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(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to explain how she will address her continued failure to remove 13,000 foreign national offenders remaining in UK prisons and communities, and specifically the removal of EU prisoners, who make up as much as 42% of all foreign national offenders in prison, back to their EU countries of origin.
That was a bit cheeky of the hon. Gentleman. He will have an opportunity to dilate in due course, but in the first instance, he should stick to the terms of the question—and the puckish grin on his face shows that he knows he has gone a bit beyond the boundary.
Since 2010, the Government have removed over 30,000 foreign national offenders, including 5,692 in 2015-16—the highest number since records began. The number of removals to other EU countries has more than tripled, from 1,019 in 2010-11 to 3,451 in 2015-16. We aim to deport all foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity; however, legal or re-documentation barriers can frustrate immediate deportation. Increased rates of detection can also lead to the population of foreign national offenders increasing despite a record number of removals.
Over 6,500 of the FNOs in the UK are still serving a custodial sentence. The Ministry of Justice has been working to remove EU prisoners under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which is a compulsory means of prisoner transfer that allows us to send foreign criminals back to their home country to serve their sentence. The record number of FNO deportations we have achieved has been due to changes made by the Government. We have reset the balance between article 8 of the European convention on human rights and the public interest in deportation cases. We have also introduced a “deport first, appeal later” power, which means foreign national offenders may appeal against deportation only from their home country, unless they will face a real risk of serious irreversible harm there. More than 3,500 foreign national offenders have been removed since that came into force in July 2014, and many more are going through the system.
The police now routinely carry out checks for overseas criminal convictions on foreign nationals who are arrested, and refer them for deportation. In 2015, the UK made over 100,000 requests for EU criminal record checks—an increase of 1,100% compared with 2010—and in December, the European Council agreed that conviction data relating to terrorists and serious and organised criminals should be shared systematically. We must never give up trying to improve our ability to deal with FNOs and tackle the barriers to deportation: we have just legislated to GPS-tag FNOs who are subject to a deportation order, and we are legislating to establish an FNO’s nationality as early as possible to avoid delays during deportation proceedings.
Before 2010, there was no plan for deporting foreign national offenders. Their rights were given a greater priority than the rights of the public here, and they were routinely abusing the appeals system to avoid deportation. This Government have put in place a strategy for removing foreign national offenders, which is increasing removals, protecting the public and saving the taxpayer money.
Does the Home Secretary agree, given that today,
“question the point of the UK remaining in the EU”?
Furthermore, why have the Government failed to introduce our own Bill of Rights and remove us from the EU charter? Does it not make a mockery of the Queen’s Speech that the Government continue to uphold, as they say,
“the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”?
I accept that my hon. Friend has his own personal reasons for remembering very much the impact of the D-day landings. It is true that those who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy did so to protect our freedoms. The Government, as I indicated in my response to his question, have put in place a number of measures, and we continue to work to do more to ensure that we can protect the public from those serious criminals—rapists and others—who may choose to come here from whichever country they come from. My hon. Friend referred to the Bill of Rights: it is the Government’s intention to bring forward a Bill of Rights, and that was referred to in the Gracious Speech that we heard a few weeks ago. I can assure him that the action that the Government have taken, for example in rebalancing the interests of the public and the interests of foreign national offenders, in the reference to article 8, show that we take seriously the need to ensure that the human rights of the British public are recognised when we deal with these issues.
While I congratulate Sir William Cash on securing this question, I hope that he will not be too offended that I do not agree with every word of his opportunistic election broadcast on behalf of the leave campaign. Is it not plainly the case that this is not an EU question but a question of the competence, or lack of it, of his Government and his Home Secretary? As last week’s Select Committee report makes clear, while there has been progress on the deportation of foreign national offenders, it has been too slow.
