Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:46 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:46, 7 February 2024

First, I thank Rachel Maclean for her speech. I have to put this on the record, and forgive me, Mr Gray, for having to do so, but I am a bit perplexed. I am very fond of the hon. Lady, and she knows that. I am a Christian, I have Christian faith, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, so I speak up for those of Christian faith, those of other faiths and those with no faith.

I am trying to say this as gently as I can, but I have people in my constituency who have converted to Christianity—or whatever they may do, but I know people who have done that. They were never a threat because they said that they had become Christians. I am sorry to say this, but I have some concern about how the hon. Lady, for whom I have the utmost respect, introduced the debate: it seemed as if every person who has converted to Christianity is potentially a criminal. I have to say this: the ones that I know are not, and I have to put that on the record. That is not what my speech was meant to be about, by the way—I will move on to the substance of it—but I felt a bit concerned.

Those who convert to Christianity, who have done it for the right reasons, because that is what their faith, their beliefs or their God has told them, have that right to do so, and they should not be condemned because they have done it. The hon. Member for Redditch knows I am incredibly fond of her, but I am sorry, I felt really uneasy about that. I have to put that on the record, and I wanted to do it now, before I speak about the content of the debate. I welcome, properly, what the hon. Lady said, which mirrors some of what I want to say. I am not saying that everyone is an angel—no, they are not—but most of those who convert to Christianity do so for genuine reasons and should be respected. I will leave it at that—I do not want to develop it any further; I do not want to be adversarial or to have a different opinion.

Despite conflicting opinions among Members about immigration and asylum seeking, we in the UK pride ourselves on being a compassionate country that provides safety for those in need and is well known for believing that we have a duty to help others. That has always been my gut feeling. All my life I have wanted to help others and all my life in this place I have tried to do that.

For some, aid should take place in the home country, and for others, we should open our doors, but that comes with a huge condition, and that is what I am going to develop in my contribution to the debate: that people should respect the law of the land and understand that if they do not, the door is permanently closed. I am quite clear about that—the hon. Member for Redditch and I will agree on that. That part of the contribution I understand incredibly well. For those who break that trust, it is crucial that justice is served and that they are ultimately removed from our country. It is our country, and for all of us here and all our constituents, the safety of our people is crucial, critical and important.

In June 2023, at least 10,321 foreign nationals were in prison across England and Wales. More locally for myself—I always give a Northern Ireland perspective, although deportation issues lie here with the House, which has the final say—around 10.6% of those in Northern Ireland prisons were foreign nationals as of 2022.

The Home Secretary and Home Office have a duty to this country to issue deportation orders for those who have been convicted of an offence in the UK and sentenced to at least 12 months, unless certain exceptions apply. I cannot stress enough the importance of securing safety and protection for the general public. If that is the thrust of this debate, and I believe it is, then let us focus on that. We hear horror stories every day in our local papers and on the news of all sorts of crimes, including what happened to that poor lady and her two children—my goodness me. They are committed not just by foreign nationals but by our own people, and we are trying to gain control over and manage them.

There is no doubt that our justice system has been fragmented in the past, and there have been many calls from our constituents to get the issues of court hearing delays and lenient prosecutions sorted. I do not see how we can give many more excuses for continuing to house foreign national offenders in UK prisons if they are guilty of the heinous crimes of rape, murder or whatever they may be. Statistics show that our prisons have been severely over-subscribed in certain areas for a number of years, and that has meant prisoners being left in custody for longer than needed or left in county jails.

The Government have stated on a number of occasions that the deportation of foreign national offenders is a long-standing Government priority, but as of 2022 there were still almost 12,000 foreign national offenders subject to deportation action living in the community. We must direct ourselves to that issue. The constituents in the communities we represent have a right to feel safe in the areas they live and work in—not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren.

I will conclude, because many people want to contribute. We are a compassionate country: we welcome foreign nationals and the contributions they make to our nation. But there must also be a clear understanding that crime, no matter how petty, is not to be tolerated, and that it has consequences. I look to my Government and my Minister to ensure that our actions meet our words. If this is a priority, let us follow through and ensure that we have the necessary means to deport those who do not follow the laws and guidelines of this country. Perhaps the Minister can respond with his plans to reduce the number down from the thousands to as small a number as possible.