
Order. Would the hon. Gentleman mind repeating the name of the case? I did not hear what he said.
I apologise for not being clear. The case was from the Court of Appeal in 2011 and was that of R v.Mintchev. I appreciate your seeking clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I fear that my Twitter feed would not be enough. I have 12,000 followers, all of whom hate me, so I am not entirely that the message would get across to my targeted audience.
As for how effective we currently are in removing foreign national offenders, the Public Accounts Committee released a report in January 2015 called “Managing and removing foreign nationals” that considered the effectiveness and efficiency of managing foreign offenders in UK prisons. I must say that the Committee’s summary was damning. It said:
“It is eight years since this Committee last looked at this issue. We are dismayed to find so little progress has been made in removing foreign national offenders from the UK. This is despite firm commitments to improve and a ten-fold increase in resources devoted to this work. The public bodies involved are missing too many opportunities to remove foreign national offenders early and are wasting resources, through a combination of a lack of focus on early action at the border and police stations, poor joint working in prisons, and inefficient caseworking in the Home Office.”
I will not go through all of the conclusions, but it was a damning report. We can clearly see that the system is not working.
When we consider the success rate of the Home Office in removing foreign criminals, we can see that it falls short of its own figures. The number of removals is very low compared with the number of referrals to immigration enforcement. Of the 5,262 referrals to the immigration enforcement team up to September 2015, only 2,855 people —50%--were removed. The Department was handed these people on a plate, but only half of them were removed.
I will not go into the figures for foreign national offenders in prison, because my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering went through them very clearly. His figures match mine and also match those of the National Audit Office. It is interesting to see why these removals fail. In its 2014 report, the National Audit Office concluded that 523 removals failed because of issues deemed to be within the control of the Home Office, and 930 failed removals were due to factors outside the control of the Home Office.
In 2013-14, of those reasons deemed to be within the Department’s control, 159 removals failed because emergency travel documents, EU letters or other documentation needed to transport the offender were unavailable. In seven cases, they failed because the tickets for travel had not been booked. It is a farce that someone had forgotten to book the tickets—you couldn’t make it up. How on earth that can happen, Lord only knows.
According to the NAO, the largest reason for failed removals that were deemed to be outside the Department’s control was offenders making an appeal outside the 28-day deadline. They might have submitted an asylum claim, a leave to remain claim or human rights claim. There might have been an injunction, a judicial review or representations received from a medical professional, a Member of Parliament or another Government Department. In 2013-14, 323 removals failed due to those reasons.
We have a situation where the Home Office is trying to kick someone out of the country, and another Government Department is working hard to keep them in the country, which does not say a great deal for joined-up Government. Perhaps the Minister can explain that. The National Audit Office produces a list of all the various failures, the reasons and how many there were for each, and I encourage people to look at it.
One problem is litigation. Indeed, in 2014, in response to an urgent question on this very subject, the Home Secretary said:
“The main problem we face is the rise of litigation; we have seen a 28% increase in the number of appeals.”—[Hansard, 22 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 905.]
With an estimated £81 million spent in legal aid costs for foreign national offenders, it is clear that the whole process is not only time-consuming, but very expensive. In effect, the Government are paying to thwart the Government in deporting people from the country.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough mentioned the case of William Danga in his remarks, but let me explain that Danga was convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl. After completing his prison sentence, he challenged deportation on the grounds that he had a right to a family life. It was deemed that he could remain here because he had a girlfriend and a young child. This is someone who had raped what I would consider to be a child. Commenting on the case in 2011, a judge said that it was remarkable that he had not been deported for committing the rape. Clearly, there are some sensible judges around.
I raised this very issue with the Home Secretary in 2014, and suggested that, because we are not deporting people, we must ensure that we are tougher at the borders; and that we should take the DNA of foreign nationals who want to enter our country, which I thought was a small price to pay for keeping us safe.
Another concern is over foreign national offenders who are subject to deportation orders and who are then moved to open prisons—you couldn’t make it up. A foreign national has committed an offence and the Government clearly want to deport them, but the Ministry of Justice moves them into an open prison, where people can literally just walk out of the gates. Again, the Government have to do something about the scandal of foreign nationals subject to deportation orders doing that. In 2013 alone, 190 foreign national offenders absconded from our prisons. These are schoolboy mistakes in keeping tabs on people we want to deport.
This is the most interesting aspect of the whole subject that my hon. Friend is developing. He said that 190 foreign national offenders absconded from open prisons, but does he have the figures—perhaps the Minister could provide us with them later—for the number of foreign national offenders in open prisons subject to deportation orders at any one time?
I have that information somewhere, but it would try the patience of the House if I were to stand here rifling through my papers in order to find it. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the information is in the public domain. The Ministry of Justice holds that information and publishes it, so I hope that he will find it for himself. If I come across it, I will tell him, but that might be hard.
Perhaps the Minister can update the House when she responds, but what I am trying to get at is whether the figure of 190 is a large or small percentage of the number of foreign offenders in open prisons subject to deportation orders. What is my hon. Friend’s feel for the scale of that part of this problem?
It is a significant figure. All these things add up; there are many different elements. I want to come on to the cost, which has been one of the issues raised in the debate.
On that same point, will my hon. Friend elaborate on what he thinks are the reasons that those awaiting deportation are sent to open prison rather than a closed prison?
It is not for me to answer for the Ministry of Justice, but it seems that the policy it adopts is that foreign national offenders are treated just like any other prisoner and, even if they are subject to a deportation order, will be sent to an open prison if they meet the criteria. One can understand that logic, but clearly there is a flaw in the procedure when somebody has an easy way of avoiding deportation.
Before my hon. Friend moves on to the issue of cost, I want return to his point about lawyers. I am not trying to be kind or nice to lawyers or judges, but simply make the point that the cases he cites emphasise the need for us in this place to pass laws that are as clear and simple as possible so that the will of Parliament can be effected.
Will not the answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley be cost? The fact is that the Ministry of Justice, with our prisons full and with 10,500 foreign national offenders mainly in two prisons, will be looking to save costs wherever it can, and if it can get away with putting some foreign national offenders in open prisons it will do so.
One of the main reasons the Bill is so necessary is the cost. Interestingly, in its 2015 report the Public Accounts Committee said:
“The Home Office admitted that it did not know the cost of managing foreign national offenders and accepted that its cost data were not robust enough to enable it to make a judgment as to which of its interventions or processes were more cost-effective than others”.
The National Audit Office estimated the costs; I suspect that the Home Office probably could make a very good estimate of them but just does not want to do so, because it would be rather embarrassing for it if it did.
The NAO gave a lower estimate, a higher estimate and a most likely estimate of the cost, and broke it down into the costs before conviction and those after conviction. The lowest estimate was that the costs were £266 million up to conviction and £503 million after conviction, with a total cost of £769 million a year. The high estimate was £536 million up to conviction and £504 million after conviction, giving a total of more than £1 billion a year. The most likely estimate was £346.8 million up to conviction and £503.7 million after conviction, giving a total of £850 million. The interesting part of that information is that the costs after conviction are the same for the lowest, highest and most likely estimates—they are within £1 million of each other. So the costs after conviction are pretty clear. They are the cost of keeping people in prison, the cost of the deportation orders and so on.
I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering how many British nationals abroad were sent to prison and the answer was 4,000 per year. That does not tell us how many UK nationals are physically in foreign jails. Does my hon. Friend have a figure for that?
I can do no better than my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering did earlier with his answer. I suspect that that is about as robust as we are going to get. If the Minister has a better answer, we will accept those figures.
The costs up to conviction included police costs, which are shown as £148 million a year for dealing with foreign national offenders, CPS costs of £119 million a year and legal aid costs of £81 million a year. When we are spending £850 million to £1 billion a year on dealing with foreign national offenders, it is clear why the Bill is so important.
