Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

– in the House of Lords at 8:34 pm on 26th February 2008.

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Votes in this debate

House again in Committee on Clause 13.

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Offences specified for the purposes of sections 225(3A) and227(2A) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003]:

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 82A to 82ZA:

Schedule 6, page 219, line 30, leave out paragraph 1 and insert—

"1 Murder."

Schedule 6, page 220, line 2, leave out "or an attempt to commit such an offence"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 16, leave out "or an attempt to commit such an offence"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 17, leave out "or an attempt to commit such an offence"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 20, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 23, leave out "or an attempt to commit such an offence"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 26, leave out "or an attempt to commit such an offence"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 28, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 32, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 36, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 41, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 220, line 45, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 221, line 4, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 221, line 7, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 221, line 9, at end insert—

"22A (1) An attempt to commit an offence specified in the preceding paragraphs of this Part of this Schedule ("a listed offence").

(2) Conspiracy to commit a listed offence.

(3) Incitement to commit a listed offence.

(4) An offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 in relation to which a listed offence is the offence (or one of the offences) which the person intended or believed would be committed.

(5) Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of a listed offence."

Schedule 6, page 221, line 11, at end insert—

"22B Murder."

Schedule 6, page 221, line 13, leave out paragraph 24

Schedule 6, page 221, line 15, leave out "or an attempt to commit rape"

Schedule 6, page 221, line 20, leave out ", or an attempt to commit sodomy,"

Schedule 6, page 221, line 35, at end insert—

"33A (1) An attempt to commit an offence specified in the preceding paragraphs of this Part of this Schedule ("a listed offence").

(2) Conspiracy to commit a listed offence.

(3) Incitement to commit a listed offence.

(4) Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of a listed offence."

Schedule 6, page 221, line 38, leave out paragraph 34 and insert—

"34 Murder."

Schedule 6, page 222, line 1, leave out "or an attempt to commit rape"

Schedule 6, page 222, line 28, leave out ", or an attempt to commit such an offence,"

Schedule 6, page 222, line 30, at end insert—

"48 (1) An attempt to commit an offence specified in the preceding paragraphs of this Part of this Schedule ("a listed offence").

(2) Conspiracy to commit a listed offence.

(3) Incitement to commit a listed offence.

(4) An offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 in relation to which a listed offence is the offence (or one of the offences) which the person intended or believed would be committed.

(5) Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of a listed offence."

Schedule 6, page 222, line 30, at end insert—

"Part 4Offences under service law

49 An offence under section 70 of the Army Act 1955, section 70 of the Air Force Act 1955 or section 42 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957 as respects which the corresponding civil offence (within the meaning of the Act in question) is an offence specified in Part 1 of this Schedule.

50 (1) An offence under section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 as respects which the corresponding offence under the law of England and Wales (within the meaning given by that section) is an offence specified in Part 1 of this Schedule.

(2) Section 48 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (attempts, conspiracy etc.) applies for the purposes of this paragraph as if the reference in subsection (3)(b) of that section to any of the following provisions of that Act were a reference to this paragraph."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 [Sentences of detention for public protection]:

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Extended sentences for certain violent or sexual offences: persons 18 or over]:

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 83A:

Clause 15, page 11, line 5, leave out "in any part of the United Kingdom"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 84 not moved.]

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Extended sentences for certain violent or sexual offences: persons under 18]:

[Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [The assessment of dangerousness]:

[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

moved Amendment No. 89:

Clause 17, page 12, line 17, leave out "in any part of the United Kingdom"

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I can be extremely brief in introducing this amendment. Clause 17 amends Section 229 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which deals with the assessment of dangerousness in connection with public protection sentences. As currently drafted, the amendment to Section 229 would allow the court to take into account information available to it about any previous United Kingdom convictions. My question is: what about convictions in other parts of the world? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

