Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:15 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 5:15, 7 February 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I congratulate Rachel Maclean on securing this important debate. It was interesting to hear her questions to the Minister about the Government’s dreadful record on removing foreign criminals, and I look forward to his answers.

I also want to echo the comments from the Scottish National party spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, on the deep concerns around the Clapham incident. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, has written to the Home Secretary with a number of questions, trying to probe what has happened and to get to the bottom of that deeply disturbing matter.

It is beyond doubt that the Conservatives have completely lost control of our asylum system; indeed, the Prime Minister has admitted that the system is broken. He has failed to stop the Tory boats chaos, with 30,000 asylum seekers crossing the channel last year, the second highest number on record. We have 56,000 asylum seekers in taxpayer-funded emergency hotel accommodation at a cost of £8 million every day. Just to exacerbate the problem, the number of foreign criminals being removed has collapsed by a staggering 34% since 2010, when the last Labour Government were in office. Arguably even more disturbing is that we know that 8,786 foreign national offenders are not even being detained. They are out there living in communities across Britain for at least 12 months, with almost 4,000 staying for more than five years, having been released by the Conservative Government. It is quite frankly astonishing.

The first duty of any Government is to keep their people safe. The Home Office is responsible for ensuring that rules are fairly and robustly enforced. It must deport dangerous foreign criminals who have no right to be in our country and who should be returned to the country of their citizenship. That is precisely why the last Labour Government introduced stronger laws to that effect. We on the Opposition Benches are committed to building an immigration system that is firm, fair and well managed, so we find it deeply troubling that Ministers are failing to uphold these basic principles and deeply frustrating that they are blaming everybody else for their failings.

It is little wonder that a number of expert reports over recent years have pointed to how Home Office failures have resulted in fewer foreign criminals being deported than should be the case. In 2015, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration stated that one in three failures to deport foreign criminals was due to Home Office dysfunction. If we fast-forward to the present day, the latest immigration figures show that the Home Office is still failing miserably in that regard, so it is no surprise that the ICIBI has intensified his criticism. Last summer, he stated in his report:

“This is no way to run a government department.”

He added that the Home Office is unable

“to track and monitor the progression of cases” with insufficient focus on processing removals rather than simply managing cases. What an utterly damning account of the Government’s handling of this critical aspect of our national security.

Why have removals collapsed under the Minister’s watch? Why does he think the independent inspector has criticised his Department in such damning terms? He will no doubt point to the large number of appeals. He loves to blame the judges, the French, the Opposition and the civil servants—he will probably even blame the football pundits—but what are he and his Government doing to make sure the cases are brought forward, and that they are watertight and not easily delayed?

Further, what diplomatic work is being done with other Governments to ensure that we can return those who have no right to be in the UK to their countries of origin? What is being done to encourage more voluntary returns? There used to be a much more effective system, whereby an assisted returns programme was run by Refugee Action. Since 2015, under Home Office management, that programme seems to be utterly broken, with voluntary returns plummeting.

Time and again, the Conservatives choose headline-chasing gimmicks rather than doing the hard graft of Government. Thankfully, Labour has a plan to clear up that dreadful mess. We have set out plans to establish a major new returns and enforcement unit in the Home Office, recruiting 1,000 new enforcement officers to speed up the deportations of those with no right to remain in Britain, including the removal of foreign national offenders, which, as I say, has plummeted by a third since 2010. We are also warning that the failing £400 million Rwanda scheme will not solve the problem of foreign national offenders, as the Rwandan Government can refuse anyone with a criminal conviction. The treaty instead says that foreign national offenders in Rwanda can be returned to the UK—you could not make it up.

The Home Office has a responsibility to get its deportation decisions right. The Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. It is their failure, their responsibility. If they cannot get it sorted, let us have a general election so that we can have a Labour Government in place that will fix the dreadful mess that has been made over 14 years.