One of the complications for the Bill and for the whole subject is the free movement of people. As I have pointed out on many occasions, free movement of people within the EU also means free movement of criminals within the EU. My hon. Friend made a point about how many EU citizens made up the prison population. EU citizens account for about 40% of foreign inmates in England and Wales. The figures are 60% in Northern Ireland and 55% in Scotland. There is a far higher proportion of EU nationals in prisons in those two countries, which is interesting.
My hon. Friend listed by country the number of EU nationals in our prisons today, but he did not give the figures that show the scale of the problem and the fact that it is growing, which means that the Bill is probably more urgent than people give it credit for. He did not point out how many prisoners from those countries were in our prisons 10 years ago. He said that top of list of countries whose nationals are in our prisons was Poland, and I have no information to contradict that. His figures were more up to date; mine go up to 2014.
In 2014 there were 867 Polish nationals in our prisons. In 2002 there were just 45. If we look down the list of EU countries, the figures are very similar. In 2014 there were 614 Romanian nationals in our prisons, but only 49 in 2002. There were 115 Slovakian nationals in 2014, and just four in 2002. The list goes on. I will not go through the figures for every country. The point is that since we have had the free movement of people, the growth in number of foreign national offenders from other parts of the EU has gone through the roof. That is a direct consequence of being in the European Union and having free movement of people.
Whether people want to argue for staying in or leaving the European Union is a matter for them. There are sincerely held views on both sides, but people must at least be honest about the consequences of our EU membership, and one of those is that the free movement of people has seen a massive growth in the number of foreign criminals coming to the UK.
I am so pleased that my hon. Friend has highlighted this important aspect of the issue. It is true to say that with the accession of the east European countries, there has been a wave of criminality in this country. We have imported crime and criminals as a result of our EU membership. As the EU gets larger, with the potential accession of Turkey, does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is only going to get worse?
My hon. Friend is right. Of course the situation is only going to get worse. We had net immigration into the UK last year of more than 320,000 people. It is not necessary to be the chief statistician to work out that the number of foreign national offenders will keep going up and up, as the number of foreign nationals coming into the UK goes up.
It is the settled policy of Her Majesty’s Government—I see the Minister for Europe speaking with the Deputy Speaker now—that Turkey should enter the European Union. They support that application, and indeed it has been fast-tracked. There are 77 million Turks. Turkish jails are notoriously appalling. There is absolutely no doubt that if Turkey joined the EU, as is our settled policy, every single one of these 77 million Turks would have an absolute right of entry into this country. A proportion of them would naturally end up in prison, and I predict that very few of them would ever be sent back to Turkish prisons.
My hon. Friend is right. In many respect the problem is even more immediate, because my understanding of last week’s negotiations is that Turkish people will be able to enter the EU without visas, so we do not even have to wait until Turkey joins the EU to see that happen, so of course the problem is going to get worse. That is why the Bill is absolutely urgent. We cannot wait to implement its measures; we need to do something now.
When we look at the number of EU foreign nationals in UK prisons since the introduction of free movement, we see that just six countries—the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Poland—account for over half that population. It is from those countries that we have seen the huge growth in the number of people coming over to the UK from the EU. The numbers from countries such as Spain and Germany are much smaller by comparison.
Of course, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering did not make—I mention it for completeness’ sake—is what has happened to prisoner numbers in those EU countries. Members may or may not be surprised to learn that at the same time that we have been taking more Polish and Romanian prisoners into UK jails, there has been a corresponding reduction in the prison population in those countries. Members may speculate on why Romania’s prison population has plummeted at the same time as the number of Romanians in UK prisons has gone through the roof. I suggest that the two may be linked, and it is for others to try to disprove that link. It seems to me to be rather more than a coincidence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said—it was the one part of his speech with which I disagreed—that that was a stain on countries such as Poland, and that it besmirched them. Good luck to them, I say. They seem to be playing a very sensible game. I make no criticism of Poland for wanting to export its criminals to other parts of the European Union. My quibble is not with Poland, but with the UK Government for allowing these people into the country in the first place and not kicking them out at the first possible opportunity. I make no criticism of Poland; I criticise the UK Government for not getting a grip of the situation.
This is a growing problem in our prisons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering rightly said, we have very few prisoners from other parts of the world. We have 180 from the whole of Central and South America put together. That tells its own story. This is a direct consequence of our membership of the EU.
We must do something to prevent re-entry. The Bill, on its own, is essential, and hopefully I have explained why we need to do something about kicking people out of the country more efficiently than we are currently doing, but that will be pointless if we do not also have measures in place to prevent re-entry. Otherwise it is just a token gesture. John Mann tabled an early-day motion on this issue. It states:
“That this House notes that the criminal convictions held by EU citizens that are revealed by a Disclosure and Barring Service check are only those held in central records in the UK; is concerned that this does not therefore include convictions held abroad of foreign nationals; further notes that it is not obligatory for an employer to require an employee to provide a certificate of good conduct from their home country; and therefore calls on the Government to introduce and enforce the obligatory disclosure of any previous convictions held by EU and other foreign-born citizens upon application for a job in the UK.”
That is a very sensible early-day motion, and it goes to show that the Bill’s provisions, and indeed going a bit further than my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, would command support from not just people such as me, but Members on both sides of the House.
Given the points raised by Opposition Members—whether the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who is a senior Member of the House, or a former shadow Home Secretary—I hope we can look forward to the shadow Minister telling us that the Labour party also agrees with the provisions in the Bill and would actually support going further.
What the shadow Minister says will be important, because this is the last day for private Members’ Bills in this Session, and there will be no further opportunities to take the further stages of any Bill scheduled for today. Therefore, if the Labour party could indicate its support for making it easier to deport foreign nationals, that would give the Government some encouragement to make their own provisions when time runs out for this Bill. I am sure the Minister would be encouraged to know that Opposition parties welcomed more work being done on this issue in the House.
We have no way of knowing the criminal past of any EU citizen entering the UK, contrary to what somebody said in a debate I took part in on the EU. We will have to do a top 10 list of the most outlandish claims by those who want to stay in the EU, but my No. 1 at the moment is that when somebody comes to passport control, we scan their passport and the computer comes up with all their criminal offences in their home country, so we do not have to let them in if we do not want to. I would love that system to be in place, but I am afraid it is a work of fiction—it does not exist at all, as I hope the Minister will also be able to confirm.
I do not want to test the patience of the House—others want to contribute, and there are other matters to be debated today—but I want to make it clear that the Bill is essential; it would certainly command the majority of support among my constituents, and I have indicated that it would also command the support of people on both sides of the House.
Had we been able to kick people out of the country, and had we had a robust policy of border control so that we could take fingerprints or DNA, that might have helped to prevent the Romanian burglar who left his fingerprints and DNA at many of the 31 homes he burgled from getting away with all those crimes because he was not on any DNA database when he entered the country. It might also have dealt with the Lithuanian burglar who was released from prison early and deported, only to be found living back in Britain 12 days later, along with his accomplice, who had apparently been deported from the country not once but twice.
That is what is actually happening in our country day in, day out, week in, week out. We are exposed to dangerous foreign criminals. We have many unnecessary victims of crime in the UK because we are not controlling our borders and not deporting foreign national offenders, even when we know who they are.
The Bill could have prevented the Lithuanian convicted of a knife-point robbery before he came to the UK from going on to rape two women shortly after his arrival. There could be no more tragic example of the problem we face than the death of 14-year-old schoolgirl Alice Gross. The man suspected of killing her had come from Latvia after apparently serving a paltry seven-year prison sentence for killing his wife, yet nobody here knew of his terrible past. The Government have a duty to protect people who live here, and their scandalous failure to do so has had the most dire consequences for many families, including that of Alice Gross.