Does the Home Secretary agree with what the Prime Minster told the Liaison Committee in May? He said that she and the Home Office “should have done better” on this issue. This is not the first time that the Home Secretary has been warned about these failings. In the last Parliament, the National Audit Office found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within the Home Office’s control. Despite that, we now learn that the problem is getting worse, not better, in some areas. The Select Committee said that it was deeply concerned that there were nearly 6,000 foreign national offenders living in the community—the highest figure since 2012. Can the Home Secretary explain why the figure is so high? How many of those people are still subject to active deportation proceedings, and what is she doing to bring the figure down? She urgently needs to get a grip on the issue.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is much easier to do that while remaining part of the European Union, and that leaving would make it harder to deport people? Is it not the case that the prisoner transfer agreement at least provides a framework to speed up the process and that country-to-country deals are far harder to achieve? Is it not also true that our access to the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system helps us to stop criminals arriving here, and the European arrest warrant means that they can be brought to justice?
Finally, would not the British people be better off listening to the two former Met commissioners and other senior police who, at the weekend, said that our membership of the EU helps us to fight crime, rather than to the unpleasant scaremongering of the leave campaign?
The right hon. Gentleman’s early remarks do not sit well with the facts that I have presented to the Commons. Last year, we deported a record number of foreign national offenders. Of course, the Government should always do more and always seek to ensure that we can improve our ability to do so. He talked about the higher numbers of people in the community, but it is also the case that because of the number of criminal record checks that the police now undertake with other countries we have secured a higher level of identification of foreign national offenders, which has increased the number available for us to deal with, and for all of them we make every effort, and continue to make efforts, to deport.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s final point, I agree that it is easier for us to deal with these issues as a member of the European Union. He mentioned a number of tools and instruments available to us. On the figure I quoted in relation to foreign criminal checks, he mentioned ECRIS and SIS, which mean that information is available to us at the border which would otherwise not be available.
When I was the Home Secretary’s colleague as Justice Secretary, it was my pleasure to bring to a conclusion in the Council of Ministers the negotiations begun by the previous Government to get the EU-wide agreement that prisoners could be compulsorily returned to the their own country. Progress of course depends on the efficiency and priority applied to that by the bureaucracies of every Government across Europe, but I congratulate her on the very good progress being made here. Will she point out to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash that if we were not members of the European Union, we would go back to a system where we had absolutely no ability to deport anybody to their country of origin unless we could persuade the Government of that country to accept them?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work he did in relation to the prisoner transfer framework decision, which was an important step forward. Crucially—this relates to the latter part of his question—that decision enables us to deport people compulsorily from the United Kingdom to serve their sentences elsewhere, whereas arrangements that may have been in place previously were about voluntary transfer, where the prisoner had to actually agree to move. The current arrangement gives us far greater scope in being able to remove people from the United Kingdom, and it is another reason why it is important to remain part of the European Union.
Removing foreign national offenders is important and rightly attracts public interest, but it does require sensible and measured debate. As the Home Affairs Committee report pointed out last week, and as the Home Secretary has said, the Government have been making some progress on this issue. Does she agree that being in the European Union gives us access to criminal records sharing and prison transfer agreements, as Mr Clarke has just said, and helps us better to identify people with criminal records, allowing us to send them back to their home countries to serve their sentences? Does she agree that there is really no evidence that leaving the European Union would help rather than hinder the removal of EU offenders? Finally, does she agree that it is a shame that some other good work and powerful recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee have been overshadowed by Brexiteers determined to twist any issue to their cause, even in the absence of logic?
I agree with the hon. and learned Lady that being a member of the EU does give us access to certain tools and certain instruments that help us to share information that otherwise would not be available to us, and that is very important in the sharing of criminal records information. There is more for us to do, and I am working with others to ensure that we can enhance our ability to share that information so that we have more information available to us. On her latter point, I have to say that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee rarely allows himself to be overshadowed.
The important issue for us in being able to prevent people from entering the UK, should we consider that they are individuals whom we do not wish to have in the country, or in being able to deport people is retaining our borders, which we do. It is important that we have at our border controls information available to us to help us make those decisions. That is why membership of SIS II is an important part of the tools and the framework that we have to enable us to deal with criminality. Of course, in the deal that was negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to our membership of the European Union, we have enhanced our ability to deport people with criminal records and to prevent people from coming here with criminal records. We will also be ensuring that certain decisions taken by the European Court of Justice are overturned.
