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Foreign Nationals (Deportation and Removal)

12.33 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke) rose—

Hon. Members: Resign!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House wanted a statement yesterday. The statement is here, and we must listen to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Clarke: With permission, I would like to make a statement on deportation and removal of foreign nationals. As I said in my written statement to the House yesterday, to the best of my knowledge, between February 1999 and March 2006 1,023 foreign national criminals, who should have been considered for deportation or removal, completed their prison sentences and were released without the appropriate consideration of deportation or removal action. This failure in the systems for dealing with foreign national prisoners is deeply regrettable and my immediate priority is to set that right.

The arrangements for identifying foreign national prisoners and considering their removal from the UK have not kept pace with the significant rise in the foreign national prisoner population over recent years. While there has been no fundamental change in our policy to consider serious offenders for deportation before release in recent years, it is clear that the increasing number of cases being referred for consideration led to the process falling down.

In recent months we have been making significant improvements to the system for identifying, referring and caseworking foreign national prisoners. That includes significant increases in resources for caseworking, commencing deportation proceedings at the earliest possible point prior to release and much closer working between the agencies involved.

Of the 1,023 foreign nationals in total, consideration of the case for deportation has started in 355 cases, of which 107 have been completed and 20 have been deported. Of the 288 that should have been considered since August 2005, 83 have been started, 53 completed and 14 deported. I can confirm that consideration of the most serious cases has, of course, commenced and I will report further on progress by the end of this week.

It may help to put the matter in context if I say that in the two calendar years 2004 and 2005, around 3,000 foreign national prisoners were deported. I am confident that we can build on this performance and I am considering how we might tighten our processes even further—[Interruption.]—for example, through policy and sentencing options and further practical measures.

My aim is to ensure that the foreign national prisoner population is managed effectively and proactively, ensuring that the number of people held in prisons under immigration powers is kept to the absolute minimum, that we have the right sentencing powers and identification of referral and caseworking capacity so that we are in a position to effect removal at the earliest point of release. That is my commitment, and I will report regularly to the House on progress.
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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I have to say to the House that I respond to the Home Secretary's statement with regret, which is not something that I have said about all Home Office Ministers. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 30 years, and despite our differences, I have always had a broad degree of respect for him. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us over the last few days, it is the first duty of Government to protect the public—and I am afraid that events of the last few days have demonstrated a culpable failure to protect public safety—[Interruption.] If the Government Chief Whip wishes to intervene, I am afraid that under the rules of the House, I am not allowed to let her do so; I will gladly do so on another occasion.

The Home Secretary's statement reveals a disturbing neglect of public safety at the heart of Government. Following on from his statement last week on murders committed by offenders on probation, this is yet another example of his Department's failure and incompetence. There is no excuse for the Home Secretary not knowing about it. Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons report of 2002–03 highlighted

while the following year's report stated baldly:

The National Audit Office reported on the matter last July, and in September my shadow prisons Minister asked how many foreign nationals were in prison awaiting deportation. She was told that the information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

In October, when the Public Accounts Committee asked how many failed asylum seekers had been released from prison, the Home Office could not answer. When we asked again, as late as last November, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality claimed, with astonishing complacency that the Government were ensuring

Now, after that series of warnings, the Home Secretary is still unable to give us the definitive figures. He says that to the best of his knowledge, 1,023 foreign-born prisoners who should have been considered for deportation have been released into the community, putting the public at risk. Is he even able to tell the House how many of those released criminals have committed further offences? We would expect half of those people to have reoffended. How many further serious crimes have been perpetrated by the people whom the Home Secretary has put back on our streets?

When asked where the murderers, rapists, kidnappers and drug dealers were today, the Home Secretary said that he did not know, despite the fact that many, if not all, of those categories should have be subject to supervision, even if they had been British prisoners. But he presumably does know how many have been released, and he does know who has been deported. So if the Home Secretary does not know where they are, he must tell the House this: how many foreign convicted killers, how many convicted paedophiles, how many convicted rapists and how many convicted drug dealers are at large today, as result of his policy failure?
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Last night on "Newsnight", when asked if anyone was released in the period after we knew about this problem, the Home Secretary said, "Very, very few," but a statement broadcast after the 10 o'clock news announced that 288 more foreign criminals were released after the Home Secretary explicitly knew that there was a problem: 288 releases over eight months is actually a faster rate than 700 over six years. The rate of release of those criminals into the community was greater after July, when he found out, than it was before July. Does the Home Secretary really believe that almost 300 foreign convicted criminals released into our communities is "Very, very few"? I am afraid that I must tell him that I cannot think of a starker demonstration of a Minister not in charge of his Department.

The Home Secretary is a proud man, and he will be mortally embarrassed by the failure that we have heard about today, so I am not surprised that he offered his resignation to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said that he should not go. At 4 pm I was saying that he should not go. On the 6 o'clock news I was saying that he should not go. On the 10 o'clock news I was saying that he should not go. But like the Prime Minister at the time of his earlier admission, we did not know all the facts yesterday. The information released overnight is that 288 criminals were released after the Government knew about the problem. I am sorry to say that because of this culpable failure to protect the safety of the public, the Home Secretary's position is now untenable.

Mr. Clarke: I think that there are three points that I want to make. [Hon. Members: "Resign!"] I am terribly   sorry to disappoint Opposition Members— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Clarke: First, it is absolutely untrue that the Government neglect public safety. Public safety is rightly the first priority of any Government. It is true—this is the second point—that there have been the failures that I set out in the statement to the House today, including failures in the relationship between the Prison Service and the immigration and nationality directorate that have led to the failures of information to which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) referred and for which I apologised to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee over the phone yesterday morning, before writing him the letter in which I set that out. It was a failure. I have acknowledged that it is failure, and it must be got right.

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