There is no more important matter facing the House today than this. I hope we will hear from all parties that they will support provisions to make it easier to deport foreign national offenders to keep us safe. The current situation is unacceptable. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering for doing something about it, and I hope the Government will indicate today that they will do something about it too.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who brings to the debate his own inimitable style and has demonstrated once again this morning his expertise on the whole issue of justice and home affairs, particularly the issue of foreign national offenders.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for picking up the baton at short notice and moving the Bill’s Second Reading on behalf of my hon. Friend Mr Bone. He did so with great skill and demonstrated his own considerable expertise in this area. I am delighted to be one of the Bill’s supporters, because there is no doubt that it attempts to deal with a major problem that is of great concern to my own constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, in whose name the Bill stands, has demonstrated his considerable know-how in navigating the procedure for private Members’ Bills. The fact that he has managed to ensure that his Bill is at the top of a very long list of no less than 67 Bills set down for consideration today is evidence of that.
My hon. Friend should be commended for his perseverance with the Bill, because it is almost a year ago to the day—
As history has shown, my hon. Friend was right that a Conservative majority Government would be elected, but sadly he was wrong that they would insist that these matters would be a red line in the negotiations. Indeed, we now know that absolutely nothing was agreed in the negotiations to stop the free movement of people, which includes, of course, the free movement of foreign national offenders from within the European Union.
One of the reasons my hon. Friend promoted the Bill again is the sheer scale of the problem of foreign-born individuals who commit crime in this country. I am not suggesting that everyone who comes here commits crime. It is all relative, and the scale of immigration into this country naturally brings with it an increase in the number of foreign national offenders.
According to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, between January and December 2014 there were approximately 5.3 million people with non-British nationality living in the UK, and a total of 8.3 million people who were born abroad. It is further estimated that, on top of that, some 25,800 asylum seekers entered the United Kingdom in 2014, and they were part of approximately 632,000 long-term international immigrants who entered during that year. On top of that are all those who are in the country illegally. For obvious reasons, it is difficult to be precise about the number of illegal immigrants, but there are many of them and, by definition, every single one of them has broken the law, because they have broken the terms of the Immigration Act 1971, as we heard last week on Second Reading of the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill.
It is, perhaps, not surprising, given the huge number of foreign nationals living in our country, that some of them turn out to be wrong ’uns or bad apples. Each year, the Metropolitan police alone arrest, on average, 230,000 suspects, of whom 70,000 are foreign nationals. Only last month, the Daily Mail reported the staggering administrative costs involved in dealing with the arrests of foreign nationals, including the cost of interpreters.
That highlights the importance of checking, on arrest, the actual background of those arrested. The bill to the taxpayer for providing translators for suspects, witnesses and victims was £6.8 million between April 2014 and April 2015. The analysis by the Daily Mail showed that the translation bill worked out at an average of £100 per arrest of every foreign national.
Figures released following a freedom of information request showed that 227,535 people were arrested by the Metropolitan police in 2014, the latest year for which full figures are available. Of those, 159,294 were British nationals, and the remaining 68,241 were born abroad.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech immensely. He is painting a very vivid picture of the wave of criminality that this country, and especially London, has experienced in recent years. Until recently, I served as a special constable with the British Transport police on the London Underground. I can tell him that something like eight or nine out of every 10 people arrested for pickpocketing on the underground in recent years were Romanians and Bulgarians, who had entered this country under the free movement regulations, for thieving from commuters.
I am not surprised by my hon. Friend’s observation because I was going on to say that Romanians made up the largest group of foreign nationals arrested: 7,604 Romanian suspects were held, followed by 7,429 Polish, as well as 3,618 Lithuanians, 2,928 from India, 2,740 from Nigeria and 2,280 from Jamaica.
In his remarks, will my hon. Friend comment on whether the Bill is compatible with the EU charter of fundamental rights? The 2010 manifesto—we both stood on that platform, which catapulted the Prime Minister into 10 Downing Street—said there were “three specific guarantees”, including one on the charter of fundamental rights, and that we would
“seek a mandate to negotiate the return of these powers from the EU to the UK.”
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister appears to have forgotten to include that in his letter and it was not therefore part of the negotiation.
My hon. Friend opens up an entirely new area of debate. I suspect that the European Court Justices would rule against the content of the Bill under the charter of fundamental rights, because they would find that it was against the freedom of movement provisions of the treaties. That is why the very first line of the Bill says:
“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972”.
It would be an interesting situation if the European Court of Justice ruled that the provisions in the Bill fell foul of the charter, but this House said that it would disregard the ruling because of what was in the manifesto, regardless of whether that matter was included in the terms of the renegotiation. As we now know, there are to be no changes to the provisions relating to the free movement of people.
Even though the latest offender management statistics for England and Wales show that, for the first time in a decade, the number of foreign national offenders held in custody and immigration removal centres operated by the National Offender Management Service had fallen below 10,000, some 12% of the current prison population in England and Wales is made up of foreign national offenders, so one in eight of those in our prisons are foreign national offenders.
The latest number that I have is that, as of
It is still the case that 12% of the prison population in England and Wales is made up of foreign national offenders, at an enormous annual cost to UK taxpayers. That is 10,000 people who are likely to be released at some point in the future; 10,000 people who, if they are not deported, could live in our communities; 10,000 people who have chosen, of their own free will, to break the law of the country that has welcomed them in and provided them with a home.
The latest offender management statistics bulletin from the Ministry of Justice states:
“The five most common nationalities after British Nationals in prisons in England and Wales are Polish, Irish, Romanian, Jamaican and Lithuanian, accounting for approximately one third of the foreign national population and one in twenty of the prison population overall.”
It is absolutely right that we, as a country, should seek to attract the brightest and the best to contribute to our society, where they are needed, but it is equally right to put in place a robust mechanism to ensure that those who choose to break the rules are excluded. The Bill is intended to do just that. Foreign national offenders are in prison because of a wide variety of offences, but the very fact that they are in prison signifies that they are the most serious of offences.
My hon. Friend is rightly focusing on foreign nationals who are given a custodial sentence. However, over the past decade or so, UK Government statistics have shown that less than 10% of those who are convicted of a crime receive a custodial sentence. That suggests that the number of foreign nationals who have been convicted is in the region of 80,000 or more.
My hon. Friend is right that much of the debate this morning has focused on the foreign national offenders who are in our jails, who, by definition, are those who have committed the most serious offences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, even those who have committed 100 offences are more likely than not, when appearing before the courts, not to be sent to prison. When somebody is convicted of a minor offence, it is pretty difficult to sentence them to a term of imprisonment.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice on the prison population, up to
The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, confirmed in a written answer on
Let me bring those thousands of offences to life with just one example. Mircea Gheorghiu is a Romanian national who served a six-year sentence for rape in Romania, where he had also been jailed twice for cutting timber without a licence. He reportedly entered the UK in 2002 following his release, after serving only two years and eight months of his sentence. He remained in the country while his wife and children stayed in Romania. In January 2007, Romania joined the EU, so he was allowed to stay in the UK. He was arrested for drink-driving and convicted in November 2007, and banned from driving for 20 months. When his criminal past was uncovered, the Home Office rightly deported him under the new “deport first, appeal later” scheme. However, following an appeal at the immigration tribunal, the press reported on
I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest. He is bringing fresh information and new insight to the debate, and informatively extending the scope of our deliberations. Did the judges in that case give any indication of how serious a crime would have to be for deportation to be triggered?
In truth I do not know whether they gave such examples, but I think that the ruling put future deportations at risk. Understandably, it will only serve to increase the sense of frustration that so many of our fellow citizens feel at how powerless this country now is to keep out convicted criminals.
That provision already seems to have run into the quicksand, if I can put it like that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley pointed out regarding the UK Borders Act 2007, despite the Home Office’s latest plan—at least it is trying to do something, to be fair to it—the will of elected Members of this House has yet again been frustrated by the judiciary, who seem to think they know better than those of us who represent our constituents.
I am not a lawyer, which I am rather proud of—[Interruption.] Someone says, “Evidently”. Perhaps, but maybe those of us who are not lawyers are more in touch with the real world than those who have been. Is it the Human Rights Act or our membership of the European Union that is preventing deportations in cases such as he mentioned, or an element of both?