Ah, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—Mr Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz.
Time and again, the Home Affairs Committee has warned successive Governments—not just this Government, but way back to the last Labour Government—about the need to remove foreign national offenders. Credit should be given to the Home Secretary. She has relentlessly pursued people such as Abu Qatada out of the country; in fact, I was surprised that she did not pilot the plane that took him back to Jordan at the end of that saga. The fact remains, however, that eight of the top 10 countries are either Commonwealth or EU countries, and there is, frankly, no excuse for friendly countries and key allies not to take back citizens of theirs who have committed serious offences. Eighteen months ago we made a very sensible and simple suggestion, namely that the passports of foreign national offenders should be taken away from them at the time of sentencing. Has that now been implemented?
The right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have been consistent in raising this issue, and I am sure that he welcomes the fact that we are now removing record numbers of foreign national offenders. We are taking a number of steps in relation to the identity and identification of foreign national offenders. In most cases, passports will be taken away, although some individuals will have destroyed their documentation. That is one of the difficulties involved in returning people to countries when they have no documentation; getting the correct identity is one of the challenges faced by the recipient country, regardless of where in the world it is.
The Home Secretary will be as aware as anyone of how difficult it is to deport a foreign criminal to any country and that it is all but impossible to do so to some countries. Does she agree that the EU prisoner transfer framework directive gives us a much better chance with those countries than with any other country, including Commonwealth countries; that, if my hon. Friend Sir William Cash has his way in the referendum, that would make it more, not less, difficult to deport foreign prisoners and that our prisons’ problems would therefore continue; and that that would be, by any standards, a perverse outcome?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has experience of these issues from his time as the Immigration Minister. Membership of the European Union gives us access to information sharing and instruments that help increase our ability to deal with foreign national offenders and criminals. Crucially, as I indicated earlier to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the ability to return people on a compulsory basis, rather than requiring the prisoner themselves to agree to that return.
“very obvious to me that it is…in our national interest to be part of” the EU prison transfer agreement. Does she agree with that statement, as I do, and does she happen to know whether her right hon. Friend still holds that view?
I agree with the view about the transfer decision, and as for the views of my right hon. Friend, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman asks him himself.
My right hon. Friend has rather candidly admitted that it is more difficult to control immigration while we are a member of the EU. Does she agree that two of the reasons why we have 4,000 EU nationals in our jails are, first, that if we deport them and our EU partners do not choose to keep them in prison, they have the right to come straight back here and be free to roam our streets because they are EU citizens; and, secondly, that these people now have access to the EU charter of fundamental rights, which the Prime Minister said he wanted a complete opt-out from, but he did not get that in his renegotiation?
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been misinformed about the impact of the deportation of a foreign national offender. It is not the case that a foreign national offender who is deported to another EU country would be able immediately to come back. The point of the deportation is that it means that they are not able to return to the UK, unless they apply to have that deportation revoked. Of course, it would be for the Government to decide whether it would be revoked.
Some of my constituents who were born in this country, who are able to serve in the armed forces of this country, and who do not hold passports in many cases—they can even be MPs—find themselves facing deportation for historical reasons because they are citizens of the Republic of Ireland. There is statute for that special arrangement. Could the Home Secretary tell the House what her views are in respect of citizens of the Irish Republic currently in British prisons?
As I understand it, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the last Labour Government and the Republic of Ireland Government, which means that we are not currently transferring prisoners between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. That is an issue that others have raised, but my understanding is that that is the current situation.
Can the Home Secretary confirm—I fear she cannot, but if she can, I for one will be delighted—that everybody entering this country from an EU destination has their passport checked not only against possible terrorist links but against whether they have a criminal record? I fear that these passports are not checked, so even if we can deport these people, they can, in reality, come straight back.
