Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Home Secretary predictably showered the House with a volley of new figures and statistics. We will scrutinise those new figures with the attention that they deserve. We already know from the figures released at the end of last Friday that they pose as many questions as they provide answers.

For example, why has the Home Secretary not explained to us how he compiled the figures and what definition he used to conclude that only 79 cases related to serious offences? He claims today that, of those 79, deportation action has commenced for 70, but he went on to say that 38 of the 70 have not been accounted for. How can one proceed with deportation action for the 70 most grave offenders if one does not know—or appear to know—where 38 of them are? We need answers to those questions for the statistics that he provided today to have any credibility.

The Home Secretary has announced new primary legislation. Let us be clear: the current fiasco did not arise because of an absence of legislation or a lack of rules. Yesterday, we found an 86-page document from the Prison Service that provides forensic guidance on how to consider the deportation of non-British offenders. The fiasco did not arise because of a lack of powers enjoyed by the Home Secretary; he already enjoys wide discretion to remove anyone who is deemed not be conducive to the public good. Since 1997, the Government have introduced up to 36 new laws and hundreds and hundreds of new offences. Surely he acknowledges that placing yet more pressure on an overburdened criminal justice system through new rules and laws devised in the panic of the current fiasco might prove little more than a cosmetic solution.

We will consider positively any measures necessary to deport those who should and can be deported more quickly than at present, and especially the measures that the Home Secretary outlined to encourage offenders to serve their sentences in their home countries once
3 May 2006 : Column 978
convicted here. However, we will not welcome the measures if they prove, on further reflection and analysis, to be a knee-jerk reaction, designed to grab headlines rather than offenders and to help the Government out of a self-inflicted fiasco.

Our prisons are grotesquely overcrowded. The probation service is demoralised and under-resourced. The Government are at permanent loggerheads with the judiciary and reoffending rates, which have a direct bearing on what we are considering, are among the highest in the western world, with up to 70 per cent. of young offenders offending again within two years of release from prison. The Government have presided over lamentably low conviction rates for some of the most serious crimes imaginable, such as rape.

Surely the Home Secretary should start getting a grip on the Government's woeful mismanagement of the criminal justice system rather than indulging in rushed, new legislation in response to recent events. Our focus will remain on the serial incompetence of a system in which the basic rules to examine every case for deportation simply did not operate. The Home Secretary should take political responsibility for that incompetence. He has said nothing today to suggest that Ministers were anything other than neglectful in failing to tackle such grave issues until they were shamed into doing so in recent days. He should do the decent thing—we know that he has done it before—and ask the Prime Minister to release him from his predicament and allow him to resign today.

Mr. Clarke: First, when I stated that 70 people had been approved for deportation and procedures were going ahead in those cases, that is true and the police are working on it, as I reported to the House. Secondly, I have not sought in any way to hide the fact that the Home Office made serious mistakes. I said that last week, I say it this week and I continue to assert it. As I said in the statement, I believe that several positive things have happened side by side with that mistake and it not right for the hon. Gentleman to say that I did not set them out. We have made significant progress on several matters.

The hon. Gentleman needs to grasp a key point when he speaks about considering the legislative position. In every deportation case, a battle goes on between the individual to be deported and the state that seeks to deport. The battle takes place in the courts, with a series of judgments appealed through a long procedure. That is the law of the land, as it is entitled to be. However—I stress this in the strongest terms—the battle about case after case, occasionally with important judgments, such as the Chindamo judgment, going against the Government, is a key factor in any Government's ability to act decisively. That is why I say that our response must be to go back to the basics, and make a presumption that non-British criminals should be deported. That is what we will set out. The challenge for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the House and the other place is whether they are prepared to sign up to that principle.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Following my right hon. Friend's comments, does he agree that one of the most unsatisfactory parts of the current law that has been revealed in the past few days
3 May 2006 : Column 979
is the way in which it requires Home Office officials to judge not only what is in the public interest, but the chance of defending a particular case against a subsequent court challenge? Does not that produce a deeply unsatisfactory and inexplicable position for our constituents, whereby it appears that Home Office officials have simply decided not to deport somebody who then commits a serious offence? Is not the great advantage of a presumption in favour of deportation not simply that we will not have future backlogs but that the House can say what it wants to happen on behalf of our constituents, and it will be clear when the courts decide in an individual case that such action should not follow?

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend is correct. I pay tribute to him and the Select Committee that he chairs because it decided a good while back—partly, I am sure, in response to the NAO report, but also for other reasons—to go through the detailed workings of the immigration and asylum system. It did not simply take evidence in the House but considered the current procedures, and so it should because our approach should be scrutinised, precisely for the reason that my right hon. Friend gave. That is why I welcome the Select Committee's decision to widen its terms of reference to include the management of foreign national prisoners. That is important. My right hon. Friend is correct and I hope that the Select Committee will make recommendations to that effect and that the House will listen to them.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Listening to the Home Secretary, I am sure that I am not alone in smelling a rat. Again, when a problem arises, a member of the Government comes to the House, denies responsibility and says, "Here's another tonne of legislation, which we will lay on the problem to resolve it." The courts have made it clear that the Home Secretary retains the absolute right to make the decision to deport somebody and they will not gainsay him on that. The idea that the proposed presumption will suddenly change that practice is nonsense.

The Home Secretary misses another point, too. What will he do about those whom he cannot deport? Will they simply wander the country because he could not deport them simply because they could not get a flight?

Mr. Clarke: I have done the opposite of denying responsibility for the matter. From the beginning, I acknowledged my responsibility for the mistakes that have been made. It is fair to say that I have also sought credit for the positive changes that we have made side by side with the mistakes, but I accept responsibility completely and categorically, and I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has the right to say that I have not done so.

On the right hon. Gentleman's fundamental point about how we deal with deportations, he knows from his extensive experience how difficult such issues are. It is not simply a matter of being unable to find a plane. There are access and logistical problems but, as he well knows, there is also a range of other different issues to consider.
3 May 2006 : Column 980

I dealt with that specific question in the statement. I said that, in cases in which we cannot deport, we should consider primary legislation to extend our powers. That possibility will be tackled in the consultation paper.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Like control orders.

Mr. Clarke: No, not like control orders. The hon. Gentleman should face a fact: we have the power to keep in prison those who have committed offences until the end of their sentence; we have the power to keep under immigration detention those whom we have a realistic prospect of deporting, but we do not have the power, on my say-so or anybody else's, to keep people in prison because we feel like it because of the risk that they might pose. That is the dilemma and the problem. It is why we need to consider new legislation and ascertain how to deal with the matter.

Next Section IndexHome Page