It is a bit of both, and partly because the European Union now includes the EU charter of fundamental rights, which essentially replicates the European convention on human rights—for these purposes those things are one and the same. If we are powerless to stop convicted rapists entering our country, we must ask what has become of our national sovereignty. I have no doubt that millions throughout the country will believe that the case that I have mentioned alone demonstrates that we need to change that state of affairs and why the Bill is so necessary.
Clause 1(1) requires the Secretary of State to make regulations, which I believe should deal with the process of removal. We are fortunate that the National Audit Office has investigated the costs and processes of returning foreign national offenders, and that it published a detailed report, “Managing and removing foreign national offenders”, in October 2014. Before anyone starts to complain that this situation is all the fault of the current Government, it is worth noting briefly that, according to the report, back in 2006, the Home Office found that more than 1,000 foreign national offenders had been released from prison without even being considered for deportation.
Although the NAO report acknowledged that the coalition Government put more resources into managing and removing foreign national offenders, it also made it clear that progress on reducing the number of foreign national offenders in our jails was slow. It confirmed—this deals with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering has just raised—that the difficulties that hindered removals were caused by the application of the European convention on human rights, as well as the application of European law on the free movement of persons. There we have it: the National Audit Office has confirmed his concerns.
If that is the case, it does seem strange—I am sure it will seem very strange to our constituents.
The NAO report acknowledged that the Government have put more resources into managing and removing foreign national offenders and made it clear that progress had been made, but it highlighted that the police had carried out an overseas criminal record check on only 30% of foreign nationals arrested. It made it clear that obtaining relevant documents such as passports at an early stage would greatly speed up the process of removal, and that fostering closer links between immigration officers and front-line police officers would speed up the process.
The Public Accounts Committee provided a commentary in its report, “Managing and removing foreign national offenders”, which was published in January 2015 following the NAO report. The Committee’s report states that
“police forces have been slow to recognise the importance, when arresting foreign nationals, of checking their immigration status and whether they have a criminal record overseas and they rarely use search powers to find evidence of identity and nationality.”
Whatever the reasons for that—it could be a lack of training or a lack of awareness—it is significant, because establishing nationality at an early stage would allow for further background checks to be carried out.
The report also states:
“Only 30% of foreign nationals arrested were checked against one key overseas database for a criminal record in 2013–14, and the great majority of police forces do not have automated links between fingerprint machines in their police stations and the Home Office’s immigration databases.”
The Committee suggested that a massive £70 million could be saved by fostering and developing such links.
The NAO noted in its report that in 2013-14, more than one third of foreign national offenders who were removed left as part of the early removal scheme. That is the scheme that returns foreign national offenders to their country of origin before they would be let out of prison if they were back here in the UK. The NAO also noted a key improvement in reducing the number of failed removals from 2,200 down to 1,400, but 1,400 still fail. That number is still far too high. I hope we will hear some detail from the Minister on why so many removals fail and what is being done to improve the situation.
Very often, we hear that problems with the delivery of Government services are due to a lack of resources, but the Public Accounts Committee noted that the number of staff working in foreign offender management had actually increased from fewer than 100 in 2006 to more than 900 in 2014—a huge percentage increase. The taxpayer can rightly expect to see an enormous improvement for that increase.
It is helpful to consider the cost to the taxpayer of dealing with foreign national offenders, because it demonstrates what an enormous drain on taxpayer resources this problem is. The NAO estimated that the average cost of managing a single foreign national offender was about £70,000 a year. The total bill for 2013-14 was an estimated £850 million, which confirms a figure that was mentioned earlier. I should add that that does not represent the total cost of a foreign national offender to British society. The figure is an estimate from the NAO, because there is an absence of definitive data. There is of course the possibility that the actual cost is much higher when one considers all the costs, from the investigation of the crime through to managing an offender in the community. Perhaps the most notable finding by the NAO, which the PAC also raised, was that managing foreign national offenders costs an estimated £100 million a year more than managing British prisoners. The Committee also noted that the Home Office did not know the reoffending rates of foreign national offenders in the community. The public will want to have confidence that such matters are now being addressed and recorded. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on that point.
Both the NAO and the PAC highlighted the delays in the removal process. The NAO carried out a review of 52 cases in which a foreign national offender had been successfully removed and discovered that 20 cases had had avoidable processing delays. They included seven instances where the case had not been worked on for an average of 76 days, and a further six cases where administrative errors had delayed the process. In order to gather information on foreign national offenders, the Home Office sends out to each one a 50-question paper form. On average, it takes 32 days just to send out the questionnaire, which does not exactly give the impression of speed or urgency. It is perhaps not surprising that foreign national offenders are not so keen on administrative matters such as paperwork. It is not a surprise that almost half of the forms are never, ever returned.
Are these forms being sent to foreign national offenders in English, or are they in the language of the offender themselves? Or is there yet a further burden to the taxpayer in having to translate that document for the offenders to respond to them?
That is a good point. I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will know the answer to that question and will be able to enlighten my hon. Friend when we hear from her later in the proceedings. As my hon. Friend noted in his speech, foreign national offenders are from every corner of the globe. It would indeed be an enormous task to ensure that the form sent to each foreign national offender was in a language that that individual could understand. I rather wonder whether all the forms are sent out in English. That might go some way towards accounting for why fewer than half are returned to the Home Office.
There were 1,453 failed removals in 2013-14, and although 36% of the cases in which the Home Office tried to remove a person but could not occurred for reasons that the Home Office considered to be within its control, nearly two thirds of the remaining 930 were classified as being outside its control. If the Home Office has lost control of the process, I think it fair to ask who has that control.
Another issue that arises from the removal of foreign national offenders is the compensation that is payable to those against whom legal proceedings are taken by the Home Office, and who then take proceedings against the Home Office for unlawful detention. That, I think, is another reason why it is so important for the Bill to be passed and the law clarified. The National Audit Office reported that between 2012 and 2015, £6.2 million in compensation was awarded to 229 foreign national offenders. It really is a case of adding insult to injury. On average, about £27,000—approximately the average UK salary—had to be paid out following claims alleging breaches of the processes under the Immigration Act 1971 and the UK Borders Act 2007.
Not much has been said today about prisoner transfers. On
“Most prison transfer agreements are with the consent of the prisoner, and that is worldwide. That has mostly been because we have tried to get Brits back to serve their sentences within the UK. The big change in the EU...is to make prison transfer compulsory—without the prisoner complying.”
The permanent secretary was referring to a fundamental change from the previously exclusively voluntary approach to international prison transfers. He went on to say:
“There are specific arrangements in place with the Irish Republic. For Poland, there is a stay in implementation while they improve their prison system.”
The Committee noted that over the past few years, the number of British nationals returned to UK prisons through the prison transfer agreements to complete their sentences had been about double the number of foreign national offenders being removed. Noting that imbalance, my hon. Friend Mr Jackson observed during the oral evidence session:
“So we are actually not exporting criminals; we are importing criminals. One of our growth areas is importing foreign criminals. It takes a special genius to put in place a system under which we are net importing foreign criminals into our prison estate.”
There is clearly a real problem here. Surely we ought to be removing more foreign national offenders than we import. The problem is there are relatively few effective prison transfer agreements in place. Poland, which has the highest number of foreign national offenders on the prison estate, has been exempted until the end of this year.
The principle of exclusion or removal of foreign national offenders is at the heart of the Bill, and I think it would be helpful to be clear and simple about that process. I would have hoped that serious offenders would be prevented from entering the country in the first place, but sadly that is not always possible. There are many cases of criminals being allowed into the UK, where, not surprisingly, they commit further crimes. We must improve border checks, but once a foreign national is in the UK, if they commit a crime, the police must check their identity and check whether they have been engaged in any previous criminal activity. Clearly, the administrative process of removal should then be straightforward. If a foreign national is convicted, a caseworker should be attached and should determine as soon as possible whether there are likely to be any barriers to deportation. That could be an appeal based on human rights legislation, a lack of co-operation from the home country, or a lack of co-operation from the offender. If those problems were identified early, the relevant authorities could take action so that when the time for deportation came, it could proceed smoothly.
