‘(6) An individual detained under subsections (1) and (2) above may not be detained for longer than six months.’.
This is another probing amendment, which was tabled in the same spirit as the amendments to clause 28. It would mean that the Secretary of State could hold a person for only six months after the end of their prison sentence while considering a decision on what the Bill still calls automatic deportation. We hope that it will act as a spur on Ministers to ensure that the extra resources that have already been put into the IND will be enough to ensure that nobody stays in prison for more than six months after the end of their sentence before being deported.
The importance of the provision almost goes without saying for many reasons, among which are, first and straightforwardly, the increasing waste of public money that results from keeping people in prison who should not be in this country; and secondly, and increasingly topically, the effect of the extra overcrowding in an already overcrowded prison estate. That is a problem for the prisoners themselves, as has been shown in several ways in recent months. It also spills over, hugely dramatically and unfortunately, to the immigration removal estate. Only last week there were more disturbances at one of the centres and at the end of last year the Harmondsworth centre was so seriously damaged that it had to be evacuated.
People in the immigration removal service have told me, as they will have told Ministers even more forcefully, that putting large numbers of people who have committed offences that are bad enough to be jailed for into immigration removal centres is extremely bad for all concerned. Inevitably, it makes the centres much more like jails than they would otherwise be and forces those who may have committed only an immigration offence to mix with hardened criminals, which is deeply unfortunate for them. Of course, it is also unfortunate for the staff involved, who are not particularly trained to look after and control such people. For all sorts of reasons, both in the IND and for wider reasons of good order, getting over the crisis of foreign prisoners is one of the most essential tasks that Ministers face. The purpose of the amendment is both to probe and to act as a spur, so that the Bill would state that it is unacceptable simply to keep people locked up while the processes to enable them to be deported are gone through.
As with previous amendments, I am not urging the Minister to do anything that he does not want to do. I am sure that he passionately wishes the amendment was unnecessary because the deportation system was moving so smoothly that there were no problems. Sadly, we know that there are, and that they are continuing. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Again I find myself starting from the same position as the hon. Gentleman. One of the most frustrating aspects of the removal process for many of the individuals to whom I talk in my constituency is that they cannot understand why we cannot put people to whom we have issued deportation orders on a plane, let it take off and touch down in their country of origin, bundle them out of the back and leave them to the tender mercies of the reception staff at the airport.
Absolutely. It is often difficult to explain why it is sometimes slightly harder in the real world.
A key part of the removals process is getting people redocumented. I remember being struck by a story told to me by immigration officers at Dover immigration removal centre. As we were going round I asked why people were there for longer than they needed to be, and the officers said that individuals have often embedded themselves in such a web of lies about who they are and where they are from that it is difficult to convince a foreign Government to reissue them a passport so that they can go back home.
One of the key things that we need in our system is incentives to encourage people to co-operate with the redocumentation process so that we can work effectively with foreign Governments and emergency travel documents can be issued to individuals. If somebody knew that they would be released on bail if they strung the process out for six months, we would not strengthen but rather diminish the incentives for foreign national prisoners to co-operate with the documentation process.
I do not know how hard the Minister has tried to get foreign Governments to issue passports. Has it not occurred to him that many Governments may be large beneficiaries of aid, and that for a consideration they would probably be more than happy to issue passports or travel documents to people whose names are supplied to them by the Minister’s staff? If the result is that somebody ends up somewhere they did not want to be, the message might go back to others that they should be a bit more truthful when they answer questions.
The relationship between co-operation, migration and international development is a subject that ranges widely not only in government but in the European Union. I, my noble Friend Lord Triesman and Department for International Development Ministers talk about the matter a lot, and I believe that we should be strengthening the links. We will have more to say on that in the months to come.
The amendment would basically free foreign national prisoners once they have been detained for six months. My concern is that that would destroy the incentive for foreign national prisoners to co-operate with the documentation process. I understand the ambition behind the amendment; the hon. Member for Ashford wants to ensure that we do not lock people up for any longer than necessary. I completely agree with that intention. We need more detention space, which is why we are building more, but we also need to increase the throughput rate in our prisons. Many of the changes that the Home Secretary has proposed will help us to achieve those increased rates, but we also need these incentives in place to encourage people to co-operate with the documentation process.