Government Amendment No. 89A is in this group. The background is that my right honourable friend the Minister of State with responsibility for justice, Mr Hanson MP, gave a commitment in the other place to consider an amendment in similar terms to this one. Government Amendment No. 89A, which is along similar lines to Amendment No. 89 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is the result. We do not believe that the current clause prevents courts looking at foreign convictions—where evidenced, of course—when assessing risk, and obviously they would be sensible to do so. However, we accept that clarity would be helpful. In our view, government Amendment No. 89A puts beyond doubt that courts may consider not only UK but also overseas convictions in assessing risk. I hope that the noble Lord will support Amendment No. 89A.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I do. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 89A and 89B:

Clause 17, page 12, line 17, leave out "in any part of the United Kingdom" and insert "by a court anywhere in the world"

Clause 17, page 12, line 19, at end insert—

"( ) After subsection (2) insert—

"(2A) The reference in subsection (2)(aa) to a conviction by a court includes a reference to—

(a) a finding of guilt in service disciplinary proceedings, and(b) a conviction of a service offence within the meaning of the Armed Forces Act 2006 ("conviction" here including anything that under section 376(1) and (2) of that Act is to be treated as a conviction).""

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 18 and 19 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

moved Amendment No. 90:

After Clause 19, insert the following new Clause—

"Increase in maximum term that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way

Section 282 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) (increase in maximum term that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way) shall come into force on the passing of this Act."

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I can be exceedingly telegraphic about this amendment. After Clause 19, we wish to introduce a clause entitled,

"Increase in maximum term that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way".

Section 282 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provided for an increase in the maximum term that may be imposed on summary conviction of an offence triable either way, should come into force on the passing of this Act. In effect we are implementing a clause that originally appeared in the Government's 2003 Act but which has not been implemented. I think that, originally, the idea behind the clause was to supplement the custody-plus scheme, which was subsequently scrapped. However, we think that, quite independently of that scheme, it is right that magistrates be given the power to sentence for a term of up to 12 months.

Just in case the Government might have some fears about the impact that that would have on prison places, I see no reason why the clause should lead to an increase. Magistrates sentence in accordance with the current sentencing framework, which is set out in statute. They use a structured decision-making process and consider the appropriate principles. All terms of custody must be justified by the seriousness of the offence. I am in no doubt that magistrates will use this new power responsibly. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip 9:00 pm, 26th February 2008

This new clause proposes a significant extension of magistrates' sentencing powers. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is of course right that the increase in their powers was originally enacted in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to enable magistrates' courts to pass custody-plus sentences. This is one of the few provisions of the 2003 Act not yet implemented, and we have no current plans to do so.

Implementing the increase in sentencing powers separately from custody plus would be a major change to our sentencing framework and we are not persuaded that there is a strong case for making such a radical change. If the increased custody limit were implemented together with custody plus, the maximum actual custodial period that could be imposed by the magistrates' court would be 13 weeks for one offence, which is the equivalent of the three months' actual custody time that can currently be imposed. It was never envisaged that the magistrates' courts would make use of the increased custodial sentencing power without custody plus.

The new clause would mean a substantial increase in the magistrates' ability to impose actual prison time; indeed it would be doubled. As I said, it would be a major change to increase the sentencing powers of the magistrates' courts in this way. They are, after all, lay courts and are not intended to deal with the most serious and dangerous offenders who may require long custodial sentences. That is not in any way to disparage the magistracy, who remain a vital part of our criminal justice system and whose committed hard work, as all noble Lords know, is voluntary and deals with huge numbers of criminal cases.

The current system ensures that defendants receive appropriate sentences. Magistrates' courts can of course direct cases to the Crown Court when they assess that the defendant would be likely if convicted to require a heavier sentence than they are empowered to give. They can also commit a defendant who has been convicted to the Crown Court for sentence. Clause 103 ensures that the latter power will be available undiminished under Schedule 3 to the 2003 Act when it is implemented. In those circumstances, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I am of course grateful to the Minister for his reply, but this is a summary consideration of offences triable either way. There are advantages in magistrates rather than the Crown Court dealing with these matters. Given that offences are triable either way, it is only right that the magistrates should have larger powers of sentencing than they would otherwise have. The logic behind my amendment is extremely powerful. I am disappointed by the Minister's reaction.