“Of course, there is one group I do want out of prison much more quickly, instead of British taxpayers forking out for their bed and breakfast: and that is foreign national offenders.”
He announced plans to legislate to give the police new powers. In light of those comments, I hope we will hear from the Minister that the Government will support the Bill today.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it within your power to suggest to Government Members that they begin to bring their comments to a close? They have now been debating a two-clause Bill for three and a half hours—a Bill that was debated last year and then withdrawn from the Floor of the House. I think this practice risks bringing the House into disrepute. There are so many people who really want us to get on to the next business about the NHS, which is incredibly important. For these few Conservative Members to be talking for so long is simply not courteous either to the rest of the House or to the people outside the building who want to see what is going on.
Order. I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her advance notice of it. She knows the answer to the question she has raised. Some hon. Members still wish to speak in this debate, and it is for hon. Members who have been here all day waiting to speak in this debate to determine what time we get on to the following business. The hon. Lady is, I think, voicing the frustrations that many hon. Members have expressed about private Members’ Bills on Fridays. If she has not done so already, I direct the hon. Lady to the Procedure Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into proceedings for private Members’ Bills.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a new Member in the House, I find what is happening to be shocking—not just because of the waste of time of so many Members who want to speak on an issue that is so important, but because our constituents are writing to us all, including to Conservative Members, to ask us to discuss and vote on the National Health Service Bill. [Interruption.]
Order. Before this degenerates into a slanging match, let me make it clear that the hon. Lady is doing exactly the same thing as Caroline Lucas—voicing the frustration that many Members have had over the years about our proceedings for private Members’ Bills. There are other ways in which hon. Members can raise issues. There are vehicles other than private Members’ Bills. Today, however, is devoted to private Members’ Bills, and the current Bill that is being discussed is on the Order Paper.
This is the second Friday on which I have been unable to be in my constituency on account of the private Members’ Bills on the agenda today. It is obviously not going to be taken, and we are looking at a future notional date of
These are no longer genuine points of order; they are points of frustration. The Procedure Committee is currently doing an inquiry into private Members’ Bills, so I direct the hon. Gentleman to that. There are other avenues through which he can raise issues that are of concern to himself and to his constituents. Now is not the time. With that, I think that is the end of points of order on this matter.
According to information released by the Home Office on immigration enforcement transparency data for the fourth quarter of 2015, of the 5,789 foreign national offenders subject to deportation action, 1,865 had been living in the community for 60 or more months, showing how complex some cases can be and the obstacles that the Home Office faces when trying to deport people. Hon. Members may be aware that, according to Home Office figures, the average time taken to deport a foreign national offender is 149 days. Were the Home Office to take action today, a foreign national offender would not have to worry about being deported until
When a person is sentenced to 12 months or less in prison, the Government can consider deportation only on a public interest basis by looking at the cumulative effect of the offending. The Bill would ease that administrative burden. For example, a foreign national offender from a non-EEA country with a six-month sentence would be excluded from the UK under clause 1. As has been noted, if we turn to EU nationals we come up against the problem of the principle of free movement of people. If people abuse that right, it is absolutely right that this country should have the right to exclude them if they break our laws.
In conclusion, this is, on the face of it, a modest Bill, but one with huge potential to help remove from the country those who seek to abuse our generosity by breaking our laws. We have heard how big the problem is: around one in eight of the prison population is a foreign national. The price tag attached to keeping all these foreign nationals in our jails is somewhere in the region of a huge £250 million a year, so there is a massive incentive to get the problem sorted out not only for law and order, but for the British taxpayer. The Bill seeks to move the pendulum back in favour of the law-abiding majority and the taxpayer, and I hope it receives the unanimous support of the House.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate, which is of course just as important to my constituents as many other debates in this Chamber. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Bone for bringing the Bill forward and my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for his excellent presentation today.
The Bill’s purpose is straightforward: if someone came to this country, committed an offence and was given a term of imprisonment, they would be deported to the country from which they came. Furthermore, that person would not be permitted to enter the UK again. Of course, the Government already use a range of measures and powers to remove foreign national offenders from the UK, a point to which I will return shortly. As such, the Bill’s real emphasis relates to countries within the European Union, as made clear in the first line of clause 1. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said that 40% of the 10,442 foreign nationals in our prison system are actually from the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I stand corrected if I misheard the figure that was given to the House.
Under the Bill’s provisions, foreign criminals would not have the right to return to the UK once they had been sent back to the European Union. Thus, they would be removed without any reference to human rights legislation, the stipulations of the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactments.
Britain is a tolerant, welcoming country for those who come here to work hard and to create a better life for themselves. Those who abide by our rules and contribute towards society will always be welcome. However, I appreciate the concerns of my constituents in relation to those foreign nationals who come to this country legally, in receipt of our hospitality, and then go on to commit serious offences.
My hon. Friend says that this matter is of concern to him and to his constituents; it is also of concern to my constituents. Is he not shocked therefore that the Scottish National party and the Green party think that this is not an important issue for debate? They do not care about foreign national offenders who cannot be kicked out of the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Like many other Members, I receive letters, emails and phone calls from my constituents on many matters. This issue is as important to my constituents as any, so, yes, he is right to make his point.
Such behaviour can undermine the trust that exists in our communities and create tensions that others can exploit. Although I have considerable sympathy with the broad intentions of the Bill, we need to consider what measures are already in place to deal effectively with this matter.
The Government are already able automatically to deport non-European economic area nationals who are convicted in the UK and given a single custodial sentence of 12 months or more for one conviction. I think that that has already been pointed out by several Members in the Chamber today. In circumstances where automatic deportation cannot be applied, the power already exists to seek to deport a foreign national offender on the grounds that it would be in the public interest to do so. When somebody has been removed, they are then prohibited from re-entering the UK while the deportation order against them remains in force. As a deportation order has no expiry date, it remains in force indefinitely unless a decision is taken to revoke it. Those individuals who have been handed a deportation order will be subject to the relevant Border Force checks, which means that, under the existing system, the Government are able to keep out those who have previously been deported.
Members will be aware that the Immigration Act 2014 contains a public interest consideration in relation to deporting foreign nationals. Section 19 clearly states that the law should be on the side of the public and that the starting point is to accept that foreign criminals will be deported. Indeed, it says:
“The more serious the offence…the greater is the public interest in deportation of the criminal.”
In addition, the Government have previously made it clear that article 8 of the European convention on human rights should not be used to allow the private and family life rights of criminals to supersede the rights of ordinary members of the public to be protected from serious criminals.
Section 17 of the Immigration Act also provides for a revised deportation process so that, in cases where there is no real risk of serious irreversible harm to the individual, a foreign national offender can exercise their right of appeal only from outside the UK, thereby allowing for a more timely deportation. That section is particularly relevant when one considers that most foreign national criminals do not appeal once they have returned to their home country. By the end of 2015, more than 2,600 people had been removed under these new “deport first, appeal later” powers since they were introduced in July 2014.
In October 2014, the Government reduced, from 17 to four, the number of criteria on which foreign criminals could appeal against their deportation. That was a welcome reform that was necessary to stop criminals exploiting the system and lodging one appeal after another to avoid deportation. Finally, in situations where the level of the crime committed does not meet the threshold for deportation, the Government can take administrative action to remove offenders who have no legal right to be in the United Kingdom. Subject to certain expectations, foreign national offenders who have received a custodial sentence can be administratively removed from the UK and will face a mandatory refusal under immigration rules of entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom.
The measures that the Government have introduced over the past few years have undoubtedly strengthened our ability to adopt a firm and vigorous approach in protecting the general public, although the management and removal of foreign national offenders will continue to present many challenges, as has been mentioned today. The number of foreign criminals removed from the UK increased last year to 5,277, representing a significant improvement on the 2011-12 numbers.
