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Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Apologise!

Mr. Clarke: I do apologise; I have apologised; and I continue to do so. It is not right that this should be the state of affairs, but I will produce the information, as I said in my statement, in the form that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden requests, when I have it in every respect—I will not do it partially.

The third point that I want to make in response to what the right hon. Gentleman said is that I think that the first duty of everyone in public life, certainly
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everyone in government, is to take responsibility to improve the situation and deal with things in the proper way. [Hon. Members: "Take responsibility!"] I think that my responsibility is to take that responsibility and to put things right, and that is what I intend to do.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Yesterday, No. 10 was reported as saying that it is

Does the Home Secretary really think that the release without deportation of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners can be reasonably described as a nook or a cranny in the work of the Home Office? The Prime Minister also said that the facts have come to light only recently, and that a new system is in place to deal with the issue. However, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), a Home Office Minister told us in January 2004:

If that was the case in January 2004, how can it now be plausibly claimed that neither the Home Secretary and his Department nor the Prime Minister knew that there was a system in place already to deal with the issue, which was abjectly failing in its primary responsibility to protect the safety of the public?

Will the Home Secretary also tell us whether he knows the whereabouts of the three murderers and nine rapists who have been released and not deported—who should, in the normal course of events, have provided details of their whereabouts to the police already? If he does not know their whereabouts, will he tell us when he thinks that he will have that information? Does he know what offences have been committed by those who have been released? If not, when will he know?

Finally, the Home Secretary at least displays some understanding that someone needs to take some political responsibility for this momentous example of incompetence. Frankly, the same cannot be said for his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), or the Minister responsible for immigration, who both, within hours of this matter coming to light yesterday, said that the heads of officials might need to roll. Reacting to the news by immediately hoping to shift the blame to officials and underlings who do not have the ability to defend themselves in public smacks of the worst kind of mean-spirited buck passing.

Mr. Clarke: I think that there are two points here. First, on the various aspects of information that the hon. Gentleman asked me to provide, I simply refer him to what I said in the statement and in answer to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) is entitled to ask those questions, and I will give the answers, but I will do so in the time scale that I set out.
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Secondly, on the hon. Gentleman's concluding point about responsibility for this matter, I believe that he is right to say that it is entirely a matter for Ministers to take responsibility, and in particular, for me to take responsibility, and not to seek to shelter behind officials in any regard. It is true to say that there is a systemic issue, as I have indicated throughout, which needs to be addressed and which is my responsibility. He is quite right to say that. However, I interpret that—I am not sure that he does—as meaning that it is my responsibility to get the systems working correctly to protect us in the most effective way. That is what I intend to do.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the information that the Home Secretary has given this morning, but may I remind him that on 5 October last year, I wrote to him about a constituent, James Bishop, who was killed by a foreign national who was removed from the country without standing a full trial? On 28 October, from the Dispatch Box, I was given assurances that if there were lessons to be learned about that removal, they would be learned. Does he not agree that at the root of the problem is the co-ordination between three departments—the Prison Service, the IND and the Courts Service? I am glad that he is not resigning and is going to remain as Home Secretary, because the system has to be put right to ensure that people who kill people in this country stand trial before removal, and that those who have been convicted with a recommendation for deportation are removed and not allowed to remain.

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I completely agree with him about the extent of the systemic issues to which he referred. He is also right to say that those failures lead to personal tragedies of the most appalling kind—of the kind that he has raised previously. That is why I take so seriously the responsibility for getting the systems working in the right way.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I shall give the Home Secretary credit for one thing: at least he has not tried to claim that yesterday was the best day ever for the Home Office. He has sought to accept responsibility for this matter, and to that extent, I credit him. None the less, people are simply at a loss to understand how this could have happened. They want to know why, every time a prisoner who is a foreign national is about to be released from prison, someone does not ask, "Should they now be deported?" The only explanation that people can come up with is that the rights of foreign criminals are more important and given higher priority than the right of the public in this country to be protected. Those are the facts. Will the Home Secretary at least tell us that an order has now gone out to prison governors that no foreign nationals who are currently in prison are to be released without it first being established whether they should be deported—and if not, why not?

Mr. Clarke: I begin by paying tribute to my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), for the way in which he has conducted himself on the Public Accounts Committee.
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As I said to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, although there are many criticisms to be made of the way in which the Home Office has operated in this respect, the fact that the PAC has addressed the issues as it has, and has taken them up, is a credit to the system and I pay credit to him personally for it.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on his point of substance. It is not my view, or that of anyone in the Home Office, that the rights of criminals, especially foreign national criminals, are more important than the rights of citizens. However, it is the case, as his Committee has been trying to expose, that inefficiencies and ineffectiveness exist in the way in which we have carried out our responsibilities. I am sure that his Committee will continue to take up that issue, and we   will, of course, continue to try to improve what we do.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which he has commendably come to the House and accepted responsibility. Does he accept that the Home Office is a seriously dysfunctional organisation that has frustrated the attempts of Home Secretaries of both parties to deal with crime and illegal migration? Will he not only follow the advice of his predecessor to ensure that heads will roll, but make sure that there is a shake-up from top to bottom in the Home Office, so that this inefficient organisation is on the side of the community, not the criminals?

Mr. Clarke: I agree completely with my right hon. Friend and his implicit criticism. That is why I have, as Home Secretary, tried to carry out the kind of reform that he describes. In saying that, I want to point out that this issue is about not the integrity or commitment of people who work for the Home Office, but how to organise ourselves in the most effective way. The issue has highlighted both that and the need for the kind of reforms that my right hon. Friend highlights.

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