The fact that this was originally in the 2003 Act gives rise to the question of how much of that Act is still unimplemented. I am almost tempted to ask the Minister to do a calculation. I shall not do so, but a substantial part of that Act has fallen into desuetude for a variety of reasons. I am sure that the Government are extremely disappointed after having put so much effort into what was the flagship of their criminal justice strategy in the early 1990s. They must be deeply disappointed that so much of it has run into the sand.

I shall consider whether to bring this matter back on Report, but meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 [Consecutive terms of imprisonment]:

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

moved Amendment No. 91:

Clause 20, leave out Clause 20 and insert the following new Clause—

"Consecutive terms of imprisonment: maximum duration etc.

(1) Section 181 (prison sentences of less than 12 months) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) is amended as follows.

(2) For subsection (7) substitute—

"(6A) Where a court imposes two or more terms of imprisonment in accordance with this section to be served consecutively, the court shall have complete discretion to set the aggregate length of the terms of imprisonment subject to a maximum of 65 weeks and may suspend all or part of the total period of imprisonment.""

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

This is not as dramatic a proposal as my previous one. It is a more nuanced approach to a provision in the Bill concerning consecutive terms of imprisonment. We suggest that the Government kindly leave out Clause 20 and insert this new clause. It is simply another attempt to encourage the Government to give the courts greater discretion than they appear inclined to do. We are perfectly content to abide by the Government's maximum of 65 weeks but, within that, the Government should give the court clear discretion to set the appropriate length of sentence. That would include the power to suspend all or part of the total period. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

I hope to respond in as nuanced a way as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, moved his amendment. Our Clause 20 is intended to provide a solution to the problem that, under the current custody-plus legislation—which, I repeat, is not in force yet, before anyone else says it—a court cannot impose more than 13 weeks' custody for consecutive offences without exceeding limitations on what must be the licence portion of custody plus. It would enable the courts to put into practice an option which theoretically is available to them when sentencing for more than one offence: the option to impose 26 rather than 13 weeks' custody and 26 weeks on licence in order to preserve the rehabilitative benefits of custody plus.

The amendment would remove Clause 20 altogether and replace it with a new formulation. It would remove entirely the current restriction on the amount of the aggregated sentence that can be dedicated to custody. I understand that the intended effect is that the courts would not be limited at all in putting together consecutive custodial sentences and would be able to add them together until the threshold of 65 weeks had been reached, meaning that an offender could be sentenced to 65 weeks' prison time if enough offences were sentenced together.

Our difficulty with the amendment is that the new clause would pretty directly undermine the custody-plus concept. It would mean that the court could disregard entirely the need for a licence period, or could significantly reduce it. The long-term, post-custody licence is the key feature of custody plus, allowing these offenders to be supported and supervised in the community on release. That does not, as I understand it, happen for short prison sentences in any event, and is one problem with which this Committee—and beyond the Committee, if I may say so—has attempted to battle.

The proposed new clause would also introduce a substantial change to our sentencing framework by increasing the magistrates' ability to impose actual prison time, which is currently six months for consecutive offences. Under custody plus, 26 weeks will be the maximum figure, which is the same. When magistrates' courts assess that the defendant would be likely, if convicted, to require a heavier sentence than they are empowered to give, they can direct cases to the Crown Court. As I said in response to the previous amendment, they also have the power to commit a defendant for sentence to the Crown Court.

The proposed new clause would also allow these sentences to be suspended. That is unnecessary. As the law stands, consecutive sentences may be suspended anyway, but in case anyone had forgotten, we have just debated the wider issue of the offences for which sentence may be suspended.

I pause briefly to pay tribute to the work of the magistrates. All Members of the Committee, on whatever side they sit, know that magistrates play a vital role. They deal with 95 per cent of all criminal cases, either in the adult court or in the youth court. My noble friend Lord Hunt mentioned the 30,000 magistrates who serve voluntarily, giving their time freely in the name of public service and with commitment and dedication. I am sure that, in paying tribute to them, I do so on behalf of the whole Committee.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

The Minister makes it sound as though I just made a major attack on the magistracy. That is surely not the case. I do not need to say all the things that the noble Lord has said about the magistrates for it to be absolutely clear that we on this side of the Committee are sterling supporters of the magistracy, and have been since time immemorial.

