I am grateful to hon. Members for an excellent debate. In some of the exchanges betweenthe hon. Members for Hertsmere, Monmouth and Birmingham, Yardley—who is my neighbour—we have seen the different dynamics and ends of the debate. I will take the Committee through the journey that I have travelled because I have an enormous amount of sympathy with the argument that has been eloquently put by the hon. Member for Hertsmere.
What the Government have tried to do in the clauses that we have structured is provide for a degree of balance. The starting point for the debate is that those who come to this country, commit a crime and receive a criminal sentence face the prospect of deportation. As the hon. Member for Hertsmere said, existing powers on the statute books provide for that. The question left is how to ensure a stronger link between criminality and deportation. What we have tried to do, as the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has recommended, is to remove some of the Home Secretary’s discretion when making those decisions. The Home Secretary was clear that those who commit offences should face the prospect of deportation. What we are debating in these clauses is the manner of execution for that decision.
These clauses will accelerate the removal of foreign national prisoners from the country while increasing the certainly of removal. One of the current problems is that when foreign national prisoners are considered for deportation and handed a deportation order, nearly three quarters appeal against the order despite the fact that about 55 per cent. of appeals are dismissed and25 per cent. are withdrawn. That process of appeal takes up to six months and that is too long. When serious offences have been committed, we need to deport the individuals effectively and if they wish to undertake an appeal, they can do so from their country of origin, thanks very much.
The amendments that we have debated this afternoon fall into four categories. AmendmentsNos. 7, 8, 15 and 16, and 142, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford, challenge the threshold. The hon. Member for Hertsmere raised a related point about offences committed by individuals without leave and raised points, on which there a number of related amendments, about suspended and consecutive sentences. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley put a point from the other end of the spectrum about eliminating some of our proposals. I shall canter through those points as quickly as I can.
I shall reflect again on the debate that we have had this afternoon, because it has been important. I need to consult with colleagues in both the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs in order to explore whether there are areas in which we need to go further than we have provided for in the Bill. I understand that hon. Members may wish to put some of the issues to a vote, and that is fine. However, this is a signal that I shall reflect carefully on what has been said.
The starting point for the question of balance is important. We have deliberately drawn the debate widely; we have drawn the applicable population as broadly as we can. I said earlier that the debate covers some 3.4 million foreign nationals. The hon. Member for Monmouth asked where that figure came from. It came from the operational modelling, data analysis and reporting services published by IND in February 2007. If he wants more details, I shall be happy to try to provide them.
The point about the foreign national population in this country is that it includes individuals who might have arrived in this country moments after they were born. Indeed, there may well be foreign nationals in this country who were born in Britain after 1981 to parents who were not British, and are therefore not British citizens. They are foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain; none the less, for the purposes of the Bill, they are classed as foreign nationals and are therefore subject to the foreign nationals clauses. Those individuals might have spent all their lives in this country, so we need to inject a degree of balance into cases in which we take into account people’s personal circumstances. That is why I think that it is not necessarily appropriate to remove all discretion for all offences that carry a sentence.
Some individuals, such as those born here to foreign national parents after 1981, have grown up in Britain and are to all intents and purposes British, but are not British citizens. If one of them committed an offence that was subject to a sentence of imprisonment, he would automatically be deported. Having reflected long and hard on that, I think that that would be disproportionate.
We have therefore sought to structure in a supporting mechanism, and that is recourse tosection 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. I do not know whether Committee members have had a chance to look at that, but it is important to do so. It is about 40 pages long and lists some 324 offences. Almost all of the examples that have been given by hon. Members this afternoon, whether of burglary, picking pockets or other types of theft, concern offences that appear on the section 72 list and therefore carry the sanction of automatic deportation. We wanted to avoid the situation in which somebody who was born in this country after 1981 is convicted of the non-payment of a fine and sentenced to a period of imprisonment and is then automatically deported. That is not the same as saying that he should not face deportation; provisions that are already in place mean that he would do so. However, the outcome would beat the discretion of the court or of the Secretary of State.
An important point was very well made by thehon. Member for Hertsmere about the automatic deportation of those who commit offences when they are here without leave. I confess to him that I started in precisely the same place as he did. However, what leads me to suggest that his amendments Nos. 58 and59 should be withdrawn is the fact that there could be situations in which injustice results from the changes that he proposes.
The scenario that has been put to me—it is, I am afraid to say, perfectly plausible in my experience as a constituency MP—is that of a woman who came over as a spouse, possibly through an arranged marriage, and her husband did not allow her to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Through no fault of her own, she therefore found herself without leave to remain in this country and then became a victim of domestic violence. Maybe one day she fought back, committed an offence and was therefore liable for imprisonment—that is how the hon. Member for Hertsmere has drafted the amendment—and she ends up being given a community sentence. However, under the precise drafting of the amendment, she would therefore be automatically deported. The protections that we have put in place might simply not bite in that case.
That is not to say that that individual—the woman in question—would not face automatic deportation; indeed, she would face automatic deportation. My argument is that, in cases as complicated as that, we may need the consideration process rather than an automatic process to unfold and it may be appropriate to provide for an in-country right of appeal, rather than, say, an appeal from Pakistan.