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

I will make two points. The first is a statistical point because latest figures show that there are 787 Polish prisoners, although my hon. Friend’s point about the number and scale still stands. I was about to come to the other legal and procedural reasons for why transfers can take a long time in this country. In that context, I wish to touch on the suggestion made previously that the prisoner transfer agreements are in some sense not working, and that our prisons are full of prisoners who could be transferred. As my hon. Friend is aware, many of our transfer agreements are necessarily voluntary, not just for the country receiving them but for the prisoners themselves. That is due to the poor standard of prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners in some parts of the world, and our obligations under those agreements as well as our human rights obligations.

For our compulsory agreements, we target transfer at those offenders who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Transfer can take place only if all appeal routes have been exhausted, a deportation order is in place, and there are no legal concerns about the prison system to which the prisoner will be moved. Consequently, when all those factors and process points have been taken into consideration, the number of prisoners who are eligible for a swift transfer might not be as high as my hon. Friend might wish, and in some cases the process could take longer than the prison sentence being served.

We are, however, working to increase the number of transfers wherever possible, and our current agreement with the EU has enabled the transfer of 357 prisoners to EU prisons, with each transfer freeing up several years of cell space. Transfer numbers continue steadily to rise now that most member states have implemented that agreement and operational processes are bedding in. Such transfers therefore play a role in managing our prison population and ensuring that capacity is available for offenders who have been sentenced to custody.

I will also highlight a number of successes for our transfer agreements with countries outside the EU. In late December we signed an agreement with the Government of Pakistan to restart the voluntary prisoner transfer process between our countries. Given that Pakistani prisoners are one of the top 10 nationalities held in our prisons, that progress is welcome and I thank all Departments who worked on that issue for their support. We also have a prisoner transfer agreement with Albania, which is another of the 10 most common nationalities in our prisons. A transfer agreement has seen 24 Albanian prisoners transferred, and there is ongoing engagement with Albanian authorities to improve that mechanism and speed up and increase transfer rates. The prisons Minister met the Albanian Justice Minister earlier this month to discuss co-operation on that issue, and an agreement was reached to continue with close co-operation.

I am conscious that only a short amount of time is left, so I shall conclude by saying that whether removal is through the early removal scheme, prisoner transfer, or deportation after an offender has completed their sentence, the key point is that we continue to work to remove those who have broken our laws and have no right to be here. I suspect my hon. Friend will continue to champion and push hard on this issue—indeed, I suspect we may well debate it again in the coming weeks and months—but he should be in no doubt that that the Government are committed to that agenda, and to increasing the number of foreign national offenders who are removed from this country.

Question put and agreed to.