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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:16 pm on 19 February 2019.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 4:16, 19 February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for securing the debate. He has raised the issue tenaciously on previous occasions, most recently at Justice questions earlier this month. He and his constituents attach great importance to it and, as always, he acts as a powerful and strong voice in Parliament for the people of Kettering.

As always, the debate raises a matter of huge importance and is an opportunity to update the House more fully than would be possible in a single parliamentary answer. Rightly, increasing the removal of foreign national offenders is one of the Government’s top priorities. All foreign national offenders sentenced to custody are referred by the Prison Service to immigration enforcement as quickly as possible to be considered for deportation action.

As all hon. Members present are aware, the Government are absolutely committed to increasing the number of foreign national offenders removed from our prisons. Any foreign national who comes to our country and abuses its hospitality by breaking our laws should be in no doubt about our determination to punish and remove them.

My hon. Friend raised several statistical questions. He rightly alluded to the fact that since 2010 we have removed more than 45,000 foreign offenders from prisons, immigration removal centres and the community. In 2017-18, as he stated, we removed almost 6,000 foreign national offenders, of whom 2,000 came directly from our prisons. That represents good progress, but the Government are determined to do more.

My hon. Friend asked some specific questions. The current overall prison population is 82,236, which is a little shy of what he thought but in the same ballpark. The latest statistics that I have are that foreign national offenders make up 9,090 of that—roughly 10% or 11%—and EU foreign national offenders make up 3,943 of those.

My hon. Friend touched on his top 10. His fabled statistical brilliance has slightly changed, because our order and numbers are different, but if it is helpful, I will briefly run through them. The latest list puts Poland in first place, with the highest number, then Albania, Romania, Ireland, Jamaica, Lithuania, Pakistan, Somalia, India and Portugal. In terms of the stats that sit behind each of those, if I do not manage to answer every question he has raised today, I am happy to write to him.

As he is aware, the primary responsibility for the removal of foreign national offenders rests with the Home Office immigration enforcement team, with my Department supporting its work by setting the policy for, and administering, early removal schemes from our prisons. Prisoner transfers are a matter for my Department and fall within the portfolio of the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend Rory Stewart. I will certainly pass on to him the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering about negotiating further such agreements and the form of those agreements.

Before I turn to the specific issue of prison transfer agreements, I want to highlight the substantial cross-Government work under way to increase foreign national offender removals. A lead Minister’s group that meets quarterly is in place. It focuses on the removal of foreign national offenders and brings together key Departments to ensure a co-ordinated approach. We continue to work hard to improve and speed up every part of the removals process, right from the point at which a foreign national offender first comes into contact with criminal justice agencies up to their removal back to their home country.

For example, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government introduced new requirements through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 so that anyone appearing in court now has to state their nationality. It is designed to speed up early identification of foreign national offenders and therefore assist with speedier removal. In other initiatives, my Department is working with the Home Office on ways to speed up the immigration appeal process for foreign offenders held in prison, and to ensure that appeals are determined as quickly and as efficiently as possible so that foreign offenders with no right to remain here may be removed quickly.

We are also working to concentrate foreign national offenders within fewer prisons in our estate. As has been mentioned, we have already created two foreign national offender-only prisons, one of the first countries in the world to have done so, with the benefit of concentrating foreign national offenders and allowing the Prison Service better to address the specific needs of that cohort of offenders. Importantly, it also allows the Home Office better to deploy its immigration enforcement teams, which need access to the prisoners to undertake the deportation process.

As my hon. Friend highlighted in his speech, there are different routes by which foreign national offenders can be removed from this country. The first that he touched on is the early removals scheme, which is our principal mechanism for removing foreign national offenders from prison. Under the scheme, offenders are returned to their home countries and are barred from returning to the UK, potentially for life. In 2017-18 we removed more than 2,000 prisoners through the scheme; that is about 95% of early removals from prison. I am keen that we should not lose sight of our success in removing such a large number of foreign offenders.