I am not sure when my hon. Friend last came into Heathrow or Gatwick, or into St Pancras through the juxtaposed controls in Brussels or France, but he will have noticed that his passport was indeed checked as he came through, as are the passports of those who are not British citizens. As I have indicated in response to a number of queries, we now have more information available at the border through being a member of SIS II. That is one of the EU arrangements on justice and home affairs matters that the Government chose to rejoin and that this Parliament unanimously agreed to rejoin.
Is the Secretary of State aware of how thankful I am for the work that she and her Department have done to educate me over recent months, as I campaigned to bring back, through extradition, people accused of foul crimes against constituents of mine in Huddersfield and other people in the UK? She educated me about how complex that is, and about how, without the European Union and the help of our fellow EU members, we would never have got those people back to face justice in this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reference to how complex some of these cases can be. That is the point. Very often there are barriers, such as lack of documentation, which need to be overcome before we are able to make these deportations. As a number of people have indicated, in the EU, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the framework under which we can deport foreign criminals from European member states.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the problem, which is of some standing and goes way back to the early part of this century, when the Labour Government faced it, is not one of law or the interpretation of legal instruments, but one of proper administration? Is there not a second problem, in that there are far too many barrack-room lawyers who keep following their own advice?
If we left the EU, the prisoner transfer agreement would no longer stand. How long does the Home Secretary think it would take to negotiate with each EU country a fresh agreement on returning EU prisoners?
The answer is that nobody knows how long it would take to negotiate those bilateral arrangements. Of course, under the arrangements of the treaty—under article 50—two years are set aside for negotiations for a member state leaving the European Union, but that does not necessarily cover the bilateral arrangements that would need to be in place if we were outside the co-operative arrangement of which we are members in the EU. It is very uncertain how long it would take to put any such arrangements in place.
This is a shocking record to defend: 13,000 foreign national offenders—equivalent to the population of a small town—wandering around our country. We have heard all this before. The issue has been before the Public Accounts Committee, and in 2012 the Home Secretary gave me undertakings to improve the situation when I introduced my European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication) Bill under the ten-minute rule. If she wants to deal with the issue of foreign national offenders upstream, she must deal with protecting the border. On that basis, will she explain why her Department is today stonewalling on legitimate freedom of information requests about migrant incursions on the coast? Is that the case, and if so, why is she not giving that information to media and other outlets?
On the last point, I simply say to my hon. Friend that he should not always believe everything he reads in the newspapers in relation to the action that is taking place. He refers to the record and says that all 13,000 foreign national offenders are wandering the streets; I should be very clear with the House that they are not doing so. A significant number of them are serving custodial sentences and are therefore within our prison estate, and some of them, having been detained, are within our immigration detention estate, waiting for their deportation.
I am clear, as is my hon. Friend, that we need to do more in this area. That is why the Government have made a number of legislative changes to make it easier for us to deport people, and to rebalance the system in reference to article 8. We will continue to put forward changes that we think will improve our ability to deport foreign national offenders.
The Home Secretary mentioned the European arrest warrant. If we voted to leave the European Union, what would happen to the implementation of the European arrest warrant system, and would it make it more difficult or easier to get people back from other countries when we want to imprison them in this country for crimes committed here?
I think the European arrest warrant is a very useful tool for us to access as a member of the European Union. That is why, when we considered the justice and home affairs opt-in/opt-out decision, I proposed to the House that we should go back into the European arrest warrant system, and the House voted to do so unanimously. If we were not a member of the European Union, we would have to negotiate alternative arrangements, but that might not be possible with every country. For example, some member states of the European Union will not allow the extradition of their nationals to countries other than members of the European Union.
These figures were given to me by the Secretary of State in answer to a question in May. I also received an answer saying that we actually refuse entry to 20 times more non-EU applicants than EU applicants. Border controls are therefore important. That shows that the bar is much higher for non-EU countries. If border controls are so important, will she explain why we have only six boats patrolling our waters, when Italy has 600 and France has 600? Surely we should have stronger border controls in all areas.
