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Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on a matter that is of great concern to my constituents, who want reassurance. Having listened to the exchanges, it appears that there is problem with delays in decision-making by IND on those cases. My constituents want to know why it takes a certain length of time to decide to deport someone who has committed a desperately serious crime. What will my right hon. Friend do to speed up decision making so that decisions are made quickly and the processes can be cut down if necessary to prevent delays in deporting serious criminals?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend has put her finger on the problem. It is important to make those decisions while people are still serving their sentence so that they can be executed before they leave prison. [Interruption.] I do not mean executed literally—the decisions should be executed before those people leave prison. That is precisely the policy that we have now put in place, and we are carrying it out as energetically and effectively as possible. What is required, as my hon. Friend implied, is a significant improvement in our procedures, particularly the relationship between the Prison Service and the IND to ensure that they can both identify and consider those questions far more rapidly. As I said in
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my statement, we are considering whether sentencing issues and even legal changes could assist us, but my hon. Friend has put her finger on the right point.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May I tell the Secretary of State that the events of the past 24 hours have been met with huge concern in Scotland, so can he tell me how many of those released foreign nationals are resident there? He will know that criminal justice in the Scottish Prison Service is devolved to the Scottish Executive, so when did he first alert Scottish Ministers and the Scottish prison system to those difficulties?

Mr. Clarke: I do not have information about Scotland to hand but, as I told the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I will write to the hon. Gentleman with that information as soon as possible.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): No one would deny that this is a damnably serious business. I pay tribute to Members such as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) who decided not to lower themselves by playing party politics with the issue. May I tell my right hon. Friend that the episode has taught me two things? First, this is not the time for the Home Secretary to leave his position, as he has to see this through. Secondly, does he not agree that the case for identity cards has now been made?

Mr. Clarke: As it happens, my hon. Friend will be shocked to hear that I agree with him on his second point. He is quite right, and I am confident that wisdom will spread across the House on those matters. As for his first point, I am extremely grateful for his support. Yes, I believe that I should sort this out, and that is what I am going to do.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman referred to systemic failure. Does he accept that that extends to Ministers, and will he confirm that 288 prisoners were released after he and his colleagues became aware of the problem? Will he confirm that 160 were released, notwithstanding an express judicial recommendation that they should be deported? Given all of that, what meaning should we attach to the phrase, "personal responsibility", as applied to Ministers, if it excludes the resignation of those responsible?

Mr. Clarke: I think that I have dealt with every single one of those points, so I will not repeat myself.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Coming back to the point about the amount of legislation, is that not one of the most galling aspects of the whole business? The Home Secretary has brought to the House criminal law Bill after criminal law Bill, yet he has failed to use his existing powers. Is that not the reason why he has to go, as he has been caught playing gesture politics while failing to be effective in the most basic way possible?

Mr. Clarke: No.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may be aware that my office experienced some
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difficulties last year with the immigration and nationality directorate. After some robust conversations with the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, I am glad that the IND has sorted out many of those problems, and spent a great deal of time with my office to resolve cases that went back several years. That experience demonstrates that there is capacity in the IND to sort out such problems, but there is a problem with communication and capacity across the whole service. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents and me that he and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality will keep working to make sure that communications are better?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend. One of my regrets is that this whole business obscures the fact that the IND has made substantial improvements in recent years by, for example, achieving the tipping point. The improvements to which she referred are the result of a deliberate effort to change the relationship between the IND, Members of Parliament and others. I do not wish to hide the failure that has taken place, particularly the failure in communication to which she rightly referred. However, I hope that fair-minded Members will take account of the genuine progress by IND in various ways in recent years.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): How many of those criminals had a previous criminal record, either here or in their own country?

Mr. Clarke: I am sorry, but I must give the right hon. Gentleman the same answer that I gave his right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). I will publish all the information when I am in a position to do so.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The statement referred to the introduction of a new system in 1999. Can the Home Secretary confirm that a major problem with the immigration and nationality directorate for many years—and it is one that still frustrates those of us who have to deal with it on a daily basis on behalf of our constituents—stems from the fact that a considerable backlog of cases was inherited from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and others, which meant that its focus was not always where it should have been.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right. As a matter of practical politics, I generally do not think that it is very helpful to refer to things that happened more than eight or nine years ago, as people can legitimately say that we have been in government since 1997. However, the one person I would exclude from that is the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), as he bore direct responsibility for the shambolic system that we inherited.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The House and the nation are entitled to know how severe the crisis would have to be before the Home Secretary's conscience was pricked and he left his job, if
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not with credit, then at least without a stain on his character. In how many cases did a judge recommend at the time of sentencing that the offender be deported? What are the legal implications of the Home Secretary and those for whom he is responsible ignoring such recommendations?

Mr. Clarke: There is a misunderstanding that I must clear up. When sentencing takes place, the judge recommends in such cases that consideration be given to deportation. He does not recommend that the individual be deported, but that consideration be given to deportation. That recommendation should have been looked at. That was not done correctly, but it will be done correctly and carried out properly. There are grounds for considering the difficult question of whether deportation should be used as a direct sanction in court to deal with certain cases. That is what I was referring to when I referred in the statement to the need to take a wider look at some things. That is the situation. On the numbers, I repeat what I said to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis): when I am ready to give the figures, I will do so.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will no doubt agree that one of the important issues to consider in this matter is the effect on public confidence. He will know that a constituent of mine has been widely reported as having had a hand in the Rwandan genocide. I do not know whether that is so, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Office needs to play a clear role in getting the matter investigated? It undermines public confidence in my constituency and elsewhere if, as appears now, nothing seems to be done.

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