I confess that I had not understood that the clause had custody plus in mind. The whole basis of the Minister's response to me is that custody plus is a policy that is still up and running, and that the Government intend to implement as soon as possible. That, as I understand it, is the tenor of his response.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

Let me make the position clear. It is on the statute book. It needs to be brought up to date with the present legislation, but, as I think I said in response to the last amendment, we have no immediate intention of bringing it in. I certainly do not want to mislead the Committee on that.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

In that case, why is custody plus the main reason for opposing my amendment?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

It is certainly a reason, because one day custody plus may be brought in. Another reason is that we do not believe that the magistrates' powers should be given to pass a sentence of up to 65 weeks' custody. I hope that that was clear from our objection to the noble Lord's last amendment to raise the maximum sentence for a single offence from six months. Everyone knows that the maximum sentence that the magistrates can impose for however many offences they deal with is a total of 12 months; in other words, 52 weeks.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

So the real reason is not custody plus; it is because the Minister thinks that more people would be sent to prison as a result of our amendment.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

On this rather less dramatic but more nuanced amendment, as the noble Lord described it, we have more than one reason for objecting to it.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

I would hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, heard me, but if he did not, let me repeat myself. Our reasons were based on custody plus, which we think this would absolutely destroy if it were ever brought in. There more likely would be a complete custodial element and no licence element. The whole point is to have a licence period after custody. In addition, it would—as it were, by the back door—increase the amount of time that the magistrates are entitled to send someone to prison for.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I must admit, I find myself in a state of deep occlusion. I believe that the only way that I can clear it is by testing the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 91) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not-Contents, 32.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Aye: 29 Members of the House of Lords

No: 30 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Credit for period of remand on bail: terms of imprisonment and detention]:

On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament 9:25 pm, 26th February 2008

Clauses 21 to 23 concern curfew on remand being used as custodial time. We are concerned at the proposal to credit time spent on an electronic tag against a subsequent custodial sentence. Bail conditions are not imposed as punishment and cannot be considered as part of an eventual sentence.

A qualifying curfew condition requires a curfew of not less than nine hours, so one of, say, eight and a half hours from 9.30 in the evening to 6 o'clock in the morning would accrue no credit. This could lead defence solicitors to ask for longer curfew periods where a custodial sentence is likely, or for a reduction in, say, the unpaid work requirement. Often a court is invited to consider a condition to reside at a bail hostel and abide by the conditions at the hostel. This can be a far more onerous condition than a curfew with electronic tagging as the offender is removed from their home. However, such a condition would not be credited—nor, indeed, should it be.

I am puzzled by these clauses. The Government must be aware that the public will not warm to this proposal. As someone who is tagged with curfew conditions will be able to live at home, they may well be living in great comfort. Why should that period be set against any ultimate custodial sentence?

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

This provision takes up more than 90 lines of legislation. When the Minister comes to reply, will he answer the question: is it really worth it? What does he hope to achieve by it in terms of satisfaction for the public or a reduction of prison occupancy? Is it really worth it? To adopt the language of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I will answer the question myself: it cannot be.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am sorry that the clause does not lend itself warmly to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. In answer to the question, "Is it worth it?", clearly the Government believe that it is worth it even given its 91 lines in this modest Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will care to put this to the vote as well. The Government feel they are on a roll at the moment.

Clauses 21 to 23, as the noble Lord said, give effect to a measure that was recommended by my noble friend Lord Carter in his review of prisons to help manage demand for prison spaces. They introduce a new provision in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to provide that time spent on bail, while subject to an electronically monitored curfew, may be credited towards a subsequent custodial sentence imposed for that offence. It will apply to defendants, bailed under the Bail Act as amended by the Bill, who are subject to an electronically monitored curfew bail condition and who have been sentenced for an offence that was committed on or after 4 April 2005. To qualify for the curfew credit, defendants must have been subject, as the noble Lord said, to an electronically monitored curfew for at least nine hours a day. The court will be required to take into account the defendant's compliance with the curfew when deciding the period to be credited.

