Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian 4:58, 7 February 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I fully concur with Rachel Maclean that the first duty of a state is to keep its citizens safe and secure, so those who come here from abroad and perpetrate serious crime must not only be publicly punished, but face deportation if it is appropriate in the circumstances. That is not just the state’s duty; it is also logical. That is why we enter into prisoner transfer agreements, of which we have many.

Somebody who is in prison has to be punished, but the state—whether it is our state or another—also has to remember its obligation to rehabilitate them. The factors that matter are quite clear. Will a home be available on release? Will somebody local be taking an interest, preferably even when the person is still in prison? Will the prisoner be able to do something constructive on release? For somebody who is foreign, that is very difficult. Families are also being punished, because they cannot visit. That is why we have prisoner transfer agreements and why we should be seeking to move people back, even before the end of their sentence, to the countries from which they came.

I make two caveats. The first is that what goes out has to come back in. I recall meeting the parents of a drug-dealing young Scots girl who had been imprisoned in Spain. I made it quite clear to her father that we would bring her home—not to put her feet up and live the life of Riley, but to go to a Scottish prison, Cornton Vale. It was our obligation; she was our citizen; she would serve her sentence here, if that was what she wanted. We would not force her to come back, but we would bring her home. That did indeed work out.

What we cannot have is the situation that some people jumped to demand at the time. They were appalled that we should be seeking to bring her back, yet they were the very same people who say that we have to send foreign prisoners home. We cannot insist on foreign nationals being deported, and then say, “By the way, we’re not keeping the door open for our own citizens to be sent back here.” That is hypocritical as well as absurd.

The second caveat is that we have to take into account—I am glad that the regulations do so—the fact that not every foreign national should necessarily be deported. I well recall making a Christmastime visit to a Christian charity in Leith when I was a Justice Minister. Anyone who has been a Minister, including the Minister in this debate, will have made such visits to worthy charities.

I met an Australian gentleman who was a few years younger than me: he must have been in his late 40s or early 50s. I asked what he was doing. He was homeless. He had been deported from Australia. He admitted that he had committed a serious crime. His life had collapsed about him. He was not a bad person; I was not intimidated. He had to be punished for what he did, but he was no Ned Kelly. Yet he had been sent back to Scotland, because he had never taken out Australian nationality. He had gone to Australia with his parents as a baby or a toddler. He had never been taken out of the country or come back to see any relatives, so he had never required an Australian passport. He had not been required to register for anything; he just had his national insurance card or whatever the Australian equivalent was.

He was Australian, but he was sent back to Scotland, where he knew no one. There may have been a second cousin or an elderly auntie somewhere, but they certainly would not have wanted somebody turning up and saying, “I’m your second cousin twice removed. I’ve just been deported from Australia. Do you remember me? Can you make me a cup of tea?”, so he was homeless here. That was fundamentally cruel. He should not have been sent home. He was not really Scottish or a UK citizen; he had a UK passport, but he had grown up in Australia. He was Australian, and Australia should have retained him.

Young Jamaican kids who have grown up in south London are being deported. The same will no doubt happen to young Somalis in Glasgow, who have become our children irrespective of a passport that might not be their responsibility. Yes, when people come here and perpetrate crimes, let us send them out, but there are others who have lived here who may not happen to have the right of citizenship. We should remember that Australian and remember our obligation to look after them. We must make sure that they are punished, but then we must rehabilitate them.