Clause 28

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:30 pm, 15th March 2007

Absolutely. I am more than happy to do so, because I know how serious it was. It clearly could have been even more serious, as the Harmondsworth incident became. I know that the emergency services and those who were sent in to sort out the situation behaved admirably, bravely and quickly to minimise its effect. However, the incident illustrates starkly the fact that if we carry on doing what we are doing, the position will remain unsatisfactory.

The clause is not one of the parts of the Bill that will affect what might happen in future or in a theoretically constructed situation. It affects things that are happening now and going very wrong. That is why there are so many amendments for us to discuss and why I, my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley are seeking to improve the provisions. At the moment there is a toxic interaction of a prison estate that is too full and a deportation system that is not working. The only safety valve is the immigration detention estate, which is not designed to take people who have been sentenced to prison for serious offences. I am sure that that particularly unpleasant combination of failures is one thing that keeps the Minister awake at night.

I shall speak briefly to the amendments in my name. As the Bill is drafted, people will be liable to automatic deportation only if they have been sentenced to prison for at least 12 months. We have all sought different ways to improve that and relax that constraint. I seek to remove that criterion so that automatic deportation applies to any person who has served a prison sentence.

Despite the length of the debate, I suspect that nobody has said much with which the Minister does not agree. We all agree that the deportation of foreign prisoners is desirable in most cases—the debate is about prisoners only, which is an important distinction. We know that at the moment only people who have committed serious offences are sentenced to prison. That is all the more true given the current overcrowding in the prison estate. It therefore seems to us extremely easy to argue that if a foreign criminal has been given a prison sentence, by extension they should lose their right to stay in this country. They have abused the hospitality that it has afforded them and should therefore lose their right to be here.

I have referred several times to prison overcrowding. I am sure that it would help if the ability to deport foreign criminals who have been given a prison sentence were extended so that it was not restricted to those who had been sentenced to more than 12 months.

Amendment No. 127 is another of our amendments requiring the Secretary of State to report back. We had a lengthy, good debate this morning on the amount of  parliamentary accountability that ought to come with such a Bill. It is clear that the clause is one of the most important parts of the Bill, so that applies particularly here. I have no wish to repeat what we said this morning, but I wish to make one point: this is an area in which ministerial rhetoric has been extremely strong. It was instructive that on Second Reading the Minister said that his best guess was that of the 10,000 or so foreign prisoners in British prisons, about 4,500 would be subject to the deportation provisions expressed in the Bill.