Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The first duty of Government is to protect the public, and the Government have failed in that duty in a most appalling fashion. They have done so, not by failing to identify suspected criminals—although they have done that—and not by failing to catch criminals, but by releasing over 1,000 criminals from their own prisons without consideration. Ministers have lost control of their Departments and they have introduced a new doctrine of ministerial responsibility—the bigger one's mistake, the more one deserves to stay in one's job. The Home Secretary has tried to make a virtue of the fact that he has told us the facts—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Ronnie Campbell, I know it is difficult for you, but perhaps you could be quiet for a while.

David Davis: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary tried to make a virtue of the fact that he has told us the facts. In truth, however, he was forced by the Public Accounts Committee to admit to his failure and he was dragged to the House to answer for it, both last week and today. We now know that he did not even tell
3 May 2006 : Column 974
the Prime Minister—who, I see, is giving his usual support. Last week I asked the Home Secretary four questions; he answered none of them.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend answered them all.

David Davis: The Home Secretary answered none. He said that he would answer them by the end of the week, but he still had not answered any of them by then. This week I shall ask him eight questions, and the House, and the public, will expect eight answers. Before I do so, however, let me say that of course I applaud any action that will address the problem, although much of it amounts to bolting the prison door after the prisoners have fled.

I understand that the Home Secretary intends to introduce new powers to create a presumption of deportation for foreign criminals. I applaud that intention, but—[Interruption.] In answer to the Government Chief Whip's sub-vocal heckle, may I remind her of the powers that the Home Secretary already has? The Immigration Act 1971 gives him explicit powers to deport any non-British citizen under section 3(5) if he

Laws are fine, but the public require competent action.

Let me turn to my questions. First, there is the length of time that it took the Home Secretary to alert the police to the problem. He and his predecessors were warned several times, as he has now admitted, by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons and by some police forces, of the growing magnitude of the problem of foreign criminals being released rather than deported. The Home Secretary was warned again by the National Audit Office on 14 July last year. Can he tell the House precisely why he did not take action 10 months ago? Why did he not do 10 months ago what he did last week? At least 400 criminals identified in the Home Office's first submission to the Public Accounts Committee could have been arrested and deported. If, for some inexplicable reason, he was unable to act 10 months ago, why did he not act one month ago, when he had a full list available? Why did he tell the press about the problem before he told the police, giving more than 1,000 criminals the chance to disappear before the police could catch them?

We are told that from last July, procedures were implemented to increase the number of staff and the resourcing of the unit concerned, and that there is now a "proper case management system"—I think that I quote exactly. So can the Home Secretary explain why we hear persistent reports that that department is understaffed, undertrained, and largely manned by temporaries? Is not the truth that whatever he did it was ineffective, as the rate of release of foreign prisoners into the community went up after July? Is that acceleration in the release of potentially dangerous criminals into the community not a clear demonstration of his own failure?

The Home Secretary cannot even give us what he promised last week—the full number of crimes committed by the 1,000-plus criminals since their release. Civitas, the respected Home Affairs think-tank, whose director is a member of the Home Secretary's
3 May 2006 : Column 975
own Statistics Commission, estimates the likely number of convictions—not crimes—for the 1,000 criminals at about 700. That is 700 crimes as a result of this failure. And the Home Secretary did not tell us how many crimes were committed by the 288 criminals released after he was explicitly told about the problem—the criminals who are absolutely and inescapably his own responsibility. Civitas estimates that they would have been convicted for 100 crimes committed within six months of release.

On Friday, the Home Secretary told us that of the 79 foreign criminals he considered to have committed serious offences, deportation action had been started on 70. But only 32 of those 70 have been located. That means that 38 are not in his control, presumably because he warned them through the press three days before. So, even on his own figures he is failing in more than half the cases.

The Home Secretary should not forget that 1,023 foreign criminals are at issue here. He has just told us that deportation is being pursued in 446 cases. Will he tell us how many of those are within police control? When the Home Office completes the deportation exercise, how many of these 1,000 foreign criminals will remain at large in the United Kingdom?

