Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 3:01, 24 October 2023

Last week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor announced a package of measures to address offender management, and I thanked him for his contribution and the proposals that he outlined. Importantly, we spoke then, and I want to speak again today, about the removal of foreign national offenders from our country.

It is absolutely right that the Government do everything they possibly can to remove foreign national offenders, because they are living in the UK—often on visas, and using our laws to keep themselves here when they actually have no right to remain in this country—while committing offences and posing a danger to the public. That breach of public safety is a clear violation of their right to remain in the UK. When an offender is convicted and given a custodial sentence, it is a high bar to qualify for deportation. Certainly during my three years as Home Secretary, as the Minister mentioned, we deported around 12,000 foreign national offenders, despite the pandemic and the travel restrictions at the time. With each FNO deported, our streets and communities become that little bit safer, and that is something on which we should all be focused. Those who remain in this country still pose a risk to safety. Sadly, we have seen some come out of our prisons, stay in our communities and commit further dangerous offences and serious crimes.

As Ministers on the Front Bench know, some in this House—I have to say this quite starkly, particularly having listened to the shadow Minister, Ruth Cadbury—have campaigned on this year after year. In December 2020, when I was Home Secretary, 70 Opposition Members wrote to me to stop a deportation flight to Jamaica, and murderers, rapists, drug dealers—you name it—were on that flight. Day after day, Home Office Ministers would come to this House and do a valiant job in speaking about protecting the public and why the people on these flights had to be removed. It is quite shameful to hear such a level of denial from the shadow Minister, which I simply do not think is at all acceptable.

I was lobbied, day in and day out—often through national newspapers, I should add. Letters were even sent to me by those on the Opposition Front Bench, in which they relentlessly broadcast their support for criminals, as they did on social media. They made the case for murderers and sex offenders staying in our country and being able to live in our communities. They made human rights claims to enable dangerous criminals to stay in our country. They have shown more respect for and interest in the rights of these dangerous criminals than those of the victims, or in the public safety of people in our country. That is why I say, as a former Home Secretary, that the Labour party can never be trusted on law and order issues, or on offender management, and its previous track record on them speaks volumes. Living in the UK is a privilege, and those who come here, break our laws and commit serious offences should expect to have their rights removed and their liberty taken away. This is why we should be unapologetic and robust in our approach to the removal of FNOs.

The SI will enable FNOs to be deported directly from prisons sooner—18 months, rather than 12 months, before release point. It is vital that offenders be removed from our country. Of course, everyone wants that, including the public, and victims in particular. I spent time during my period in Government with the victims of some of the most appalling crimes committed by FNOs, and those victims’ lives are shattered when they see those individuals not being removed from our country, but being left to be released and to rebuild their life in our country at the taxpayers’ cost, which is just wrong. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister a series of questions about the practicalities of how this scheme will work, as the change is significant and has an impact on the punitive and deterrent element of sentencing.

First, what consideration will the Government give to the impact on a victim of the early removal scheme, and the measures allowing release 18 months early? Many victims will expect an offender to be in custody for as long as possible, as punishment for their crimes, and they will have concerns about an offender being released and enjoying freedom in the country of their nationality. Victims of rape, sexual offences and other serious offences will rightly have significant concerns about the perpetrators of these horrific crimes effectively receiving back a degree of their liberty. I have a constituent who was a victim of such a crime, and prior to this measure coming in—under the current arrangement, which allows release 12 months early—she was concerned about the person who caused her the most appalling harm being at liberty, even if no longer in this country, and she made representations to me that the offender should not be allowed to be released early. It would be helpful if the Minister spoke about the practicalities of how these offenders will be managed.

Secondly, I would welcome from the Minister details about the communications that victims will receive. As we know, the Victims and Prisoners Bill is going through this House. Many of us from across the House have campaigned for it—in my case, for almost a decade. It gives a welcome focus on victims, and I back the Bill for supporting the rights of victims in the criminal justice system and getting that system rebalanced. That Bill is coming in because of the concern and frustration of victims, obviously including the victims of FNOs. I hope that the Minister will provide assurances and clarity about how victims will be supported. They do get some communication, but they are heavily retraumatised when they hear about those individuals being released from prison, given the implications that that may have.

Thirdly, given that some offenders will be dangerous, and will show no signs of remorse or make any efforts to rehabilitate, will there still be a process for keeping dangerous offenders locked up, rather than eligible for early release?

Fourthly, can the Minister explain how the Government will deal with the enforcement of this scheme when an offender—and I am sorry to say this—makes human rights claims to try to block and frustrate their deportation from the UK? Again, that brings me back to the appeals I used to receive from the Labour party when I was Home Secretary.

On the other measures announced by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor last week, I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister can give further details and assurances, particularly on the offender management package and the proposals for staffing. I appreciate that I am asking for specific information on staffing, but that has implications for overall offender management. This statutory instrument is of course part of a wider package, and we are not discussing that entire package today, but Ministers on the Front Bench will know of my concerns about the possibility that we will see a repeat of what happened under the early release schemes of the last Labour Government, when offenders committed crimes and absconded. That caused serious concerns and had serious implications for public safety. I am looking for reassurance from the Minister about how the Government’s approach will differ from that of previous schemes, and how we will ensure that victims feel that justice is done, and reassurance that there will be a solid effort to reduce reoffending and its causes.