The Minister is right. That was the case that I had in mind. However, at a single court appearance that person might receive a sentence of imprisonment for one offence, which, although it is unlikely, may have been committed some time beforehand, and then receive a prison sentence for another offence, which was presumably committed more recently. Therefore that person would receive a total of two sentences. It is still repeat offending.
I cannot find it in myself to feel that such a person should receive additional protections. If a person repeatedly offends, even if the offences are a little way apart, and on each occasion it is considered that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be imposed, the totality of that person’s offending should bring that person within these provisions for automatic deportation.
The Minister’s example goes to the furthest reaches. Nine times out of 10, if not 99 times out of 100, the offences will be much closer together in time than that. Such a person would have the protection of the exception for their convention rights, the right to family life and all the other protections that arein place. I ask the Minister to think carefully about that.
I would also like the Minister to consider the problem of suspended sentences. There, even his example could not apply because when someone receives a suspended sentence, that person is told that it will last for a certain length of time. It is usually two years, although the time could be shorter—I think it is a maximum of two years; it might be three. It is certainly for a limited period. We are talking about somebody who receives such a suspended sentence and then commits another offence during the currency of that suspended sentence so as to produce a total sentence of more than 12 months imprisonment; a person who repeats offences close together, has two court appearances and refuses to heed thewarning that has been given through the first court appearance.
I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that my understanding is correct—at least he has not said that it is wrong. However, it is just that the Minister can think of some examples that might result in hard case stories. That is my interpretation of the provisions. I cannot see any conceivable circumstances in which a person in that position should be treated more leniently than a person who appears in court and for a single offence receives a prison sentence of 12 months and faces automatic deportation. It is not just or in the public interest to have someone in this country who commits repeated offences and takes no notice of what the courts have said.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the spirit with which she has replied to the debate. I am not prepared at this point to retreat from the substance of what I have said, but I will reflect carefully on what the Minister has said. He has promised to think carefully about what I have said in the debate. If he is prepared to do that he may produce amendments that are better technically and have the same effect of dealing with the problem of repeat offences, or perhaps deals with them in a different way.
There is a problem here of dealing with repeat offenders. In other evidence that it has given, Migrationwatch highlighted that problem. I think that it may have been mentioned on Tuesday, but it has been highlighted on previous occasions. I believe that in existing provisions, which the Home Office has had as guidelines for dealing with deportation, recognition has been made of the case of repeat offenders. Therefore, we have to deal with repeat offenders here. On the basis that the Minister is prepared to think about and reflect on what I have said and possibly come back with some further measures at a later stage in the Bill’s consideration, I seek leave to withdraw my amendments.