Perhaps a prison ship might deal with the question.
Of course our border controls are important because we want to ensure, where we can, that we are able to identify those whom we do not wish to have in the United Kingdom, to make sure that they do not cross our borders and that, when we identify them in the United Kingdom, we are able to take action to deport them. As I said earlier, as part of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels, it will be easier for us in future, should we remain in the European Union, to both deport criminals from other EU countries, and ensure that they do not reach the UK in the first place.
My constituent Elsie lives with the actions of a foreign national offender each day, following the tragic murder of her son Mark at the hands of a Polish national. Does the Home Secretary agree that the tawdry tabloid treatment of this serious subject does little to address the very real problems and daily agony of people such as Elsie, and will she join me in calling for all debate on this topic to remain measured and respectful?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, which is that behind the figures we exchange across the House lie the lives of people who have been seriously affected by the impact of criminality. Such an impact occurs whatever the identity of the criminals, but there are cases such as the one to which she referred. Our hearts must go out to Elsie given the fact that, as the hon. Lady said, she lives day to day with the impact of the actions of a foreign national offender.
The number of foreign national offenders deported at the end of their sentence reflects the efficient way in which my right hon. Friend has run her Department, and she is to be congratulated on that. The difficult challenge is getting sentenced prisoners from the EU to return to their country to serve their sentence under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which was negotiated by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke when we were at the Ministry of Justice, where I was his junior Minister, responsible for prisons. It is four years since we departed from the MOJ; how many people have actually been deported to serve their sentence in other EU countries since then?
I do not believe that I have the exact figure to hand, but I will give it to my hon. Friend. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who have been deported under the prisoner transfer decision, because it is being put in place by other member states. As I am sure he will recall from his time in the Ministry of Justice, Poland had a derogation until December 2016, so at the end of this year Poland will become a part of the prisoner transfer decision. Two countries—I believe they are the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria—are yet to implement it. There is movement, and there has been an increase in the numbers being transferred under that decision.
My constituents’ pride in giving hospitality to and assimilating newcomers for the past 150 years was put under strain last year, when a foreign national offender who was deemed too dangerous to be located in London—his home—was placed in my constituency, where he committed crimes for which he is serving a four-year sentence. Would it not be far better for public acceptance of migrants if there was a fair and even distribution of asylum seekers and other migrants throughout the country? My constituency takes 500; will the Home Secretary tell me how many there are in her constituency, and whether there are still none in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor?
I have answered that question previously, and the hon. Gentleman knows the figure. He has carefully elided the issue of prisoners with the overall issue of the dispersal system for asylum seekers, which, as has been pointed out in the House before, is exactly the same as that operated by the last Labour Government.
The reason for legislating to have the tags is to be able to identify where people are, so that when the circumstances allow for deporting them, it is easier for us to do so.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answers so far. Does she recognise that the Government’s failure to deport more EU murderers and rapists undermines the case for remaining in the EU, particularly when housing EU convicts in UK jails costs the taxpayer some £150 million each year? What has been done to reduce that drain on our financial resources?
The number of European economic area foreign national offenders who have been deported has tripled since 2010-11, from just over 1,000 to well over 3,000. We are making progress in that field.
At the beginning of this year, a Dutch resident entered through Gatwick airport, very swiftly assaulted a member of staff there, went before the local magistrate, and was released, without having any address, on to the streets of Crawley. Several days later, they hammer-attacked two female police officers. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the difference between the rhetoric about sharing criminal records and the reality as experienced by all too many of our constituents?
I am aware of this case, as my hon. Friend came to see me to raise it. Given the circumstances that he has set out, I can fully understand why he chose to do so, and why he has raised the case again today. He referred to criminal records exchange. The tools are there, but operational decisions will be made by those involved at any point in time. As I have indicated, the police have significantly increased the number of criminal record checks that they make, but whether and at what point they make those checks are decisions for them.
