Clause 28

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley 4:15 pm, 15th March 2007

It happens that my constituent has mental health problems and he dropped the cigarette in his home, where his parents live. A fire ensued and it was deemed to be reckless arson. Let us look at the mens rea issue—the question of intent. Consider the offence of careless and reckless driving by somebody who has lived in the country for a number of years. They lean down inside their car to pick something up, and it happens to run into other people. They get a short period of imprisonment, not necessarily a year. Are we saying that, having lived here for 30 years, they should automatically be put on the conveyor belt for deportation? That is a very different sort of offence from that committed by somebody who goes around burgling lots of people, where there is identifiable intent to cause misery to others.

Consider also circumstances where somebody on a student visa goes out with other students, they get a bit drunk and do something rather stupid. That is not the same mens rea as the situation in which somebody commits repeat burglaries. That person would effectively have ended their studies because they went  out and did whatever the other students happened to do at the time. We cannot try to deal with those circumstances using the form of words that we are considering here. There is, therefore, logic to giving the judge the discretion to decide in circumstances that do not already fall within condition 2 whether a particular sentence or conviction warrants deportation. Whether that is taken into account to any extent in terms of the period of sentencing—obviously, taxpayers have a concern about what is done in given circumstances—is a matter for Home Office guidance and further work.

We are proposing an alternative approach. In certain circumstances, it will be a lot firmer because it will involve a shorter sentence than a year—so the example of the repeat burglar would be trapped by that. However, in other circumstances, it will allow consideration of the circumstances of the individual. As I mentioned, people come here on student visas, and odd things can happen. It is a complex situation and I do not think that trying to deal with it simplistically deals with it properly in the long term. A good example is that of the lad in the Orkneys. Hon. Members might remember that there was a major campaign to prevent his deportation. It had a lot of public support. He was not deported. That related to an arson offence committed on a previous occasion.

There is a role for condition 2 and a statutory instrument determining a list of types of offence. However, wherever the number of months or years is set, there is going to be a problem. That problem is best resolved by giving discretion to the judge. I wish to press amendment No. 134 to a vote later.