Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:52 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 4:52, 7 February 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I commend and congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean on her contribution and on securing the debate. I also commend her outstanding work at the Home Office alongside me when I was Home Secretary. She was a steady hand on a very important piece of legislation, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which brought in many measures to directly address illegal migration. The Act addresses not just the causes, but how we bring greater efficiency to the illegal migration system and the whole issue of deportation and removals, which is relevant to this debate on foreign national offenders.

As a former Home Secretary, I have been involved in this issue quite a bit. I oversaw the removal of around 12,000 FNOs, despite the travel restrictions caused by the covid pandemic and the relentless and determined efforts of the campaigners, celebrities, do-gooders and everyone else mentioned by my hon. Friend, some in the media or parts of the legal establishment, and Opposition politicians. The removal of those 12,000 foreign national offenders made our streets and communities safer and protected the public from crime. I promoted what was colloquially known at the time as the prison-to-plane approach, which reduced the amount of time that FNOs are in our country after they leave custody. That is important, as the Minister will understand, because we can remove such people only once they have left prison, after which they have to be in a safe and secure detention facility before being removed. That approach is the right one, and it links to the issue of prison places and how we get flow into the system.

As someone who has held the post of Home Secretary, I know that we are bound by statutory duties to deport those who have been sentenced to at least 12 months imprisonment, unless very specific exemptions apply. However, there are other FNOs who can be deported if their presence is not conducive to the public good, in particular if they breach their UK visa or entry requirements, and there will be a whole load of associated issues.

Removing these individuals is absolutely one of the most serious duties that the Home Secretary of the day has. Of course, we know the appalling crimes that they have committed. That is why—as the Minister will know, and as the Home Secretary will be well aware—it is imperative that we remove those who have committed the most heinous crimes, especially those who have been persistent or even serial offenders.

In my personal view, not enough is being done to sentence people to custody for long enough. We already know that there are thousands of criminals who commit serious crimes who are either not sentenced to jail or receive sentences of less than 12 months. I think more needs to be done there.

Between 2007 and 2017, around 13,000 people convicted of sexual assault or rape were not sentenced to immediate custody. That included 900 rapists, and some of those offences were committed against children as young as 13. Half of all sex offenders were not sent to jail by our courts during that period. We know exactly what happened, basically, and those shocking figures demonstrate that some of those offenders, who were responsible for the most appalling crimes, would not meet the 12-month custodial sentence threshold to be removed and deported. That is a sobering point, it really is, and it has an impact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch said, on public confidence, community cohesion and safety in our own communities. It basically means that there are some terrible offenders who should have been deported but were not deported.

I am afraid to say that it is inexcusable that those offenders who are deported, sometimes on those deportation flights, have attracted the support of some organisations that have basically prevented their removal. Those offenders have committed serious offences, and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch has already made the case relating to those individuals. I am afraid to say that the party opposite would use social media, particularly around some of the flights that I was involved with, basically to campaign on behalf of those individuals, and say that they were their constituents and had a right to be in the United Kingdom, despite committing the most heinous and appalling crimes.

The removal of foreign national offenders, or FNOs, is necessary for statutory reasons and public safety reasons. Their removal is in the interests of the victims of crime. I have met too many victims who have been assaulted and abused by foreign national offenders, and we must put their needs first. The needs of the victims must always come first. Our vulnerable people, whose lives have been destroyed and shattered by FNOs, are traumatised—and do you know what? They are even more traumatised, and they relive that trauma all over again, when they see Members of Parliament, celebrities, the media, BBC so-called “expert witnesses”, as exposed by The Mail on Sunday last weekend, campaigners and lawyers backing the rights of criminals over them. The victims should be supported, not these dangerous FNOs.

We have seen the consequences when deportation flights are blocked. I used to have to deal with those consequences, and I had to deal with those deportation flights that were cancelled, because of mutinies by passengers, but also because of the way in which the left in particular would lobby.

To conclude, it is absolutely right that the country knows who is responsible for stopping those flights and stopping the removal of those FNOs. When the Minister responds to the debate, I would particularly like him to speak very clearly about what is being done now to circumvent and stop those mutinous passengers, to stop these lawyers and to stop people in Parliament as well from campaigning to prevent the removal of FNOs, and to ensure effectively that the victims of these crimes are protected and see justice by seeing the removal of these FNOs.