Of course, when it comes to deportation, there is a distinction between EU and non-EU nationals, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering has made very clear. It is important to remember that the free movement ofusb people is not unqualified, and the existing requirements pertaining to free movement are that a person has to exercise their right to work, study or set up a business. In the event that they fail to exercise any one of those rights and, furthermore, that they abuse our hospitality by committing an offence, they should be removed and kept out of the country. Our existing power of imposing a re-entry ban of one year helps to facilitate that too.
Furthermore, the UK has implemented the free movement directive—that is, the 2006 EEA regulations on immigration. Under the regulations, EEA nationals can be removed from the United Kingdom on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health. All EEA nationals who receive a custodial sentence are considered for deportation or administrative removal. However, it is important to bear in mind that a decision to remove somebody from a country cannot be made solely on the basis of a criminal conviction, as other factors must be taken into account. As it stands, the Bill stipulates that an EEA national who has been convicted of an offence should be deported solely on the basis of that conviction without due consideration being given to a wider range of factors and, indeed, to the individual’s circumstances as required under the regulations.
For that reason, the Bill is incompatible with the freedom of movement directive. In relation to that point, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering will draw my attention to clause 1(1) and argue that it reinstates our national sovereignty and removes the UK from some of our previous obligations under EU migration law. However, I am not convinced that the issue is quite that simple and would in fact suggest that it is far more complex than the Bill acknowledges. As a nation, we are bound by a plethora of European and international obligations, directives and treaties that all require careful consideration as part of the Bill. Indeed, the European immigration regulations to which I referred a few moments ago are only a small part of the wider legislative and regulatory landscape that must be taken into account.
There is also the small matter of a referendum to consider and, depending on the result, many of the issues discussed as part of this debate might need to be approached in a different light. I wonder whether we are being slightly premature in considering these issues now.
I am listening closely to my hon. Friend’s interesting remarks, but he seems to imply that the incompatibility of the Bill with the EU freedom of movement directive is a bad thing. I think many of us would say that it is a good thing.
I thank my hon. Friend for his always considered interventions. On this point we may have a slight disagreement. In the Calder Valley we have 1.8% unemployment and I can assure my hon. Friend that without freedom of movement and the labour that that brings to the factories in the Calder Valley, many of the factories would not be there. Perhaps we could have a further discussion about that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. He began his remarks by saying that we have freedom of movement in the EU, but that is not without qualification. Would it not seem sensible to those like him who want to stay in the European Union for the EU states to negotiate and agree that freedom of movement does not apply to convicted criminals? I cannot see why there should not be an EU-wide agreement whereby someone convicted of a qualifying offence would not be allowed to cross any of the boundaries within the European Union. If staying in the European Union really does make us safer, which is what my hon. Friend believes and I do not, surely that would be a sensible measure to take.
My hon. Friend has a point, but what are qualifying convictions? Many of us and many of our children committed silly crimes in our youth. Would we exclude people from freedom of movement around the EU because of a previous misdemeanour? There would have to be tight and clear criteria for qualifying convictions.
Even if we leave the European Union, we may well find ourselves bound by other international treaties and obligations which restrict our ability to exclude foreign nationals, in much the same way as this Bill suggests the European Union does at present.
The Government already employ a range of powers to remove foreign national offenders from the UK and have legislated over the past few years to strengthen their approach. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering supports the measures that this Government have taken, and was somewhat reassured by the response of the Immigration Minister when my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough presented this Bill only last year.
However, I appreciate that he has genuine concerns about our existing ability to deport foreign prisoners to EU countries, and that those concerns are shared by many people throughout this country. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering for highlighting the challenges that we continue to face in protecting the public from those who come to this country and abuse our hospitality by committing serious offences.
Although I have considerable sympathy with the aim of the Bill, I believe it must be considered alongside an evaluation of our existing international and European obligations and responsibilities. Whether we agree with them or not, the fact remains that those currently exist, and debating these issues in isolation from our pre-existing legal commitments is not the most conducive approach and fails properly to acknowledge the inherent complexity of the subject. It is worthy of detailed discussion and debate in the House and, although I cannot support the Bill in its current form, I hope that Members can explore some of the wider issues at stake in greater detail on other occasions.
I am extremely disappointed: I have sat here since 9.30, unlike the Members of the SNP and the Green party who have only come in recently and not all of whom have stayed. They are trying to stop democracy in this Chamber. They do not want us to speak. Most of us have been here a long time and probably intend to stay till 2.30. It is a bit rich that they should try and stop democracy on private Members’ Bills when no private Member’s Bill is more important than any other.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bone on securing a Second Reading of his Bill, particularly after sleeping in the corridors of this place to ensure that the subject would be aired. SNP and Green Members would not have done that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for taking the Bill forward. I believe it was national homelessness week recently. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough is not in that situation, but was merely sleeping in the corridor to ensure that his Bill was listed and heard in this place, which I bet none of those SNP and Green Members would have done.
As other Members will have noted, the House debated an almost identical Bill this time last year, when a few of the Members who support this Bill were candidates trying to secure election. The Conservative manifesto platform on which they ran explicitly pledged to tackle criminality and the abuse of free movement. That included negotiating with the EU to introduce stronger powers to enable us to deport criminals and stop them coming back, and tougher and longer re-entry bans for all those who abuse free movement.
I have little doubt that the sentiment of this concise Bill—preventing foreign nationals who commit a crime in the UK from remaining or returning—is supported by the vast majority in this House and of the public. Britain is one of the most generous and hospitable nations in the world, and every one of us should be proud to be lucky enough to call this country home. Understandably, it is also one of the most sought-after countries to live in. Rightly, we have to be careful about how many people we allow into the UK, and we must have strong protections in place to ensure that those who pose a threat to our way of life and our established customs and traditions do not have the chance to come here. I believe that we do have provisions firmly in place and that this Government, and the Conservative-led Government in the previous Parliament, deserve credit for the work they did to tighten restrictions and increase resources to let the border police and Home Office do their job.
Because we are such a generous nation, there are few things more frustrating to the public than when those who come here and abuse our hospitality do not adhere to our laws and waste taxpayers’ money going through our legal system. There have been high-profile cases of the processes for removing individuals from the United Kingdom taking too long and costing too much money. Members have today given many examples of that. Again, that is understandably frustrating for the public when the obvious solution is to remove them from the country and not let them back in.
It is especially frustrating when human rights are invoked as part of the reason they cannot be removed.
This week saw International Women’s Day and I think of the many women and girls around the world who suffer real human rights abuses without legal recourse, not the tenuous human rights claims that have been used to stop the eviction of criminals from the United Kingdom. I was in Nigeria last week and met the families of the girls who have been abducted by Boko Haram. We are coming up to two years since their abduction, and the world should be shocked that many of them are still missing. Those girls have suffered abuses of their human rights, whereas some of the human rights claims evoked in this country are total rubbish.
There is particular frustration about the over-generous use of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, as my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker explained, which prevents deportation of EEA and non-EEA nationals if it would breach a person’s right to private and family life. How a criminal’s right to family life has ever been allowed to supersede the safety of the British public I shall never understand. It is also hard to believe that Greece is an unsafe country to return its nationals to, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned.
I therefore have a lot of sympathy with the Bill and the Members who have brought it forward. I also admire its simplicity and brevity; the main part, clause 1(1), is just 43 words long. Unfortunately, however, I am unable to support the Bill as it stands, because I believe that we already have functioning procedures in place to keep criminals out. The language of the Bill, brief though it is, is too ambiguous. We would have to withdraw from a number of conventions and treaties that benefit us in order to implement it. It also disregards any idea of individuals being able to rehabilitate themselves, which is something this Government are making positive efforts with in this Parliament.
