Foreign National Offenders: Prison Transfers — [Ian Austin in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 19 February 2019.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 4:00, 19 February 2019

That is about 13% of our foreign national offender population at any one time, so we need at least nine more Huntercombes if we are to deport these people back to the countries from which they came.

No doubt the Minister will tell the House today that since 2010 some 45,000 foreign national offenders have been removed from the UK, including 6,000 in the past year. My first reaction to those numbers is, “My gosh! Given the extent to which foreign nationals commit crimes in this country, thank goodness they are being caught; the number who commit offences but are not caught must be even larger.” We have a real problem on our hands, with such a large number of foreign nationals committing crimes in this country.

No doubt the Minister will tell the House that prisoners are transferred in four main ways. The Government maintain that the main method to remove foreign national offenders from prison is what is called the early removal scheme. Will the Minister give us more detail on what that scheme entails? I hope that it does not mean that prisoners’ sentences are cut short and they are just deported to be at liberty back in their countries of origin, because that is not the point that I am making. These people should be sent back to their own countries and kept in prison there, until their sentences have been completed. Last year, I understand that some 2,000 were removed under that scheme.

No doubt the Minister will then tell us that prisoner transfer agreements are in place, falling into three main categories, the first of which is the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which EU member states signed up to between December 2011 and December 2015. There are 27 EU member states to which we can send prisoners and which can send UK prisoners back to us. Amazingly, since the scheme first went live in December 2011, two EU nations have still not ratified their membership of that framework decision: Bulgaria and Ireland. I suggest that Ireland spends less time trying to cause problems for this country with the Irish backstop and more time on ratifying the prisoner transfer directive, which is now eight years old.

Under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, since it has been inaugurated, we have only sent back 357 EU national offenders, out of an EU prison population that is in the order of some 4,000, as I am sure the Minister will tell us. The top three are the Netherlands, to which we sent back 141, or 39% of the total; Romania, 56, or 16%; and Poland, 35. I point out to the Minister that we have sent 56 Romanian nationals back to prison in Romania, but at any one time we have about 630 Romanians in our prisons; and we have only sent back 35 Polish nationals, but at any one time we have about 950 in our prisons. Furthermore, of the 27 signatories, to 10 we have sent no prisoners back at all.

Of course, this is a two-way process, and we are entitled to receive UK nationals who committed offences abroad back into this country. We have taken back a total of 100. The largest number—40—came from Spain, nine have been returned from Germany, and nine from Italy. It seems to me that the scheme, despite having been in operation for eight years, is not working very well.

However, it is working better than the additional protocol to the prisoner transfer framework decision, to which 13 other countries are signed up: Georgia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, San Marino, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine. It was confirmed to me yesterday in a written parliamentary answer that we have transferred to the countries adhering to the additional protocol the grand total of zero foreign national prisoners. We have sent no foreign national offenders at all back under the additional protocol. It is absolutely and completely useless.

The third category we have is bilateral prisoner transfer agreements. The same parliamentary answer listed six countries, out of the 160 nations represented in our jails, with which we have compulsory prisoner transfer agreements. In other words, we can send foreign national offenders back to those countries without their permission—it is compulsory for them to go back. Those six countries are Albania, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Somaliland. The Ministry of Justice helpfully listed the dates on which those six prisoner transfer agreements came into force. The oldest goes back to 2009, and the latest came into force in 2017. For one country—Somaliland—the Department has no information about when the agreement came into force. The answer states, “Not Available”. Can the Minister confirm whether we have a compulsory prisoner transfer agreement with Somaliland?

We have sent back a grand total of 25 foreign national offenders to those six countries, one of which is Nigeria. We have something like 400 Nigerians in our prisons at any one time. We have sent back one Nigerian under the compulsory prisoner transfer agreement. That simply is not good enough. I suggest that the Minister takes the lead on negotiating effective compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with countries for which we hold a large number of foreign national offenders in our jails.

Let me give two examples. Pakistan is seventh on my original list—in fact, it is joint fifth, sixth and seventh with Albania and Lithuania. There are something like 475 Pakistanis in our jails at any one time. Nigeria is tenth, with 400. We should use our foreign aid budget to build prisons in those countries so we have a place to send those people back to. Pakistan and Nigeria are among the five biggest recipients of UK aid in the world. We give something like £400 million a year to Pakistan and £330 million a year to Nigeria in international aid. It seems to me that if we have, by law, to spend that money on international aid—I do not agree with that, but it is the law of the land—we should use it sensibly, by trying to reduce the £1 billion annual cost of incarcerating foreign national offenders in our prisons.

I understand that the Government are seeking to build an additional wing on a Nigerian prison, at the cost of some £700,000. Is that correct? Has that wing been completed and is it operational? Given that we have sent back only one Nigerian, presumably he is living in luxury in that 112-bed facility somewhere in Nigeria. Do we have plans for any more?

Do we have any plans to build prisons in Pakistan? There are almost 500 Pakistanis in our jails, and they should be held in prison in Pakistan at the cost of taxpayers there, rather than taxpayers here. Will the Minister negotiate more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements? Will he make sure that they are effective and that we send back more than the 25 prisoners who we have sent back under the agreements so far? Will he speak to the Department for International Development to use aid money to build modern prisons in those countries so we can return more foreign nationals?

I will allow the Minister some time to reply, so finally, once we have sent those people back, will the Minister liaise with the Home Office to make sure that they cannot return to this country? It is one thing to send them back to prison in their own country, but we should ban them from ever returning and darkening our shores again. Surely that would be fairly straightforward for the Government to do and my constituents would certainly welcome it.