As I said, this will have an impact regarding the demand on prison places. The justification for the change in the Bill is really to reflect the position that being subject to a curfew does not equal a deprivation of liberty whereas remand to custody clearly does. That is why each curfew day will provide a potential credit against sentence of no more than half a day. This credit is not being made on the basis that defendants are being deprived of their liberty, but it is a credit for the fact that they have complied with their bail conditions while having their liberty restricted on a preventive, rather than a punitive, basis. The credit is made on the basis that, even though being under a curfew is less arduous than being in custody, both are intended as a preventive measure to secure the judicial process rather than as a measure designed to punish the offender.

The noble Lord suggested that the nine hours might provide a perverse incentive. I certainly hope not. The question, "Why nine hours, with no credit for shorter periods?" was implicit in what he said. It would be too complicated to relate credit to the number of hours that an offender was subject to curfew with electronic monitoring. There has to be a cut-off point and we think nine hours is appropriate, bearing in mind the degree to which the curfew impinges on the defendant's daily life.

The noble Lord asked why credit could not be given for other bail conditions, such as residence requirements. We consider that the level of restriction imposed by an electronically monitored curfew is greater than those other requirements. Where there are difficulties about evidencing compliance, such restrictions are often coupled with an electronically monitored curfew where credit would be given.

Ultimately, we see this as a useful measure. It will help with some of the issues we have with the prison population. It can also be seen as a sensible preventative measure with regard to encouraging people who have been remanded on bail. On that basis, I commend it to your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament 9:30 pm, 26th February 2008

I cannot fault the Minister on the clarity of his response, which I entirely understand although I completely disagree with it. I think the public will find this unacceptable, and I am surprised that the Government have not thought that aspect of the proposal through. It would be much more understandable if people in a bail hostel were allowed to use part of their time there as a set-off against the ultimate custodial sentences. However, where someone is living at home—and will probably spend a lot of time on curfew at home anyway—it is inexplicable that that should entitle them to reduce their ultimate custodial sentence by 50 per cent. However, the Minister has been quite clear about this issue, although we shall certainly come back to it on Report.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clauses 22 and 23 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 24 to 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Application of section 35(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to prisoners liable to removal from the UK]:

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

moved Amendment No. 92:

Clause 27, page 19, line 17, at end insert—

"( ) For the avoidance of doubt, there is a rebuttable presumption that any prisoner liable to removal will be removed from the United Kingdom following his release without prejudice to any existing rights not to be, or protections from being, removed under British or European Union law."

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

We come now to Clause 27 and the removal of foreign nationals. I hope we can have a constructive debate, because I think we share the Government's approach to this matter. There are over 10,000 foreign nationals in prison in the United Kingdom at the moment, which is a substantial percentage of the total number of those in prison, although deportation went up last year. The figure quoted in another place was that last year 2,784 prisoners were transferred out. The right honourable gentleman Mr Hanson said in November that we were on target to meet the Prime Minister's aim of removing 4,000 prisoners from England and Wales that year. I do not know if the Minister can tell us whether that target was met. It may be a bit early to reach any conclusions, but plainly the Government are keen to increase the number of prisoners who are sent back to their country of origin or to some other place beyond our borders.

Interestingly, some nationalities are represented quite powerfully in our prisons. I understand that there are more than 1,300 Jamaican prisoners, over 1,000 Nigerian prisoners, nearly 500 prisoners from Vietnam, nearly 400 from Somalia and around 375 from China. Some countries have a particularly large number of their nationals in prison here in the United Kingdom. We have, as I understand it, agreements with 97 countries to repatriate prisoners to serve sentences in their home countries. These countries range from Albania and Australia to Venezuela and Ukraine. However, I believe that it is a condition of those agreements that the prisoner has to agree to leave the United Kingdom to serve his or her term of imprisonment in his own country. Those agreements are of some importance but they operate only with the co-operation of the prisoner. We cannot, under one of those agreements, force somebody to go back to their own country and serve their term of imprisonment there.