As I am sure the Minister will outline, the UK already has provisions for deporting foreign criminals enshrined in law. They have not always been as strong as they are now, so the previous Government deserve credit for the steps they took to address the problems of deporting foreign criminals who commit a crime in the UK. Perhaps the Government should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned, look at simplifying the four definitions of how people can be returned to their country: if they had just one, it might be easier for judges to implement.
In the Immigration Act 2014, the Government set out that the law should be on the side of the public, and the starting point is the expectation that foreign criminals will be deported. The Act also rightly changed the law so that, when there is no risk of serious, irreversible harm, foreign criminals can be deported first and have their appeal heard later. It also changed the rules so that those who do have a right to appeal will be able to appeal only once, thus avoiding wasting time and UK taxpayers’ money on drawn-out legal appeals, which have happened far too often in the past. That is on top of the long-standing rules we have in place on deporting foreign nationals, including on the automatic deportation of non-EEA nationals who are convicted in the UK and who receive a single custodial sentence of 12 months or more for one conviction. It is shocking to hear that judges sometimes say they will give only an 11-month sentence so that people do not have to be deported.
A non-EEA person who has been deported is already prohibited from entering the UK while the deportation order against them remains in force. Such orders are indefinite, unless a decision is made to remove them. That leaves open the possibility that a person who commits a crime when they are young can appeal to return later in their life when their character is proven to have changed. The Bill affords no such second chances and proposes no scale for different offences.
There is a range of petty crimes that could technically merit a prison sentence but for which courts may, based on the individual, judge that not to be necessary. The Bill is rigid in its definition of what crime has to be committed for someone to be excluded from the UK, referring to
“any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed by” a UK court of law. Such strict terms—free from provision for any individual consideration, which our legal system currently has—are a flaw in the Bill.
We already have in place a tough system to refuse visas or entrance to individuals applying to come to the UK who have a criminal history in the UK or elsewhere. I know it is not Government policy to publicise exclusion decisions, but I believe the Home Secretary when she says those measures have successfully kept hundreds of criminals out of the UK. That, however, does not get to the heart of the issue the Bill is aimed at—a swift repeal of European law, which prevents EEA nationals from being excluded from the UK if they are sentenced. Under the European directive on freedom of movement, more demanding grounds than previous criminal conviction are required to deport EEA national offenders who have resided in a host member state for over five or 10 years. I was pleased that the Prime Minister made easing restrictions on deporting EU national offenders part of his renegotiation deal and, in particular, that the Commission agreed to examine the five and 10-year residence thresholds for expulsion.
The Bill does not acknowledge that the freedom of movement directive contains restrictions. I agree that there has been abuse of free movement in the EU, but EU offenders who commit a crime in the UK can already be removed and kept out, with a re-entry ban of one year. I hope the Prime Minister does not give up on his efforts to have that re-entry ban extended. The Secretary of State already has the power to exclude those deemed a serious threat to public policy or public security.
First, I must declare an interest, having previously completed risk assessments in this regard. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is important that foreign national offenders receive comprehensive risk assessments so that appropriate judgments can be made?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but it might be difficult to do comprehensive risk assessments, and that would delay the process. If somebody has been convicted, they need to go back to their own country immediately.
As part of the Prime Minister’s EU renegotiation deal, the EU Commission will clarify the meanings of the “serious” and “imperative” grounds on which we can exclude people from the UK, removing ambiguity and making it easier for our immigration services to carry out their duties.
For those who are removed and deemed to be a threat to the UK, we still have border checks in place to make sure that they cannot be allowed in. This Government and the Conservative-led previous Government deserve credit for strengthening the data our border police have through the warnings index, specifically those on whether anyone coming through our border is subject to an outstanding deportation order. The Bill would also do away with the Schengen information system, which allows European states to share information on criminals, thereby preventing them from getting into the UK in the first place.
Ultimately, although I agree with the sentiment behind the Bill—all of the speakers have spoken powerfully, mainly in favour of the Bill, and I understand where they are coming from—we already have in place a lot of what it is trying to achieve, namely the exclusion of those non-UK individuals under discussion from enjoying the opportunities and hospitality that this country offers. Therefore, I do not believe the Bill is necessary.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Pauline Latham, although I do not agree with her conclusion. This is the 13th Friday in this Session on which I have been present, and I am sorry that not all Members feel it necessary to be here every Friday. I share the frustration of some Opposition Members that it is not always possible to discuss the business one wants.
I sympathise very much with Caroline Lucas, whose Bill refers mainly to England. Clause 23 is the only clause in her Bill that extends to Scotland, and I find it extraordinary that a lot of Members from Scotland do not wish to address this Bill, which relates to a UK-wide issue, but wish to retain their interest in debating just one particular clause of the second Bill on the Order Paper. My understanding is that the problems, costs and frustration caused by foreign national offenders extend as much to people in Scotland as they do to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is a pity that we have not heard any SNP Members set out their policies on those important issues.
The Bill fits in with the principles we hold dear. We are privileged to be members of the sovereign United Kingdom. We are privileged that we are able to have control over our own borders as a sovereign nation, and as a sovereign nation we should be able to decide who comes, who stays and who leaves our country if they are not citizens. We welcome visitors to our country, but we expect them to comply with our laws. If they do not, it is a basic principle that we should be able to require them to leave. If they commit a criminal offence, they should be forced to leave, and quickly rather than slowly.
In response to the Home Affairs Committee report, “The work of the Immigration Directorates”, the Government state:
“Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.”
The problem is that there may be determination to deport, but there is no ability to do so in many cases. There is a big difference between the two, and that is the essence of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone. He is trying to ensure that the people who abuse this country’s hospitality are deported.
Importantly, the Bill does not discriminate between one type of foreign national and another. It treats them all equally. That is why I disagree with my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker. Why should we treat citizens of the EU who are not citizens of the United Kingdom more favourably than other foreign nationals? Why do we not treat them all equally? The only way we can do that is to rid ourselves of our current relationship with the European Union.
The Prime Minister promised that he would get fundamental change in the European Union. My understanding was that that would include a significant revision of the free movement arrangements, the bugbear causing the difficulties to which so much reference has been made during this debate. But the Prime Minister did not achieve the fundamental reform of the European Union that we wanted and, in attempting to achieve it, we supported him so strongly.
Having failed to achieve that, the only way in which we will be able to regain control over our own borders and ensure that those foreigners who abuse our hospitality are forced to leave this country is by voting to leave the European Union on
In a sense, the weakness of the Government’s position is summed in their response to the Home Affairs Committee:
“We do not routinely provide data relating to specific countries as publishing such data could result in undermining diplomatic relationships with those countries, particularly where they might have less incentive to co-operate with us.”
That is the same argument made in relation to those who wish to remain in the European Union—that if we do not do as the remain campaign ask, our European partners might not wish to co-operate with us so much. I think the best way to ensure that EU countries co-operate is to name and shame those that are not taking back the foreign national offenders they should take back under the EU rule of law. As with so many aspects of EU law, that aspect is applied more in the breach than in the observance.
The only way in which we can achieve what the Bill sets out is to leave the European Union. We will then be able, once again, to re-establish our position as an independent, sovereign country—masters of our own destiny, and in control of events—with a democratically elected House of Commons that can decide such issues for itself, without interference from foreign courts. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, and I am proud to be invited to be a co-sponsor of it.
It is great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour Mr Chope. I agree with his sentiments and I, too, rise to speak in favour of the Bill. Having sat in the Chamber throughout this debate, it would be remiss of me not to add one or two words, but I note your earlier stricture, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will keep my comments brief.
I used to practise at the bar, and came across at first hand the experience of attempting, at sentence, to deport foreign offenders, so I have seen the difficulty for the courts and the contortions they have to go through under the current regime. I want to praise the simplicity of the Bill. Many comments and criticisms have been levelled at lawyers and judges—not just during this debate, but elsewhere—but I fear that many of those criticisms are unfounded. This place has a duty to ensure that the Bills and laws we pass are as clear and simple as possible to remove any risk of lawyers being able to make such arguments in court. I therefore praise the simplicity of the Bill and how the provisions are set out. I also praise my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for setting out the principles behind the Bill so clearly.