I am concerned that those 1,000 are just the beginning of the problem. With almost every day that passes, we hear of a new failure. This morning's papers are full of the story of the suspect in the tragic murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky. I do not expect the Home Secretary to comment on that case, and I will be very careful. As I understand it, the suspect was given indefinite leave to remain in 2000. In the subsequent five years he was convicted of three offences and sentenced to three separate prison terms. Yet in March 2005 the Home Office decided not to deport him to Somalia, even though, a year earlier, the Home Office's operational guidance note on Somalia said:

In the past two years, the Home Secretary's office has made more than 2,000 decisions against deportation. I have to ask him, in the light of this and many other examples: is he comfortable that those decisions were made with sufficient regard for the safety of the British public?

Last week, a whole new category of cases was raised by Lord Ramsbotham, the previous chief inspector of prisons—that of 1,500 prisoners who have no nationality record, or a false record. How many people in that category have been released into the community without consideration for deportation in the past seven years? Again, is the Home Secretary persuaded that this oversight has not unnecessarily jeopardised the safety of the British public?

Finally—[Hon. Members: "Hooray!"] Labour Members will not be happy about this either, because it is not amusing. Last week one of the murderers of Mary-Ann Leneghan was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. He had been recommended for deportation on his 18th birthday, but was not deported and was involved in this hideous crime just a few months later. This raises a whole new category of people who are recommended for
3 May 2006 : Column 976
deportation but who are not, for one reason or another, imprisoned. Can the Home Secretary give us an indication of the size of that category and whether he has considered policy with regard to such people, as clearly some represent an unnecessary risk to the public.

Together, those groups represent several thousand people who are a potential risk to the public and should be considered for deportation. It may therefore be that the 1,000 whom the Home Secretary says he has already considered are just the tip of the iceberg. Has he considered these categories in detail and what he might do to minimise the risk to the public? Whatever his answer, I would like to know why he has not done anything to deal with these potentially serious risks to public safety. There are two possibilities: either the Home Secretary did not know about these problems, and was therefore negligent, or he did know but did nothing effective about them, and was therefore incompetent. The answer is not simply more laws, and it is certainly not just more headlines. The answer is a more competent Home Secretary—and that is the very least the British public deserves.

Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman raised several points—

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Twenty-nine.

Mr. Clarke: I do not think that it was 29, but I am interested to hear that that is the number that my hon. Friend was able to identify.

First, I paid tribute last Wednesday, and I will again, to the role of the Public Accounts Committee in this process. It has been a positive process, and that is what the PAC should do. Secondly, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about what I did about the National Audit Office report last July, I have already clearly set out the whole series of measures that I took to deal with its recommendations and to improve our performance in that area. Moving on to his third point, I am the first to concede that there remain issues about implementing that in the most effective way. I do not accept his stricture that the IND, or the Home Office in general, is understaffed, undertrained and so on, but I do think that there is a serious point about way in which we organise ourselves in those areas. We are changing that as a result of the NAO report and other things, precisely in order to address those issues.

On what the right hon. Gentleman calls the accelerating procedure of failure, the reason for those figures, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a moment ago at Prime Minister's questions, is that as a result of the NAO proposals we sent immigration officers into prisons, tightened the procedure, identified more problems to take up, and solved more problems. The problem is—I have to be straight about this—that if one tries to sort out these problems, one turns up more problems. That is the situation that must be candidly addressed.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's friend from Civitas, perhaps I could remind him that, as he knows very well, in an attempt to get all-party agreement about the way in which crime statistics are dealt with, I invited him to nominate individuals to a panel to review that matter. The gentleman concerned was duly nominated by the
3 May 2006 : Column 977
right hon. Gentleman, and I appointed him because I wanted some consensus, so of course I am interested in his views on all these matters.

On the question of the people whom the police and the immigration service are still pursuing, I am not, as I said in my statement, going to give a moment-by-moment update on that, but I believe that they are making extremely good progress as a result of the situation that I set out.

Finally, I come to the list of cases that the right hon. Gentleman raised, including the person allegedly involved in the murder of Sharon Beshenivsky, the cases raised by Lord Ramsbotham, and the case involving the killers of Mary-Ann Leneghan. Those are very serious cases. As the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges, they are not among the 1,000 that we are talking about, but as he also acknowledges, they raise precisely the questions that it is right for us to address in deciding how we deport more effectively people who are guilty of criminality. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that we do not need more laws or more procedures, that it is all hunky-dory and the problems are simply down to poor administration. We need more laws so that we carry matters through properly and I hope that, this time, he will support the proposals.

Next Section IndexHome Page