The thing that is exercising me is to what extent the problems we face in this area are legal problems and to what extent they are administrative problems. As I understand it, there are two locations where most of these foreign prisoners are housed—Bourne Hall in Essex and Canterbury Prison in Kent. They are dedicated exclusively to housing foreign nationals who have not yet completed their sentence and foreign nationals who have completed their sentence but who have been detained pending deportation.

It is clear that we face a much more difficult problem with those prisoners who are members of EU countries than in other cases because, as your Lordships will know, various rights under EU treaties give citizens from other member states rights to enter and remain in this country for an indefinite period. There is a certain futility about deporting this class of prisoner because they can come back the next day under EU treaties. But of course that does not apply to those who are not citizens of the EU, and it is on those that we need to focus in this debate.

It is plain that there has been discordance between the immigration authorities and those who are responsible for the management of prisons about the movement of these people, particularly regarding when they are likely to be released from prison. The authorities have been extremely slow to act to ensure that anybody who is liable to deportation is properly monitored before the appropriate measures are taken. I want to be clear how confident your Lordships' House can be about the measures that the Government wish to put in place. With those introductory remarks, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

I support the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and especially his last remarks on where this clause gets us. On a number of occasions in this House we have debated the problems posed in prisons by foreign national prisoners, particularly in regard to deportation, because deportation is part of their sentence. It is not something that has to be waited for or applied for; it is in the sentence. It has always seemed extraordinary to me that the deportation process does not take place during the period of the sentence so that, when the sentence comes to an end, the prisoner makes one move from the prison to the airport and out.

At the moment, because the deportation is not being processed during the prisoner's time in prison, he is moved at the end of his sentence to a deportation centre or to an immigration centre—not the same place at all; prison rules do not apply there. The people who run these immigration centres tell me that up to 50 per cent of the people they have there are ex-prisoners awaiting deportation. If you go into the reasons for the various disturbances in places such as Yarlswood and Harmondsworth, you find that many of them were provoked by these frustrated ex-prisoners not knowing quite what is happening.

I had hoped, in the context of a Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, that the Government would take the opportunity to clarify that and make it certain that procedures were in place; namely, that administrative procedures of deportation should be completed before the end of the sentence, so that there is no delay in the deportation process. As currently drafted, I cannot see that this clause will do anything to help either the prison or the immigration authorities to deal with their problem. It is certainly not going to help the addition to overcrowding caused by having foreign prisoners hanging about while waiting for something other than a sentence to be administered in this country.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 9:45 pm, 26th February 2008

This has been an extremely interesting debate, which I accept may be wider than the clause in the Bill. I will start with the figures I have, showing the foreign national prisoner population rising from just over 4,500 in 1997 to just about 11,300 in December 2007, which is about 14 per cent of the total prison population. Although the number of foreign national prisoners has clearly risen considerably, I understand that the proportion held here is lower than in other major European Union countries, but that does not take away the problems that we face at the moment. I will echo the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred to concerning the numbers from particular countries. From Jamaica, it is 1,278; from Nigeria, 1,146; from Vietnam, 460; from Pakistan, 406; from Somalia, 394 and from China, 386.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked about prisoner transfer agreements. It is true that it remains a voluntary process, which accounts for the small number of foreign national prisoners who were repatriated last year under such agreements; that stood at 111. The UK currently has prisoner transfer agreements with 98 countries and territories. We have negotiations for further bilateral agreements with Vietnam, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, Botswana and Kenya. I understand that we hope to begin negotiations with China later this year; agreements with Jamaica and Pakistan were signed in 2007, and are subject to ratification. We expect the agreement with Pakistan to enter into force early this year, while the Jamaican agreement cannot enter into force until amendments have been made to Jamaican law.