I want to pick up on one or two points, the first of which is the question of what is a qualifying offence. My hon. Friend Philip Davies suggested that he would be satisfied if there were no such definition and the Bill covered all offences for which foreign offenders are convicted. As it stands, clause 1(4) states that it is an offence for which
“a term of imprisonment may be imposed by a court of law.”
We have heard an exchange on what precisely that means and what it covers. My view is that it is clear and that it covers any offence for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed.
Will my hon. Friend address my point about the sentencing guidelines? Is there not a doubt about whether the Bill would apply to cases in which somebody commits an offence for which prison is not an option within the sentencing guidelines?
My view is that there is not. My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, but my firm view is that it is clear: on a plain reading of the Bill, any offence where a term of imprisonment may be imposed would be caught. We discussed theft and the example of shoplifting a few moments ago. My view is that, because there is a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment, the offence is clearly covered by the Bill, even though shoplifting is towards the lower end of the scale and one would not expect there to be a sentence of imprisonment in any event.
But in a case of shoplifting, particularly if it is a first offence, the judge may not impose a custodial sentence, because that would be outside any kind of sentencing guideline, so surely in such a case, the Bill may not apply.
I do not believe that to be the case. My firm view is that, on a plain reading of the Bill, even shoplifting would be covered.
I want to make the slightly different point that perhaps that is going a bit too far for shoplifting. Indeed, my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh said that it was his view and that of Migration Watch that a sentence of imprisonment for 12 months was about the right level. There could be a debate about what precisely is the right level, but as drafted the definition is very wide indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering spoke about the number of prisoners for whom no nationality has been recorded. I believe the figure was 434 or thereabouts. I would like the Minister to address that point, because if the Bill is to have effect, we cannot have foreign national offenders or, indeed, any offender flouting our laws by refusing to give up their nationality.
I also ask the Minister to address the point that has been raised with regard to article 8 of the European convention on human rights. As drafted, the Bill is very simple. The intention behind clause 1(1) is very clear when it says:
“Notwithstanding…the European Communities Act 1972”.
My fear is that the Bill may still be caught by article 8. Perhaps the solution is around the corner with the British Bill of Rights. This place will have the opportunity to address each and every one of the articles and determine whether it is right or not for them to be included in our British Bill of Rights.
I must touch on the issue of cost, which has been impressed upon me by constituents. I am staggered by the figures that have been given in this debate—up to £1 billion. I am not sure whether that includes the costs that would be saved by shutting prisons. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and I are on slightly different sides of the argument on this point, but I firmly believe that if 10,000 foreign national offenders were deported, it would give us an opportunity to make even more savings by closing prisons down.
Dr Cameron raised the issue of risk assessments. I fear that bringing in that sort of test would undermine the purpose of the Bill, which is very clear and simple. If someone comes to this country, they are very welcome if they want to work hard—they can come to Mid Dorset and North Poole, work hard and add to our economy. If someone commits an offence, especially one so serious that it can lead to a term of imprisonment, the principles behind the Bill are that it is right for them to be deported. No risk assessment, no delay, no quibble—those are the rules, pure and simple, and I praise the simplicity of this Bill, which aims and intends to do just that. Given the time and your earlier strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will leave it there, but I entirely support the purpose and thrust of this Bill.
I will keep my comments brief. Members throughout the House agree that foreign criminals who are guilty of serious crimes have no place in this country. British hospitality should extend only so far, and those who pose a risk to public safety should have their requests to remain here refused.
We are therefore in agreement with the Bill in principle, and I welcome the opportunity to debate this crucial issue. The question, however, is how we tackle the problem in practical terms, and I suggest that the introduction of new laws, extra court time, and added strains on our overburdened criminal justice system, is not the solution. The solution is for the Government properly to enforce existing laws—something that they are failing to do on a grand scale.
Just yesterday it was revealed that the Home Office is releasing five foreign criminals a day on to Britain’s streets, instead of deporting them. The Home Affairs Committee said in a shocking report that in the three months to December last year, 429 foreign national offenders were freed into the community when they should have been deported. Those are people who, according to our existing laws, should no longer be allowed to remain in this country. It is unacceptable that the Committee found that a total of 5,267 overseas criminals are living in Britain and due for deportation, including those convicted of the most serious crimes. That is the highest number since 2012.
It is little wonder that the Home Office has been accused of a “complete failure” to get a grip on the system for deporting overseas convicts. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, said of his Committee’s findings:
“The Prime Minister promised to make the speedy removal of foreign national offenders a priority but these figures show the Home Office has failed to do so. The public will be alarmed that 1,800 offenders are still here after five years. This demonstrates either incompetence, inefficiency or both.”
Does the hon. Lady accept that not just this Government but Governments throughout history have failed to get to grips with this issue? That is why this important and clearly presented Bill should be supported.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will come on to that in due course.
The Committee’s findings add to a long list of damning reports on the Government’s failure to crack down on foreign criminals. The Public Accounts Committee released a scathing report in 2014, which found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within Home Office control, including poor co-operation between relevant bodies on detention, release and deportation, poor use of IT, failure to use the powers available, cumbersome and slow referral processes, and inefficiency in processing. Crucially, it found that only 30% of foreign nationals were being checked against international databases. Two years on from that report, the Government have not learned from their mistakes. By contrast, the last Labour Government made this issue a priority and increased the number of foreign prisoners who were removed.
In conclusion, as I have made clear, 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. However, the Bill’s proposals are not the way to tackle the problem. As a shadow Justice Minister, I know all too well how strained our criminal justice system already is, as indeed are our police, prisons and probation service. Wasting extra court time is not the remedy, and we need the Government to honour their promise to deal with the dangerous criminals who Parliament, the public, and the authorities have already agreed have lost their right to remain in the UK. Labour Members welcome this timely debate, and call on Ministers to stop dragging their feet and deal as a matter of urgency with this issue that is so crucial to public safety.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone on moving the Bill, and other hon. Members on their contributions. This is third time we have debated such a Bill—they have been promoted by him and by Mr Bone, so perhaps next year, we can call it the Foreign National Offenders (Northamptonshire) (Exclusion from the UK) Bill. We shall see.
I am conscious that hon. Members want to debate the National Health Service Bill. I, too, wish to debate the NHS in England, and will therefore restrict my comments to give Caroline Lucas time to move her Bill. I should make the point that that is dependent on my not taking interventions and not having significant debate. I hope hon. Members will understand if my comments are significantly shorter than I was expecting them to be. My time spent preparing my speech could have been used to do other things, but let me get on to a few specific points.
I join the shadow Minister and others in assuring my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that the Government are determined to deal with the problem of foreign national offenders. We agree that they need to be dealt with and deported as soon and as effectively as possible, but I am afraid that the measures in the Bill do not deliver that.
The Government are doing a significant amount—I am afraid I do not have time to set out the many things we are already doing—but it might be worth my pointing out some of the new things we are about to do, particularly regarding individuals’ nationalities. Establishing the nationality of individuals at the earliest possible point in the criminal justice process obviously helps to avoid significant delays when the Home Office wishes to deport foreign national offenders and illegal migrants from the UK. On top of existing measures, we are seeking through the Policing and Crime Bill to amend the UK Borders Act 2007, to introduce a requirement for a suspect foreign national to state their nationality on arrest. That will help to ensure that the person’s identity is established early on, and that overseas criminal record checks are conducted with the correct country of origin, so that we can properly assess the risks posed to the public by that individual.
Reducing the number of foreign national offenders is a priority. Provisional data show that, in the calendar year 2015, we removed 5,602 foreign national offenders from the UK, which is a 6% increase on the previous year and the highest number of removals in a year since records began in 2009. It is worth my making the point that more than half of those removed were European Economic Area foreign national offenders—we are deporting both EEA nationals and non-EEA nationals. More than 29,000 foreign national offenders have been removed since April 2010.