I will speak to amendments Nos. 126 and 140, which stand in my name; I am aware that they are grouped with others from various hon. Friends. Both of these are essentially probing amendments about the capacity of the Home Office to deport foreign criminals in an effective manner.
The effect of amendment Nos. 126 would be to require the Secretary of State to deport a foreign criminal within six months of a deportation order being made. I would be interested to know what systems and manpower the Minister has in place to ensure, once the orders have been made and due process has been gone through, that the Home Office will get these criminals out of the country.
From our previous discussion, the Committee will be aware that this is a continuing problem, as the Government recognise; indeed, part of the purpose of this entire segment of the Bill is to address that. Whatever the aspirations of Government about criminals not staying in this country if it is possible and desirable to deport them, it simply does not happen often enough at present. If it does eventually happen, it is often too late and, as we were discussing in the previous debate, after expensive compensation claims have been made on the taxpayer.
I hope that the Committee will hear some practicalities from the Minister this morning. No doubt he would regard it as extremely desirable to deport a criminal within six months of the making of a deportation order. I suspect that the general public would feel that this was itself rather lax; I dare say that there would be a view that, if a deportation order has been made, then perhaps one could give a week for various things to happen, and that six months seems a long time for someone to be here—in detention or prison, no doubt, and therefore at vast expense to the taxpayer. I am not urging the Minister to do anything that he does not want to do—still less, anything that the general public would not want him to do fairly quickly. I am seeking to establish whether he would be capable of doing this.
The effect of amendment No. 140 would be to require the Home Office to start proceedings for deportation at least six months before the earliest release date for a person serving more than 12 months, or on the date of a final appeal to termination for those serving less than 12 months.
That, too, is very topical; it relates to a problem that I am sure the Minister and his officials are grappling with. The Home Secretary has said that it is vital to consider deportation early in a prisoner’s term of imprisonment if we are to avoid a fiasco such as that of last May—which led to the sacking of the previous Home Secretary—when we discovered that foreign criminals were not being deported. My understanding from the director general’s letter to the Home Affairs Committee is that at the moment the achievement seems to be that consideration starts some four months before the end of a sentence. Clearly, progress has been made but more is needed.
I hope that the Minister can enlighten us about the practical systems that are in place. If a four-month target has been hit, what is required to meet the six-month target in the amendment? If systems can be put in place now, presumably they can be extended so that all future problems relating to the deportation of foreign criminals will be minimised and we can achieve the happy situation in which our only difficulties concern the potential destination of the criminals.
I am aware that we have had several exchanges about whether it is desirable to deport certain people to certain countries, and how difficult that might be. However, I am sure that the Minister would acknowledge that if that were his only problem in relation to the deportation of foreign criminals, his life would be considerably easier than it has been in the past few months. Ministers will always have genuine difficulties in making individual judgments about whether a person or group of people should be sent back to possible torture or even death. However, those genuine problems have been overlaid with the unnecessary problem of a system that is inadequate to enable them to handle what one might describe as routine deportations—those of people who have committed serious crimes in this country yet whom we find it impossible to deport.
The purpose of the amendments is to probe what is happening in the Home Office, and equally importantly, what plans Ministers have to improve the efficiency of their systems in the coming months and years. If they are not improved, a serious threat to public order and public safety will continue, and that would be hugely undesirable.