On consent, in 2006 Parliament amended the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 to remove the need for prisoners to consent to transfer. Prisoner consent is still required under all our existing agreements, but the Government intend to seek to put in place future agreements that do not require that. The success of it will depend largely on the willingness of other countries to enter into such agreements.

One needs to acknowledge the fact that, notwithstanding all of the problems that have been faced, a great deal of progress has been made in the past year. For instance, sustained improvements to the deportation system over the past 18 months have seen the Border and Immigration Agency deliver a record performance. More foreign national prisoners are leaving the country than ever before. I have the figures for 2007, showing that we are removing or deporting foreign national prisoners at a record rate. Some 4,200 were removed then, an increase of almost 80 per cent on the previous year.

I accept that time-served foreign national prisoners cause particular problems to prisons, because such prisoners are required to be treated as equivalent to remand prisoners and often cannot be moved quickly to the detention estate. That means that they suffer uncertainty about their removal dates, which can lead to distress or disorder.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to the need for effective relationships between the Prison Service and the Border and Immigration Agency. My understanding is that those relationships have significantly improved in the past year or so, but I acknowledge that prisons and independent monitoring boards remain concerned about the current situation. I think that noble Lords would accept that improvements have been and are continuing to be made.

We believe that the provisions in this clause will be a useful contribution to improving the situation. They will also reduce certain demand within our prison population. This has to be seen in the context of having to deal with what is and has been a difficult problem. We are getting a grip on it, but this debate will be an important contribution to making sure that we continue to deal with this matter with a sense of urgency.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. Could he say something more on uncertainty about removal dates? To take up the extremely helpful contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, surely it should be possible for a certain amount of planning to take place when the prison sentence of someone who has also been sentenced to deportation is approaching its end. I am not sure whether the planning should be done by either the Border and Immigration Agency or the Prison Service, or perhaps by both in tandem; but surely the planning could be done two or three months before the sentence ends so that there is a quick passage from the ending of the sentence to the deportation. Why is it necessary for these people to go through long periods of uncertainty before they finally leave the country? This seems to be a crucial part of the story.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I hinted that I accepted that more needs to be done to ensure that both services integrate their efforts. There is a protocol of agreement between the Prison Service and the Border and Immigration Agency. Sometimes there can be distinct problems because there is, for example, a lack of space in the immigration detention estate. I understand that transfers of time-served foreign national prisoners to immigration removal centres take place daily. However, due to the nature of the offences and behaviour of some individuals, it is sometimes necessary for them to remain in prison accommodation for security and control reasons. So there can be practical issues as well.

I am happy to send to noble Lords the protocol agreement that sets out the criteria for detaining individuals subject to immigration detention in prison accommodation. However, I accept the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that we need to make sure that procedures are in place that allow us to anticipate as much as possible the actions that need to be taken and that the two services integrate their efforts as much as possible. As I said, progress is being made, but we have more to do.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

The Minister's reply suggests that the most important part of the problem is administrative co-ordination, rather than a lack of particular legal powers to act. I am most grateful to him for offering to send this protocol. I am sure that I shall find it most interesting reading. I understand that certain prisoners need to be kept in secure accommodation until the last minute. Nevertheless, it ought to be possible within, say, a week of the ending of a prison sentence for a person to be deported.

In those circumstances, there would not be an excessive demand on space, either in prison accommodation or other secure accommodation which is specifically tasked for potential deportees. I see the Minister nodding which is, in a way, the complete answer to my question.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

It certainly suggests a degree of boredom very close to sleep.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I want to assure him that I will speed the protocol to him so that he can read it as quickly as possible. If I was nodding, it was to agree with him that we need to do everything we can to make the system as efficient as possible. I agree with that. I do think that we are making progress, but I do not think one can simply say that there are administrative issues. There are some real practical issues as well. I would commend those services in their approach. The clause helps in a modest way, but I am certainly happy, along with the protocol, to write to the noble Lord with further details about how we think we can deal with those specific problems if he would like that.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I am most grateful. It is extremely satisfying that we have been able to end on such a harmonious note. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.57 pm