Perhaps uniquely, I shall ask a question that does not involve Europe. Notwithstanding the progress that the Home Secretary has alluded to, does she acknowledge that the report shows that it still takes, on average, 149 days to deport a foreign national offender? Will she also acknowledge that the delay is exacerbated by the appalling record of the contracted transportation company Tascor, which regularly fails to show up to transport prisoners from immigration detention centres to the aeroplane, resulting in further detention and the cost of tickets for missed flights? What will she do about that?
I assure my hon. Friend that we look constantly at our contracts with those who provide services to the Government. There can be a complex range of reasons why in some cases it is difficult to deport people, or some last-minute problem with deportation, but if someone who expects to be deported is not deported, we make every effort to do so at the earliest opportunity.
Boston in my constituency has seen more than its fair share of serious crimes committed by foreign nationals, and people are rightly worried. Does the Home Secretary think that the process of negotiating 20-plus new bilateral agreements, or the outcome of that, could conceivably make those people safer?
Again, my hon. Friend has specifically raised the concerns of his constituents on that issue, and my answer is that being within the European Union, and having the single prisoner transfer framework decision and various other tools, makes us safer. There is uncertainty and delay in having to negotiate bilateral arrangements—indeed, nobody knows whether it will be possible to negotiate bilateral arrangements that are of equal benefit to the British public as those that we have as members of the EU.
Despite the Home Secretary’s tough talk, the figures are stark. Since 2002-03, the number of EU prisoners in our prisons has trebled. As an illustration, the number of Polish prisoners has gone up from 46 to 983, and the number of Romanian prisoners has increased from 50 to 635. Over the past three years, the Metropolitan police have arrested 100,000 EU nationals and charged more than 30,000 with an offence. The Home Secretary is clearly failing to stop EU criminals coming into the UK, and failing to deport them. Is the only conclusion to be drawn that the free movement of people means the free movement of criminals into the UK?
My hon. Friend may not be surprised to hear that I draw different conclusions. It is obviously important that we are able to deal with those who try to cross our borders and have a record of criminality, and we must have access to information that enables us to make decisions about such people. That is why access to SIS II, and other systems that allow us to check criminal records, is so important.
The cost of foreign criminals coming to the UK is just one of the many strains that the free movement of people puts on the British taxpayer. Does the Home Secretary agree with the National Audit Office that the best estimate for the costs of administering foreign national offenders is £850 million a year, and could be as much as £1 billion a year?
Of course there are costs involved with people who come to the country. Indeed, there are British citizens who commit crimes, and the criminal justice system obviously bears costs to ensure that they are brought to justice and given custodial sentences in our prisons. I urge caution, however, because questions this afternoon have focused on foreign national offenders from other EU member states, but many foreign national offenders in prisons in the United Kingdom come from countries outside the European Union. We make every effort to return those foreign national offenders and deport those people, as we do for those from the EU.
As a former special constable with the police parliamentary scheme, I was involved at first hand in arresting eastern Europeans on the streets of London for crimes that they were in the process of committing. I saw at first hand the wave of crime from eastern Europe following the accession of those countries in 2004. Does the Home Secretary believe that the situation will get better or worse with the admission of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey? To ensure that she does not inadvertently mislead the House, given that she has attended today to answer a question on the removal of foreign national offenders and EU prisoners, does she seriously expect us to believe that she will not tell the House the number of prisoners transferred under this super-duper EU prisoner transfer agreement? She attends today with seven officials in the civil servants’ box and her entire ministerial team. Will she now disclose that number?
My hon. Friend did great service as a special constable, and has referred to foreign national offenders from particular countries whom he was involved in arresting. Something like a third of the population of London are foreign nationals, and I think I am right in saying that the figures show that about a third of the criminals arrested in the Metropolitan police area are foreign nationals. I might draw a different lesson from that than the one drawn by my hon. Friend, but that is an important fact.
I am sorry if my hon. Friend is disappointed that I do not happen to have the figure he asks for in front of me. I indicated to my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt that I will write to him with it.